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What Does ATO Mean? ‘After Time Outs’ Basketball Strategy Explained

You may watch a lot of basketball and consider yourself a fan of the NBA, but even the most loyal fans don’t often know all the technical terminology used by broadcaster’s and TV analyst’s mouths. This is especially true if you listen to podcasts that dive deep into the X’s and O’s of the game.

ATO Defined in Basketball Terms

One term that you may have heard referenced is the “ATO” acronym. ATO stands for “After Time Out” which is when the team with possession of the ball calls a time out and comes out of the time out with an offensive set or play to execute on.

If they score on the ATO play, it’s considered a success. You may have heard that a particular coaches are really good at crafting and calling ATO plays that end up in two (or three) points. Coaches like Brad Stevens, Rick Carisle, Gregg Popovich, Ty Lue, and Nick Nurse are a few of NBA’s top strategists when it comes to ATOs. If you’re into prop bets, take up the new betting offers and put money down on one of these coach’s teams to successfully score on an ATO.

Until the end of the game in the NBA, this is done in the front court from a dead ball following a timeout. In the final two minutes of regulation and during overtime periods, the sideline ATO comes into play since the team can choose to automatically advance the ball to the frontcourt.

Where do the Majority of NBA ATO Plays Happen?

The majority of After Time Out plays in the NBA will come from a sideline out of bounds (as opposed to a under the basket). This is predominantly based on the rules of the league. Baseline inbounds only occur when the ball goes out on the baseline, a throw-in violation, or the ball hits the support for the basket. If you are a soccer (or non-American football fan), then you can think of them as a variation of a set play. Depending on the team, they will practice their ATO plays at least several times a season. Some teams will do so more frequently based on the preference of the coach. ATO sets are run at all levels of basketball; however, but can involve more of a baseline mix than we see at the pro level.

What Makes up the Best ATO Plays?

NBA teams sometimes base their ATO sets on variations of plays already in their main offensive sets. This allows for the coaching staff to adjust the call to leverage a hot shooter on a given night or take advantage of matchups based on who is on the court for the other team.

Over time, the teams who are able to take advantage of their strengths tend to score more out of the after time out play. Almost all NBA coaches will have 15-20 (or more sometimes) situations/plays prepared before the game. Throughout the 48 minute game, they will then update/modify what they call with which players based on how the game has progressed.


Do ATO Situations Favor the Offense or Defense?

Based on 2019 analysis that BBall Writers conducted a few years ago, 23 of the 30 NBA teams performed measurable worse after time outs when compared to regular half-court play.

This reinforces for many coaches that later in the game the most advantageous course of action is to not call a timeout and let the team play out the possession. This speaks to impact that game rhythm has on performance so a astute coaching staff would also recognize whether the team is in a good offensive flow or not before deciding to pause play by calling a time out.

This is even more important if the team does not have a large number of ATO sets to pick from that can be scouted in detail by opposing teams. By taking advantage of the player’s creativity they can focus on attacking a defense that won’t have time to reset their approach for out of bounds plays without stopping play by fouling the other team. It comes down to the offensive system of the respective team, player’s creativity, and preparation on which approach best suits any given team.

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