For the ire that iso-ball and an emphasis on flashy handlers have drawn, there is an aspect to the dazzling dribble displays that all hoops heads must admit: beating the first man makes offense a hell of a lot easier for the whole team.
As fun as the reaction beating your primary defender off the dribble is, there is a greater benefit to it than that. In a half-court setting, by getting by your man, you’ve automatically created an odd-man situation in favor of your team, and one the defense will have to respond to unless it wants to give up two easy points.
In Diagram A, we can see a typical half-court setting with the point guard beating their man off the bounce. They move into the open space on the elbow heading toward the goal, meaning their defender is now behind the play.
There are three defenders in the area who could rotate over to stop the point guard’s drive. O4 should be the one to move over, with O3 sliding down to take their man, and O1 rotating onto X3. But that can be a lot for three players to communicate within moments, and if not executive properly or well enough, it could mean an open layup for X5 or wide-open three for X2. Of course, there is also the possibility no one reacts, leading to a look at the rim for X1.
All those possibilities exist simply off X1 beating their defender off the dribble, and that’s the value of beating the first man. When opponents load the paint and take away the post, or your team’s off-movement doesn’t seem to generate much, you can still create space and put defenses in difficult positions with an ankle breaker.
This concept can be found in other sports, such as lacrosse, where defensive and offensive sets share so many similarities. For all the same reasons you can generate tons of offensive opportunities for your team by crossing your defender up in hoops, you can do the exact same for your lacrosse team by dodging around your man and attacking the net.
In Diagram B, AM2 gets around their defender, and A2 vacates the space in front to allow the lane to open. The defensive players have to make the same decisions as they did in the earlier basketball example: who rotates to stop the ball, and how does everyone else react after? The defense has been provided with several opportunities to make a mistake that could lead to a look at the goal, and a defense on its heels is a defense an offense loves to see in basketball, lacrosse or any sport you can name.