Basketball Systems, Skills & Drills

Defensive Systems



Coaches Clipboard Newsletter

Bill Grier

Mike Dunlap

Allison McNeill

Patrick Hunt

Ken Shields

Basketball Canada


FIBA, Basketball pour Jeunes Joueurs

Steve Witty

Ettore Messina & Emanuele Molin

Aluisio Ferreira

Alain Jardel

Antonino Molino

Gregg Popovich

Fernando Duro

Emir Mutapcic

Laszlo Ratgeber

FIBA (continued)

Oliver Purnell

Ghassan Sarkis

Bob Ociepka

Zmago Sagadin

Pino Sacripanti

Dirk Bauermann

Oktay Mahmuti

Mete Levent Topsakal



Fran Fraschilla

Hoop Tactics

James Green

Ralph Miller


Milan Mrkonjic

Jim Boone



B.C. Coaches Clipboard Newsletter (coachesclipboard.ca)

Jump to the Ball

•    jump in the direction of each pass to help stop penetration, deny cuts and passes, and shorten closeouts

•    many players make the mistake of jumping backwards towards the basket, which allows a give and go

•    we stress giving early help on penetration, must jump to the ball to stop penetration on the first dribble

•    an attacker on the perimeter should see help defenders on each side of the ball, e.g. near the elbow and block when the ball is on the wing, near both elbows when the ball is on top

•    young players should be taught to stay between their check and the basket, then ball-you-man positioning on the weakside, then jumping to the ball

Transition Defence

•    protect the basket, usually by having a guard sprint back to centre on the shot

•    the safety does not try to stop the ball being dribbled upcourt in the open court but prevents it from being advanced directly towards the basket

•    if the safety gets in a 2 on 1, they should stay within one step of the “split line” and try to make the dribbler pull up, e.g.,. by faking and recovering

•    many teams slow the ball down by “jamming the rebounder” to prevent the quick outlet pass; usually the nearest offensive rebounder pressures the ball

•    most teams also have a guard defend the player who gets the outlet pass, usually by getting to the top of the key as the shot is taken, then moving quickly on the pass to prevent the receiver from passing or dribbling directly upcourt

•    remaining defenders sprint back to build the defence

•    with at least two defenders back, discourage any pass upcourt, usually by the safety after being released from protecting the basket by the first big to get back (the safety yells take the basket)

Stop dribble penetration

•    when the ball is passed, be there on the catch, use a quick crossover step then step slide

•    establish elbow and block coverage

•    attack baseline penetration one step outside the lane by the defender giving block coverage

•    if there is a ballside low post defender he has block coverage, and can’t get sealed by the low post

•    if there is no ballside low post, then the low helpside defender has block coverage

•    cut off middle penetration - force outside, help and recover, or just hedge and recover to slow down the dribbler

Defensive rotations

•    when the help stops penetration and the ball is passed, rotate to the pass receiver and prevent the quick shot

•    guard drop or rotation - the nearest defender along the baseline attacks baseline penetration, the defender high on the weak-side “helps the helper” by dropping to a position inside the player the helper was guarding

•    closest man rule - the defender nearest the ball closes out to defend, prevent the open shot, and force the offence to make another pass

•    anticipate (see 4 on 3 drill)

Challenging shots

•    get a hand up near the shot release

•    do not leave your feet until the shooter leaves the ground

•    closeout with your hands up.

•    even if you are late, challenge the shot

•    nearer the basket challenge shots with the opposite hand, i.e. if the shooter is right handed challenge with your left hand

•    go by the shooter on the shot side

Fitting Defensive Tactics Together

•    why play behind in the post but put hard pressure on the ball on the perimeter, since there is an easy pass into the post, and if the ball pressure causes baseline penetration, the post is not in position to help

•    keeping the ball on the sideline and allowing ball reversal do not fit together, unless the strategy is only to deny penetrating passes.

•    if a team forces sideline and does not allow middle penetration, why not allow the wing entry pass then deny reversal

•    if a team defends behind the low post to prevent a lob pass with the FIBA key, they can “widen out” on the weakside (straddle the lane line) unless they want to double-team the post.

•    weakside defenders will not help on a lob, or attack penetration (?).

•    how much pressure you put on the ball if playing behind the post again comes into question

Defensive Rebounding

•    defensive rebounding is the final step to great defence - at the NCAA Div I level, teams score 77% of the time after an offensive rebound

•    great defensive rebounding teams rebound with five players, who are all responsible for blocking out and looking to rebound

•    when playing zone, block out an opponent in your area

•    block out using a front or reverse pivot - usually reverse pivot in the low post, front pivot on the perimeter

•    a key is to have guards “rebound down” against teams that have 1 or 2 guards who get back to protect their basket

•    a defensive guard must look to see that his check is not going to the boards, then aggressively move to the defensive glass

•    the point guard has the difficult task of rebounding down then getting to the outlet position

•    rebounding down usually allows the point guard to get the ball on the move

•    blocking out is important, but not as important as pursuing the ball

•    the great rebounders have a nose for the ball

•    many coaches spend little time on rebounding drills, but emphasize rebounding in every drill after teaching the skill of blocking outup

Bill Grier, Gonzaga Defence (coachesclipboard.ca)

•    defensive FG% goal of 40

•    really stress rebounding

•    goal of 36 deflections per game

•    be proactive, dictate what offence will do

•    keep ball out of paint

•    make lots of adjustments based on scouting

•    great ball pressure to 1 step beyond the arc

•    quick ballside help and recovery, on the line, up the line, deny outside the 3 and be first line of help

•    helpside - stop the ball before it gets to the paint if nearest defender gets beat

•    “blast” block-out and pursue the ball

•    close-out - sprint halfway, throw hands back and get butt down, eyes of mid-section

•    ready stance - ball up, trace it; ball down - crow hop straight back; one hand up and pressure shot

•    transition defence - 4 players to boards, 1 is safety, goes to centre, they do not jam the rebounder

•    off-ball defence - don’t follow a cutter away from the ball, “snap through” on back cuts

•    helpside - 1 foot in the key with ball above foul line, straddle split line with ball below

•    on ball cuts across the lane, try to stand up the cutter, force him high

•    contesting shots - do not leave floor until shooter does, hand up, wrist back

•    4 on 4 shell drill - coach says when to pass; penetration - only way to score is to take the ball all the way to the rim (hedge and recover)

•    screens - switch same-size players one step past the arc; contact switch - defenders must touch

•    fight through big/little screens

•    ballscreens - mainly trap early in the season

•    play behind the post

•    trapping the post - cut off the baseline, come high and hard to trap, deny ballside pass out, form the “I”, invite the pass out, break on it; do not trap when the big is ballside wing

•    most important things to work on - guarding the ball 1 on 1, sprint to the ballup

Mike Dunlap, Defensive Philosophy (coachesclipboard.ca)

•    ball pressure the whole game, no free looks

•    force and pin the ball sideline

•    turn the ball 2-3 times in the backcourt

•    deny one pass away, basket protection two passes away (split line)

•    ball goes into post, like to force baseline and double with lowest basket protection

•    defence vulnerable when the ball goes inside - fire in the house

•    trap ballscreens

•    blocking out and getting defensive rebounds rights all wrongs; ball pursuit off the shot is most important

•    defensive transition - numbered defensive break, each player has the same lane as in the numbered fast break, pressure the ball while covering fast break lanes

      •    meet the outlet pass, turn the ball as often as possible, slow it down at least

      •    sprint the lanes, first three steps most important, get below level of the ball

      •    match up to attacker in your lane, or nearest attacker if none in your lane

      •    help on penetration - need proper spacing for quick rotation (play up the line); whenever a player is beaten, you can double the ball with the chaser as a rule of thumb

      •    contest all shots, hand up on the close-out

      •    1 is the free safety, gets to the initial outlet on a make or miss (or fills 2 or 3 lane if he can’t get to the ball)

      •    2 sprints right sideline, 3 sprints left sideline (or they take outlet pass if 1 can’t)

      •    4 sprints inside lane nearest 3, responsible for any trailer, will assist on middle penetration if his man is dragging up the court

      •    5 sprints to the paint, takes first cutter through the paint

•    always ball pressure, but will adjust pressure one and two passes away to help the on-ball defender

•    the better your man defence, the better you are in the zone

•    defence is like insurance, you better have itup

Allison McNeill, The Fullcourt Game coachesclipboard.ca)

•    send 3, 4 and 5 to the offensive boards (if 2 drives to the basket, 3 goes back)

•    2 is long safety behind centre or to where deepest attacker is

•    as defenders get back and the basket is covered, they move into on the line, up the line positions so the ball cannot be passed easily up the floor

•    1 is short safety between foul line and top of circle, job is not to steal the ball but pick it up and contain it so the bigs can get back; try to get the ball out of the middle

•    disadvantage drill (1 and 2 in the corners), go down and backup


Patrick Hunt, Man to Man Defence (coachesclipboard.ca)

•    best to be demanding in practice, more laid back in games

•    to load a drill, make a defender grab his shorts (not hands behind back)

•    in Australia they want to turn the dribble in the backcourt (really influenced by 8-second count), channel in the front court

•    turn - get your chest in the line of the dribbler, keep your head on the ball, hands prevent the crossover and the pass up the side

•    channel - your head is on the inside hip and shoulder

•    chasing - shoulder to shoulder with the dribbler, decide if you are going to turn or channel; to channel, forward pivot and slide at the front hip, to turn, forward pivot, get your chest in front

•    we want the ball to cross halfcourt at the sideline

•    the court is divided by the split line, we want help from the helpside, pressure from the ballside

•    2 on 2 fullcourt, one side only

•    on the inbounds pass the defender of the passer drops one step below the line of the ball in an open stance, one hand pointing to the ball and one to his man

•    jump switch - as a ballhandler heads to the sideline his defender makes him turn, a second defender calls switch and comes when the player is blind to him

•    they don’t like to jump switch when the ball is in the middle, prefer to help and recover to slow down the dribbler

•    don’t worry about the backwards pass, the 8-second count is in your favour

•    3 on 3 - 1/3, 2/3 rule - a defender two passes away from the ball is 1/3 off his man and 2/3 away from the ball, on the split line (help triangle)

•    sprint out of all traps

•    4 on 4 - we run and jump when the head is down, dribbler out of control and/or spin dribble; if in doubt, fake and recover

•    5 on 5 - the last player does not become involved in the rotation, he is the goalie

•    when a trap is set, we have two interceptors and a goalie

•    read the eyes and shoulders of the ballhandler in the trap

•    keys - no middle dribble, no sideline split dribbles, no foul

•    use guided offence when first teaching defenders, then take away restrictionsup

Ken Shields, Building Man-to-Man Defence (coachesclipboard.ca)

•    a coach can make a great difference on defence, not as much on offence

•    transition, stop penetration, rebound, contest shots (rotate to open threat), force the extra play, don’t foul

•    influence sideline, slow ball reversal

•    Transition

      •    point must rotate to safety, if he drives 2 is safety

      •    closest man pressures outlet passer on a miss or inbounds passer on a make

      •    man closest to outlet side wing fades to outlet area, tries to make receiver catch coming back to the ball, contains the dribbler, forces sideline

      •    other two players are sprinters, the biggest releases the safety to protect the basket

•    overplay - fan to baseline, or funnel middle

•    ball reversal defender extends to prevent quick swing, not required to help on middle penetration

•    ball on the wing - don’t allow catches in the high post, pressure the ball when wing takes it over his head for the skip pass (quick reversal)

•    deny reversal out of the corner

•    don’t get beat too quickly baseline, don’t get beat middle at all

•    middle penetration from the top is a killer

•    cut off baseline penetration one step outside the FIBA key, trap with low post defender

•    if the ball is below the foul line and there is no ballside low post, weakside wing defender is ballside ready to attack baseline drive

•    white - front the low post mismatch, ball pressure, weakside help, trap a mismatch on a catch

•    get to the baseline side of the low post when the line of 45 is broken

•    closest man concept - closest defender to an open attacker closes out to contest any shot, other defenders rotate

•    rebounding - make the first hit, get position when you anticipate the shot, box out outside the lane

•    switching rules - same size; big in little out (especially weakside); ballscreens 15 feet or closer; emergencies

•    pick and roll - need 2-3 ways to defend, how will you start the game, all 5 players defend

•    high pick and roll outside shooting range - squeeze and go under

•    inside shooting range - xscreener shows and recovers, weakside big man covers if the screener slips

•    trap early or late

•    fan - xscreener drops off into the driving lane to the basket

•    cross screens - stay with the cutter if he goes low, may switch if he goes high

•    backscreen - xcutter must fight over or under the screen, xscreener must see his partner through the screen then recover to the screener

•    ballside downscreen - xcutter trails out on baseline shoulder and xscreener bumps, or xscreener loosens and helps xcutter over if the screen is low

•    weakside downscreen - xscreener loosens, helps xcutter overup

Basketball Canada

Level 2 Manual

•    overplaying the ball handler - open stance in the direction you want the dribbler to go.

•    in denying the wing entry pass, some coaches ask their players to be about one-third of the distance between the ball and the wing attacker, a “one third, two thirds” position

•    advantage is that it is difficult for the attacker to pin the defender by making contact

•    another strategy is to have defenders play much closer to their checks, which is effective when offensive players are within shooting range or close to the ball

•    some coaches deny everywhere, others only within shooting range

•    defending the backdoor cut - (a) closing to the ball - quicker and easier, but momentarily lose sight of the ball; turn head the other way, extend other arm to reverse the deny position; (b) opening to the ball - reverse pivot on foot closest to the basket, open to see the ball, extend arm toward the basket to cut off the passing lane, look for your check over the inside shoulder

•    guarding the high post - play beside the attacker on the side of the ball, go behind to switch sides if the ball changes sides.

•    guarding the low post - reverse pivot for inside position when a shot is taken.

•    help position - maintain a flat triangle, off the line, point to the ball and your check

•    play with one foot in the key when the ball is above the foul line, two feet in the key when the ball is below it

•    sag to the level of the ball unless your check is in scoring position

•    defending the give and go - jump one step to the ball and a step back toward the basket for every pass made away from you

•    help and recovery - stop penetration, allow the original defender to regain proper positioning, helpers then recover to their checks

•    can deny the guard-to-guard pass in an open or closed stance, can help more easily when open but contesting may not be as effective.

Level 3 Manual

•    fullcourt pressure on the player bringing up the ball - force as many changes of direction as possible, influence to one side, force weak hand

•    ball at the wing - can force inside or outside

•    many teams force middle when the ball is below the foul line extended, because help is available in the middle, and getting beat baseline results in layups or jump shots

•    forcing middle - weakness against is players who can shoot the pull-up jumper from the elbow

•    can also force all players weak hand, or away from a scorer

•    when a defender is beaten, options are help and recover when the attacker is under control, fake and recover, or trap and rotate (especially when forcing outside)

•    on baseline penetration, some coaches leave their post players out of the rotation and always trap with a weakside helper

•    helpside defenders are one step on the weakside when the ball is above the foul line extended, one step ballside when the ball is below (all players are ballside, may be susceptible to quick ball reversal)up

FIBA, Basketball pour Jeunes Joueurs

•    coach’s decision on when to deny or sag in defending attackers one pass from the ball, e.g., deny ballside, sag weakside; what about a return pass when the ball is below the foul line, e.g. in the corner

•    it is useful to have a system that uses deny and sag

•    help is needed on dribble penetration, passes into the lane, screens, and post defence

•    help and recovery can be done from a deny or gap position

•    if a low post is defended from behind, then help on a pass into the post comes from ballside defenders

•    if a low post is fronted or defended 3/4, then help comes from the weakside defender closest to the baseline, which could be a defender of a weakside low post, but not necessarily (some attacks will avoid having two low posts for this reason).up

Ernie Woods, Off-Ball Defensive Fundamentals (FIBA Assist, issue 1)

•    do not leave a shooter to help, helpside defenders are responsible, stay at home (pass denial) on ballside

•    on elbow dribble penetration from the top, the ballside wing defender stays home, defender of the weakside low post rotates to help, defender of the weakside wing rotates down to help the helper

•    off-ball defenders should not allow passes over 15 feet

•    close out on the ball with both hands up to prevent a shot or passup

Steve Witty, Transition Fastbreak Basketball to Secondary Offence (FIBA Assist, issue 1)

•    the fastbreak has changed forever because of the 3-point shot

•    spotting up with 3-point shooters, designating one outlet player to bring the ball up the floor, and one player posted low on the block has put more pressure on the transition defence

•    the outlet player should receive the outlet pass at or above the foul line extended, call “outlet”

•    rebounder allowed up to 2 dribbles to create a passing lane

•    2 and 3 sprint to spot up above the arc at the foul line extended

•    if someone other than 4 or rebounds, they outlet the ball and use their rules

•    4 or 4, whoever gets there, posts up on the ballside block, the other trails

•    5-man weave then 5 on 0 fast break coming back

•    2 on 2 block-out and outlet

•    4 on 4 halfcourt, defence breaks on a stop, other team does not deny pass to point guard, concentrates on getting back

•    transition defence - first priority is the basket, second is the ball, third is to fan out and play defence against shooters that are spotted upup

Ettore Messina & Emanuele Molin, Fundamentals of Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 2)

•    all penetrating passes are denied (into post areas, or to the wings)up

Aluisio Ferreira, Building a Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 2)

•    everyone on the team must be responsible for the ball

•    the defence must always act, never react

•    the offence must not be allowed to move wherever it wants on the court

•    the 24-second clock must become a useful defensive weapon

•    during practice, an attack must always follow a successful defence (stop)

•    pressure on the ballhandler is the keyup

Alain Jardel, French Women’s National Team Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 3)

•    don’t use the hands when guarding the ballhandler

•    don’t bump cutters

•    don’t let the ball stay in the middle of the court

•    stop or slow down the swing of the ball from one side to the other

•    don’t let the ball stay at a 45 degree angle - impossible to defend in the low post

•    anticipate baseline dribble penetration (the only move the ballhandler can make)

•    on penetration, do not help on the strong side

•    help from the weakside with the player nearest penetration, or closest to the baseline

•    defending a low post, avoid contact, move continuously and quickly

•    when the ball goes to the corner, pass over the low post; when the ball goes back up, pass under

•    when the ball goes into the low post, never help from the strong side, since the post can pass to the open perimeter player

•    hard hedge and fight over on a pick and roll far from the basket, trap below the foul lineup

Antonino Molino, Practicing Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 3)

•    when the ball is below the foul line, weakside defenders must go down to the level of the ball

•    the on-ball defender jumps to the ball if his man passes the ball, in the passing lane

•    middle penetration - help and recover (by deny defender), changing from a closed to open stance

•    baseline penetration - help from the weakside, with rotation (note - no ballside low post or corner example in the diagram)

•    on-ball screens- follow the ballhandler, with help from the screen defender

•    whenever possible, push the screener away to force a ballscreen outside the arc

•    or slide through where the ballhandler is dangerous on penetration but not outside shooting

•    off-ball screens - go through the screen, asking for space from the screen defender

•    double screens - follow the cutter with help from the screen defender closest to the ball, the other screen defender protects the laneup

Gregg Popovich, Game Philosophy of the San Antonio Spurs (FIBA Assist, issue 5)

•    play fullcourt defence against a team that relies mainly on a set halfcourt offence, no fullcourt pressing against a team that likes to fast break

•    fast break - on a defensive rebound

•    perimeter players run near the baseline, forcing the defence to run behind them and making it possible for the high post to get the ball

•    they deny the ballside to weakside pass

•    they don’t help out defensively if one pass away from the ball, they help at penetration from the helpside (from the lower position, a defender from the baseline)

•    one of the best shooting positions is in the ballside corner, so the defender on the attacker in the corner never helps on penetration (don’t let the offence make a shot from the corner)

•    the ballhandler can never penetrate to the middle, direct baselineup


Fernando Duro, Principles of Pressure Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 7)

•    pressure defence starts with the inbounds pass

•    players must know where they can trap

•    coach must decide if the first trap will be right after the inbounds pass or after the attacker starts to dribble

•    force the dribbler to the sideline where a second defender will be ready to apply the first trap

•    once the dribbler is double-teamed, the other three defenders continue to guard their own man or area of the court, ready to intercept a pass or help with another trap

•    if the ball is passed out of the trap back toward the baseline, defenders move back to their original positions, giving the defence another chance to trap or at least to slow down the offence

•    if the trap is beaten with a pass over the two defenders, the defence must recover and rotate, switching assignments may be necessaryup

Emir Mutapcic, Basics of Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 7)

•    once the other team gets possession, all five defenders have to sprint back to gain their defensive positions, seeing the ball at all times

•    deny one pass away from the ball

•    keep the ball above the foul line, don’t allow an easy pass to the corner

•    force outside

•    players on the helpside sag to the middle of the lane

•    if there is no ballside low post, the low helpside defender must sag to the ballside edge of the lane to be able to help on baseline penetration, other defenders rotate

•    ballside defenders make the defence aggressive, helpside defenders make it successful

•    we don’t want the offence to swing the ball from one side to the other, deny passes from the wing back to the guard position

•    when the ball is above the foul line, guard low posts (below the dotted line) like outside players

•    when the ball is below the foul line, front

•    early help makes our defence a real team defence

•    on dribble penetration, of the defender of the next attacker must close the gap and help until he realizes that the dribbler is about to slow down, then recover

•    much easier to help and recover if deny defenders are one-third of the way to the ball

•    if there is a ballside low post, the defender is the first helper

•    if the offence penetrates the defence by a pass or dribble, all defenders must sag to the level of the ball and squeeze it back out to the perimeterup

Laszlo Ratgeber, Defending the Pick and Roll (FIBA Assist, issue 8)

•    pushing out - the on-ball defender forces the ballhandler out and away from the screen, with no defensive rotation

•    if the ballhandler makes a dribble back and tries to use the pick again, the screen defender can help and recover

•    switching is a good weapon with 6 to 8 seconds on the shot clock

•    if behind in the score, it is important to force a turnoverup

Oliver Purnell, Wall Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 10)

•    all 5 defenders are guarding the ball

•    does not deny passes outside the arc

•    intense pressure on the ball, influencing sideline

•    defenders one pass away are guarding the ball first, their man second (open position)

•    on middle penetration, a “wall” defender will “show and go”, stepping up as if to help, then recovering to his man (more of a threat than the penetrator)

•    defenders two passes away are in a help position, with one foot in the lane

•    on-ball defender jumps to the ball on a pass, not allowing a face cut

•    closeout with a high hand and top foot upup

Ghassan Sarkis, Defence: A Winning Strategy (FIBA Assist, issue 11)

•    ball pressure destroys the other team’s passing game

•    full deny forces the offensive players to work very hard to get free

•    on the guard-to-guard pick and roll, switch

•    double team the big and little pick and roll

•    move with the ball, not after the attacker catches it

•    slow down the shooters and make them dribble

•    no help - a player starts depending on his teammates for help and often loses sight of his assigned attacker

•    our help is restricted to a few situations, and we never help on the first dribble; moreover, it is too early before the second dribble to offer help

•    good offensive teams are more effective from the so-called “weakside”

•    all teams play strong defence on the ballside of the court, but when the offence swings the ball the defenders shift their attention to the new ballside and in many cases forget their men for a split second and become “spectators”up

Bob Ociepka, Defending the Pick and Roll (FIBA Assist, issue 11)

•    some coaches will trap every sidescreen, others will vary their strategy between trapping and turning the pick and roll down

•    on a sidescreen trap, the on-ball defender goes over the screen to trap with the screen defender

•    if a pass is made out of the trap to the screener on the roll, the Bucks rotate the opposite big man to cover him

•    pushing the sidescreen down (or “down” the sidescreen) - the on-ball defender does not let the ball get to the screen, forcing the dribbler away from the screen and away from the middle

•    the screen defender drops off towards the lane to help on a drive

•    defend the midscreen using “show” (over and under) and “weak”

•    show - the on-ball defender goes over the screen but under the screen defender, who shows up

•    baseline defenders must up the line off their men, and the screener on the roll must be picked up before the dotted line to prevent a deep catch

•    weak - force the ball to the weak hand without allowing a straight drive to the basket, the screen defender sags to help protect against the drive.up

Zmago Sagadin, Defence is a Constant (FIBA Assist, issue 14)

•    with fullcourt pressure, do not foul or try to steal the ball, steal time and wait for a mistake

•    don’t let the opponent easily transfer the ball from one side to the other

•    discourage the screener by destroying the first screen with a foul

•    slide through on a screen away

•    follow the other team’s best player on screens, no shortcuts

•    post defence - do not allow middle penetration

•    use all four team fouls per quarter

•    help-side defence - surprise the man with the ball if he turns his head

•    good defensive teams use at least two principles for rotation

•    defensive rebounding - push the offence out of the paint or under the basket

•    transition defence - sprint back to ball level, stop the ball, be ready to switch everything, bump the trailer (don’t allow a direct cut), foul if necessary - no easy basket, no coast to coastup

Pino Sacripanti, Principles of Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 15)

•    the two bigs go for an offensive rebound, the others balance

•    the nearest big hinders the outlet pass then runs to his area

•    the perimeter player closest the dribbler must slow down the ball, force sideline

•    if the ball is in the low post, we force him baseline, where weakside help will arrive

•    aggressively overplay the attacker near the ball, on the passing lane with the arm or body

•    the xcutter goes through on weakside screens (behind the screen in third position)

•    follow on all ballside off-ball screens

•    on ballscreens, xscreener steps out perpendicularly, xdribbler pushes the dribbler into the screen and goes over

•    possibility of automatic switch on every screen, typically in last 6-8 seconds of an actionup

Dirk Bauermann, Germany’s Game Plan (FIBA Assist, issue 17)

•    trap any post-up off the nearest perimeter defender (usually the passer) as soon as the post puts the ball on the floorup

Oktay Mahmuti, Defence: A Team Concept (FIBA Assist, issue 18)

•    the defender on the ball cannot be beaten in one dribble

•    on-ball defender’s feet are parallel to each other

•    duty of other four defenders is to help the xdribbler by establishing early position

•    on a pass, the xdribbler jumps to the ball, creating a ball-himself-his man triangle

•    on penetration, he shows up for a split second then recovers to his man

•    defending a pick and roll, the on-ball defender forces the ballhandler baseline, the defender of the screener places himself between the ball and the basketup

Mete Levent Topsakal, Man-to-Man Defence (FIBA Assist, issue 19)

•    practice plan - 15% defence

•    don’t talk to your teammates in a negative way

•    follow the cuts as if you were a shadow

•    to defend the pick and roll - slide under the screen, double team, show up and recover; players choose

•    the simpler the drill, the better the result

•    ball on the wing - deny the top, weakside players are open to the ball (high helper outside the lane)

•    on elbow penetration from the top, the ballside wing defender stays home, help comes from defender of the weakside low post (no ballside low post)

•    if the offence plays with two low posts, automatically double team a pass to a low post with the other post defender

•    with a low post and high post, trap the low post with the weakside defenderup


•    force sideline, baseline, then trap there

•    allow the point to wing pass, deny the return pass, force to the corner

•    if the on-ball defender gets beaten baseline, the low post defender (who is fronting the low post) should immediately rotate to the baseline to stop the ball, then trap

•    we like to have our defenders one pass away from the ball in "deny", playing "on the line", especially if we want to deny a pass back out from the corner to the wing and from the wing to the point; you may or may not want to deny the pass from the point to the wing.

•    if you are playing against a team with a very good penetrating guard, defenders one pass away can play a little up the line to help stop dribble penetration

•    if the ball is above the free-throw line, the help-side defender should have one foot in the lane; when the ball is below the free throw line, the helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line

•    against a star post player, ½ or 3/4 front with your post defender from the baseline side, if he/she receives the pass, have your opposite wing defender (who should already be in the paint in helpside) drop down and double from the lane side to prevent the move to the lane

•    the best defence against a curl cut is for the defender to "chase" the offensive player around the screen as closely as possible

•    fight over on-ball screens, or switch

•    fight over, switch, or slide through on screens away from the ball

•    chase around downscreens

•    switch backscreens


•    against teams that are very proficient at the fast-break, try assigning two guards to retreat on the shot, one on each side of the centre circle

•    the ballside guard picks up the ball, the other retreats to the paint

•    one of our re-bounders should try to "jam" and pressure the re-bounder to prevent or slow down the outlet pass

•    the other two players sprint back to the paintup

Fran Fraschilla (ESPN on-line)

•    when to pick up the ball, what passes to deny, how to defend the post (front, trap) and screens (fight over, switch)

•    stop the ball

•    deny the penetrating pass (in the direction of the basket) only to one step beyond the 3-point arc

•    ball reversal from one side of the court to the other is not a penetrating pass unless it is a pass inside the top of the key

•    ball pressure, force sideline, baseline

•    shrink the floor - we want to get five people to the ball side

•    we must make sure the ball never gets by the first help defender

•    help the helper - a third player must help the second defender in a help situation by buying enough time for the second defender to recover to his own man after helping

•    fill and sink - help-side defenders should fill (rotate) to baseline and sink to the level of the ball

•    lock and trail through screens - by caboosing the offensive player and following in his back numbers, we become a difficult target to screen; keep contact with the shooter because good shooters want "separation"

•    if the shooter has two routes off the screen, we try to take away one route

•    to defend the curl cut, it is the job of the screener's man to "bump" the curl cut until his teammate can get over the screen

•    when the ball is above the foul line extended, we want the post defender to play 3/4 on the top side of his man with his hand in the passing lane; when the ball is passed below the foul line extended, we want to front the post or "Red" him (by yelling out "Red", we are alerting everyone about the front defence so that we can pressure the passer harder and alert our help-side defence)

•    "Blue" is our defensive tactic for double-teaming the post; when X4 comes to double, a post-to-post double team, the X3 and X2 "zone the help side”, forming a "weakside I" and are ready to play cutters to the basket

•    defensive rebounding - make the "first hit" when the shot is taken; think "body and ball" - hit a body and get the ballup

Hoop Tactics

•    assume a denial position when one pass away from the player with ball (including ball reversal)

•    front the low post, trap when the post gets the ball

•    when the ball is on the wing, influence to the corner or baseline checkpoints, deny middle penetration

•    if the dribbler tries to drive into the middle, the defender should move quickly to cut off and force the dribbler back toward the nearest sideline

•    if the defender is unable to turn the dribbler and the dribbler penetrates to the free throw line area, the high helpside I defender makes a "cross switch" with the on-ball defender

•    strike (help) position - approximately halfway between their opponent and the passer, one arm's distance below an imaginary line running between the opponent and ballhandler (however, the diagrams show help defenders with both feet inside the lane)

•    three players assume a helpside triangle whenever traps are set; on a pass out of the trap, all players rotate as the ball leaves passer’s hands, with the high triangle player closing out on the player receiving the pass, all other defenders rotate to the nearest offensive player

•    in general, switch on off-ball screens, and on-ball screens above the foul line

•    backscreen - xcutter slips inside the screen (ballside) on the switch

•    base screen - hi-lo switch rule - if the cutter goes baseline (low) off the base screen, the defenders switch; when the cutter goes over the top (high), the defenders do not switch

•    UCLA screen (high post rub) - hi-lo switch rule - if the cutter goes behind the high post screen, the defenders switch; when the cutter goes in front of the high post screen, the defenders do not switch

•    trap on-ball screens below the foul line

•    trap on baseline dribble penetration

Missed Shots

•    the closest defender aggressively smothers the offensive rebounder, delaying any quick outlet pass, the other defenders match up to nearest offensive players

•    the defensive guards immediately find the attacking guards and deny quick outlet passes

•    remaining defenders release down the sidelines, turning at mid court to see the ball, then move to deny passes to whoever is running the side lanes

•    once the outlet pass is made, the on-ball defender forces the dribbler sideline and tries to force 3 to 4 changes of direction

•    the other defensive guard sprints back to cover any long pass over the top, then moves up to match up with his manup

James Green, Disruptive Behaviour (American Basketball Quarterly, 2004Q1)

•    limit opponent to two transition layups per game

•    believe in 60x2 - 60% of a team’s scoring comes from two players, so limit their touches and shots

•    play defence low and with live feet

•    when the ballhandler starts to make a move on the dribble, his defender’s first move is back, pushing off the front foot

•    good ball pressure - live feet, live hands, call “ball”

•    with on-ball screens, always go over the top

•    big to big cross screen - defender of the cutter always goes low

•    small to big cross screen - same approach

•    off-ball screens - usually trail, or shoot the gap

•    trail the cutter on double downscreens

•    deny all penetrating passes (one that advances the ball closer to the basket)

•    deny the post 3/4 in front

•    deny the wing on the line and up the line

•    a player should always help across, never up

•    when contesting shots, would rather have the attacker shoot than drive

•    transition defence - hole and ball - the first man back takes the hole (does not leave until a big calls him out), the second takes the ball, the others deny the wings in transition

•    defensive box out - step right at the attacker splitting him between the legs, check with the forearm, reverse pivot, push him away from the basket

•    drill - 3 on 3, coach at each wing, coach shoots, defenders must make 3 rebounds in a row to get off, no out of bounds, no foulsup

Ralph Miller, Pressure Defence (Basketball Highway)

•    instant conversion from offence to defence and vice versa eliminates any rest that the opponents would get on changes of possession

•    sound pressure defence is conservative - only 5% of possessions come from steals

•    you don’t have to gamble, the rules are the same, but extend the perimeter of the defensive coverage

•    perimeter rule - when the ball cracks the perimeter or passes the defensive floor position of any individual, all defenders except the one defending the ball should automatically run to the basket for protection purposes.

•    use a single set of rules, based on zone principles: 1) the man defending the ball applies pressure and the ball-side defence plays the passing lanes, 2) the off-side players are the basket protectors.

•    automatic pick-up rule to control the fast break: guard the man who was guarding you when possession was lost, providing coverage on the rebound, the outlet pass, and as the offence attempts to fill the lanes.

•    anytime there is movement over the top of a screen, or a blind screen, switch

•    they do not trap a lot, the odds aren’t good; if it doesn’t work, the offence probably scores, and it’s the coaches fault

•    the ball is the important thing, defenders should see it and their man, in that order

•    the on-ball defender should be able to touch the ball, hands are up as the ball is received

•    keep the offence off balance, use different defences in the gameup

StartSmartBasketball, Man Defensive Concepts

Larry Brown

•    xscreener stays attached to a UCLA screen (plays behind), makes it small, not bumping his own man

•    on baseline drives, trap, then two interceptors and a goaltender

•    on-ball defence is most important, suggests lots of one on one fullcourt

•    on a low post trap, xpostfeeder goes butt to baseline

•    consider trapping bad passers in the post

•    Dean Smith - run when defending the ball, sliding is too slow

•    3 on 3 defence can cover what every team you play does

•    defending a Hawk cut, don’t go over the top, ride the cutter

•    defending a last shot, trap early in the possession

•    defending a 4 flat last play, yell ‘weak”, xballhandler forces to weak hand, traps with ballside corner defender, rotate quickly to cover corner

•    always guard bigs as if dribble used

Jeff Van Gundy

•    lock and trail all screens except if wider than the NBA lane, then go through

•    against great shooters, trap the catch with defender of the last screener once the pass is in the air (to prevent the slip)

•    give a great shooter only one way to use a screen, force him in a direction

Alvin Gentry

•    vs a high curl, the xpasser stunts to defend the curl

•    guarding a flare screen, chase the cutter, xscreener zones up towards the ball to prevent a curl cut or a slip to the basket by the screener

Steve Alford

•    doesn’t want defence to be continuous closeout, therefore stays away from traps

John Lucas

•    guarding the small to big cross screen into ballscreen, blitz trap with defender not involved in the screening action

Defending Ballscreens

Alvin Gentry

•    xscreener doesn’t allow screener to run a straight line to set a ballscreen

•    on a sidescreen, force the ballhandler into the screen, a baseline drive cause problems (rotations)

•    if the sidescreen is set by a shooter, rotate early

•    xballhandler goes over the top of a ballscreen, under xscreener who hedges

•    drop and plug against random transition ballscreens, no hedge by xscreener, xballhandler can go over or under

•    against great players, decide what to give up

•    difficult to defend by icing/downing a ballscreen

Larry Brown

•    automatic trap a re-screen

•    primary ballscreen defence is over and under

•    switch all ballscreens in late clock situations

•    a ballscreener starting in the middle of the foul line and circling out one way or the other is difficult to defend

Jeff Van Gundy

•    vs double high elbow ballscreens (Horns), be careful hedging out too early, defence is vulnerable to a slip

John Calipari

•    vs a staggered ballscreen, trap with defender of the first screener

Tom Crean

•    defending a transition ballscreen, squeeze and go under, xballhandler then takes a big step back up

•    he traps 70% of ballscreens

•    hedger/trapper doesn’t jump out too early or will get split

•    xballhandler gets skinny and over the topup

Milan Mrkonjic (Lausanne, 26/8/06)

•    force sideline - best defenders

•    better passing angles in the middle

•    post line of 45 degrees dangerous, best position to pass inside

•    current thinking - on-ball defender between dribbler and the basket, parallel stance, go left and right, don’t drop step

•    if you get beat, recover, don’t yell for help

•    help with penetration on the second dribble, not the first, then recover

•    decide on a philosophy - deny, allow entry pass, etc.

•    choose systems based on players

•    low help defender straddles midline

•    high help defender straddles foul lane line

•    shooter in corner, his defender doesn’t help

•    you help the player who merits helpup

Jim Boone, Tusculum Basketball (coachjimboone.com)

•    in the pack line pressure defence, we line up in help, not deny, so only have to recover

•    keep the ball out of the pack area (17 feet from the basket), deny attackers inside it

•    only person outside the pack area is the on-ball defender

•    it’s not the help that beats you, but not recovering

•    the defence is zone oriented ballside

•    defenders are in gap positions, up but off the line

•    explode to closeout if your man gets the ball, high hands critical

•    closeout hard and short, weight back, ready to absorb the dribble

•    xcutter has no responsibility other than getting through a screen - does not help, no longer team defender, loses sight of the ball

•    the xscreener must help, jumping into the path of the cutter, forcing him away from the basket, but staying within touching distance of his man

•    must know the slip line when defending the low post - when to move under him as he moves up the lane to get between him and the basket

•    guard the post on top with the ball out top, 3/4 with the ball on the side

•    when the ball goes into the low post, we “choke” the post with a perimeter player (on the pass, or dribble), or “red” the post with a big to big double

•    keeps hands high in a double team, don’t reach

•    transition defence - as the shot is being taken, two guards get back, the lane defender sprints back to the paint, the ball defender works to contain the dribble at halfcourt and get it out of the middle (his pick-up point can change depending on the opponents), remaining players sprint back - turn and sprint the first 3 steps, then locate the ball

•    pressure the ball, pick up at halfcourt

•    we do not force in a specific direction, just don’t give up the baseline

•    on-ball positioning - point toe in direction of the dribble, push with opposite foot; guarding a yard; imaginary ruler between heels

•    do not jump to the ball per se, first move is to jump back into the pack area, then move toward the ball

•    when an attacker flash cuts to the ball, we intercept with a bent forearm

•    on a pass to the low post, the defender slides behind on air time, slightly to the baseline side

•    on a pass out of a post double team, the defender at the foul lines takes the first pass, the defender under the rim takes the second pass

•    help-side positioning - closed stance, both feet outside the lane with the ball above the foul line, one foot in the paint when the ball is at or below

•    closer to their men for close-out, and to avoid becoming screen bait

•    we allow ball reversal

•    play all off-ball screens the same - keep everything simple

•    switch only in special situations

•    favourite teaching drill is 4/4 with a release, allowing the offence to screen as much as possible

•    as soon as you know you will be screened, get as close as possible to your man

•    flare screen - chase over the screen and loosen up with the xscreener to protect the basket

•    ballscreens

      •    hard show - xscreener gets in the dribbler’s path and has his shoulders facing the ball, xdribbler goes over the screen and under the xscreener, help the helper (xscreener) with our other post defender (big supports big)

      •    soft show - xdribbler goes over the screener and xscreener

      •    slide - xdribbler goes between the screen and the xscreener

      •    flat - squeeze, against a screener that can shoot or is a great screen and roll guy

•    staggered or double screen - xscreener closest to the ball extends into passing lane, other xscreener is the zone man, xcutter chases hard.up

© 2007-19 Eric Johannsen