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Teaching Man-to-Man Pressure Defense
Coach’s Clipboard, http://www.coachesclipboard.net
Man-to-man pressure defense enables us to get pressure on the ball at all times ("on-ball" defense), while still protecting the basket ("helpside defense"). I love watching a well-coached team that plays great man-to-man pressure defense. Here's the way we teach it.
Force to the sideline and baseline.
We teach our on-ball defenders to force the ball toward the sideline and then down to the baseline. Once at the baseline, we do not allow penetration along the baseline, but try to trap there. Forcing the ball to one side immediately allows you to establish your helpside defense. When the ball is at the top of the key or in the middle, the low defenders must play fairly "straight up" and you must defend the entire court. But once the ball goes to the side, our weakside defenders can move into a helpside position (see below) and deny the pass into the post, and help prevent dribble-penetration. When the ball is in the corner, we only have to defend one half of the court and can load all five defenders toward that side. With the long skip pass to the other side, there is usually enough time (while the ball is in the air) for the defense to quickly rotate back.
How do you force the ball to the side? The on-ball defender at the top of the key, or on the wing, must close-out on the ball-handler with his sideline (outside) foot back and the middle (inside) foot forward. Have the defender put a little more of his/her weight on the front foot, so that if the ball-handler makes a quick dribble move toward the outside, the defender can push back off that front foot more quickly.
Some coaches deny the point to wing pass, but it might make more sense to let the pass go to the wing if we really want to force to the side. Once the ball is on the wing, we want to deny the pass back out to the point, and force the ball even further into the corner. Now realize that most often the pass to the low post comes from the wing. And once the ball gets into the low post, most of the time bad things happen... they either score or we foul. So it is very important to teach your post defenders to front the low post as the ball moves to the wing and corner areas. We must deny that pass into the post. But what about the "over-the-top" lob pass? First of all, this pass is a difficult pass to consistently complete... it is often thrown too high and out-of-bounds. But when this pass is made, the opposite low post defender (in "helpside") must immediately rotate over to double-team that pass, while the opposite wing defender (who should already be inside the paint in helpside) rotates down to cover the opposite low block.
I personally believe that the two main things that cause problems for a good man-to-man defense are (1) point guard dribble-penetration into the lane, and (2) the pass getting into the low post. In both situations, something bad usually happens... a basket or a foul. We prefer to give up outside jump shots, not lay-ups and free-throws. It's important to keep guards from penetrating from the top. First of all, when the ball is at the top (in the middle) there is no helpside defense established, since all defenders must play their own man in deny at that point. So when the point guard penetrates, one of our low post defenders must come up, leave his/her man open for an easy pass, and may foul the point guard. We want our defender on the point guard to play fairly "straight-up", and even over-guard the offensive player's right or left side, depending on which way he/she likes to go. The point defender must work hard and play defense with his/her feet and stay in front of the offensive player, and not just "reach-in" and swipe at the ball. We often have to make adjustments depending on the offense's strengths and weaknesses. If their point guard mainly is a penetrator, we have our point defender back off a step and invite the outside shot instead. We will have our wing defenders "hedge" and give "help and recover" in trying to deny dribble-penetration (see below).
We also want to deny dribble-penetration along the baseline. If the on-ball defender gets beaten, the low post defender (who is fronting the low post) should immediately rotate to the baseline to stop the ball. Meanwhile, the opposite low post defender must immediately rotate to cover the vacated post player while the opposite wing defender rotates down toward the basket. Once we have the ball stopped at the baseline, we will try to trap here and get the five-second count, or get the ball-handler to make a bad desperation pass outside... something that we can intercept.
Keeping pressure on the ball, on-ball defense.
We want defensive pressure on the ball at all times. This will cause offensive turnovers and give their outside shooters difficulty getting the shot off. Assume the stance described above, forcing toward the baseline, and focus on the belly-button. Don't get your feet crossed unless you have to sprint back. Avoid "reaching-in" and taking a swipe at the ball, as this causes the defender to lose his/her balance and defensive stance and the offensive player can now beat him/her off the dribble. Reaching-in also leads to fouls. Keeping pressure on the outside harasses the offensive player and makes it difficult for him/her to see the floor and his/her teammates. An important part of denying that pass into the low post is keeping pressure on the ball, so that it is really difficult to make that pass. But won't playing up tight on the ball-handler allow him/her to beat the defender with a dribble move? Yes and no... read about "help and recover" below. The principle of help and recover is very important in denying dribble-penetration, once again pointing out that man-to-man defense is a "team defense", not just individual man-on-man. Also, our helpside low defenders should be in position to stop dribble-penetration, but at the risk of leaving an unguarded low post player... so we must teach our outside defenders how to work together with help and recover to keep the ball outside
Defensive positioning off the ball - Deny, Helpside, Help and Recover
See Diagram A below. First, pretend there is an imaginary line up the middle of the court called the "helpside line" (red line). And then also imagine a line drawn from the ball to each offensive player (green lines). We like to have our defenders one pass away from the ball in "deny", playing "on the line" (see Diagram A). This is especially true if we want to deny a pass back out from the corner to the wing and from the wing to the point. Depending on your own coaching philosophy and the opponent's strengths, you may or may not want to deny the pass from the point to the wing.
Defenders whose man is two passes away are in "helpside", and are "up the line" sagging into the lane (paint) area. This helpside positioning almost looks like a zone away from the ball and puts our defenders in a better position to help prevent inside passing and dribble-penetration. Helpside defenders should never lose sight of their man and should use their peripheral vision to always see the ball and their man. Some coaches call this the "pistols position" pretending that your index fingers are pistols, with one pistol pointing at the ball and the other pointing at your man. Some use the term "ball-you-man" to emphasize this point. Once the ball gets down in the corner, all helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line (Diagram B). You can see in this diagram that our X5 defender is in a good position to slide over and provide backside defense to the over-the-top lob pass to O4. And X4 is in a good position to deny the pass to O4 and also deny dribble-penetration by O2 (Diagram C). Also notice how X5 and X3 rotate in this situation. Also notice in Diagram B, that whenever the ball is below the free throw line, the helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line.
Now notice in Diagram D below how the defense shifts and rotates on the "skip pass" across court to O3. Not shown in the diagram, if O4 flashes to the ballside elbow, X4 will move up and try to keep a hand in front denying O4 that pass, while X2 (in helpside) can drop down a little lower in the paint in the event of the over-the-top lob pass to O4.
Help and Recover.
Diagrams E and F below teach how to give help and recover on the perimeter. This is necessary because when you play tight pressure defense on the ball, there are going to be times when the on-ball defender gets beaten off the dribble. To help stop dribble-penetration, the adjacent perimeter defender gives help, trying to deny the dribble move. Here is a tip... if you are playing against a team with a very good penetrating guard, rather than playing a "full-denial", defenders one pass away can play a little up the line and step or two toward the ball in order to help stop the dribble penetration. On the other hand, if one of the help defenders is guarding their star outside three-point shooter, you would probably rather keep that defender in a deny position and not leave his man to give help. It helps to know your opponent.
In Diagram E, O3 tries to dribble-penetrate. The X1 defender gives help and O3 is prevented from penetrating, and has to dish back out to O1 (Diagram F). The X1 defender then has to rotate quickly out to on-ball defense on O1, and the X2, X3 and X4 defenders are now in deny, while the X5 defender moves into help-side (Diagram F). Important teaching point... in teaching help and recover, you must teach and drill your help defenders to move their feet quickly to establish position to prevent the dribble move... they must not simply "reach-in" and take a swipe at the ball.
Defending post players.
We want to make every effort to keep the ball out of the low post, as most of the time when the ball gets down there, the opponent either scores or we commit a foul. One way to motivate our players is to explain that by keeping the ball out of the low post, they reduce their chances of getting into foul trouble and sitting the bench. So we believe it is wise to front the low post, either 1/2 or 3/4 front (from the baseline side) when the ball is on the wing, or full front if the post player is not very tall. If the ball is passed to the point, the defender slides behind the post player and then fronts from the lane side with both feet above the defender and an "arm bar" up to try to impede the post player from flashing up to the high post. Your post defenders must work hard with good footwork to accomplish this. Some coaches prefer to full-front the low post, while others are concerned about giving up rebounding position and the lob pass over the top, and prefer to 1/2 or 3/4 front. As mentioned above, our helpside defenders rotate quickly to defend the lob pass into the low post (Diagrams B and C above). Equally important in denying the pass into the post, the on-ball defender must pressure the ball and make it difficult to make the pass into the post.
We would also like to keep the ball out of the high post (elbow or free-throw line area). Here we will 1/2 or 3/4 front the high post. The technique here is for the defender to keep his feet between his man and the basket but have one arm and hand wrapped around in front of the high post player in the passing lane. The diagrams below show how we like our post defender to move around the offensive player. When the ball is on the wing (left diagram), we 1/2 front the post from the baseline side, with an arm in front. When the ball is passed out on top (middle diagram), the post defender slides below the offensive player and 3/4 fronts from the lane side with both feet above the defender. If X4 were to slide over the top (outside) of O4, O4 could pin X4 for inside position and receive the pass inside (right hand diagram). So we prefer X4 to slide below O4.
Double-teaming a dominant low post player. See the two diagrams below. Against a star post player, 1/2 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. This is preferable to double-teaming with the opposite post player, as that would leave the remaining offensive post player unguarded. Using the opposite wing to double may make you susceptible to the opposite wing kick-out and three-pointer. To help defend that outside shot, the X1 defender should close-out and take the wing offensive player. If the pass goes to O3, X1 should cover O3, while X3 rotates out to cover O1.
See below about defending inside, post screens.
Another important aspect is to deny the pass to a cutter moving through the lane. Here the defender must try to keep between his man and the ball, denying the pass. One technique the defender can use is to "bump the cutter" off his/her intended pathway by getting position and riding the cutter away from the basket. "Bumping" may not be a good term as it may imply "hitting" the cutter, or something "dirty". Rather, it means getting inside position on the cutter, or at least an arm in front in the passing lane, much like the ½ or ¾ fronting of a post player. The defender tries to beat the cutter to a certain spot on the floor, which really is no different than two players fighting for rebounding position… both are entitled to that spot on the floor, it just depends on who gets there first. So the defender must use good footwork and establish position over the cutter... you cannot simply push or hold the offensive player. Examples of cuts to defend against are the "give and go" cut, a cut from the weakside wing (either with or without a screen), flash cuts to either high or low post, back-cuts, etc.
One special circumstance... defending the curl cut. See the diagrams below. A good quick guard will sometimes run down low and curl around a post player in order to lose his man. I believe the best defense here is for the defender to "chase" the offensive player around the screen as closely as possible. Sometimes I'll see the defender instead just drop back outside thinking the cutter will be coming back out to his original spot or the perimeter. The right-hand diagram below illustrates the error in this thinking. A good offensive player will read this and pop out to the corner instead for the skip pass and open three-pointer.
Defending against screens
You must have a plan for defending against screens. Of utmost importance is communication between defenders and calling out the screens before they are actually set.
Inside post screens should be switched, since you usually do not end up with a size-quickness mis-match here (see below). On outside perimeter screens, you must decide whether you want to switch these screens, try to fight over them, or slide through (under) them. Switching on the outside could occasionally lead to size and quickness mis-match, especially if a post player steps outside to set a screen for a guard. Here are some ways to deal with various screens.
See Diagram G. You can try to fight over these screens rather than switching, especially if there is a "big-little" mismatch (such as when a post player steps outside and sets the on-ball screen). Otherwise, you could simply switch the screen if no size or quickness advantage is given up. The important teaching point in fighting over a screen is that the screened defender should "step-over" the screen by extending his/her leg (on the side of screen) around the screener's leg. Alternatively, we can fake a switch by having the X1 defender "show" over the top of the screen, stopping dribble-penetration and forcing O3 farther outside. Forcing O3 outside allows X3 the spacing to fight over the top of the screen. Then X1 must recover quickly back to his man. This is just another example of "help and recover".
Several important points...
1. The three remaining defenders must be ready to give help if O1 rolls off the pick inside and gets the pass over the top.
2. X1 and X3 must not allow O3 to split the trap with the dribble.
3. Use this method (or switch the screen) if the ball-handler is within shooting range and is a good shooter. If the ball-handler is well-outside the three-point arc, the on-ball defender could simply slide through the screen (similar to Diagram I below).
4. A hand-off screen, or weave screen, is best switched.
Oftentimes, if the defenders communicate well, the screened defender can simply slide through this screen (Diagram I). It is also easy to switch these screens, as long as a mis-match does not occur.
But if the offensive player coming around the screen is a very good shooter, then it is best to fight over the top of the screen (or switch it). See Diagram H. It should not be difficult to fight over the top as X3 has already dropped down in helpside. As the screener comes near, X3 simply steps out over the top of the screen and stays with O3. Or you can switch this screen, as long as the screened defender works hard to drop back ("step under") and avoid getting sealed outside by the screener. See Diagram J. Here X1 picks up O3 and X3 quickly slides inside of and takes O1. X3 must be very careful not to get "sealed" outside, allowing O1 to roll inside for the pass.
Inside Post Screens.
As stated above, it is best to switch inside screens. Here you are usually not giving up a size or quickness advantage, and switching gives us the best chance to deny the pass into the low post.
Here is a simple rule to use. The defender fronting the low post always takes the low cutter, while the other defender always takes the high cutter.
In Diagram K1, the cutter cuts low. O5 cuts low and X4 switches and simply continues fronting that low post (now occupied by O5). X5 would take O4 now, who may move to the high post or the opposite side. In Diagram K2, the cutter goes high (which is probably what occurs more often). Here X5 drops low and inside O4, while X4 moves out to deny the pass to O5 flashing to the elbow.
In Diagram L, the cutter cuts high. A switch is not always necessary as X5 steps up the lane over the top of the screen and stays with O5, while X4 continues fronting O4.
See the two diagrams below. It would be tempting to simply switch the downscreen as the X2 defender is in perfect position to pick up the cutter O4 coming around the screen, and X4 is in good position to take the screener O2. Two problems could arise however. First, after the switch, you could have a big-little mismatch. Second (see the diagram to the right below), the cutter may read this switch and instead flare out to the short corner for the pass and open shot, as X2 is caught inside. So we believe it is better not to switch this screen and instead aggressively chase around the screen.
We switch backscreens. See the two diagrams below. As O2 cuts backdoor, X4 will switch and prevent the pass inside to O2. Very importantly, the screened defender X2 must quickly step in front and around to get inside position on the screener O4 and avoid getting pinned outside. This is usually not too difficult if X4 calls out the backscreen to warn X2 that it is coming. After this switch, you may have a big-little mismatch and these defenders will want to switch back at the first opportunity... which may be during the next perimeter pass, especially if the pass goes weakside.
Defending Baseline Out-of-Bounds Plays with Man-to-Man Defense
Some coaches like to zone the baseline OB play with a 2-3 zone. However, there are plays designed that can beat this defense (see "Out-of-Bounds Plays vs the 2-3 Zone"). Here is a way to play the baseline out-of-bounds situation man-to-man without getting "burned" inside. First, "step under" and switch any inside screens (see the right diagram below). The screened defender X4 steps under (back toward the baseline one step) to get inside position on the screener O5, in order to avoid getting "pinned".
In addition, deny the pass inside by having your inbounds defender play a "one-man zone" in the paint denying that pass. In the diagram below left, X3 drops off the inbounder into the paint, looking to deny any pass inside and lay-up. But once the pass goes outside, he/she must move quickly back on the inbounder (O3), who may step out to the corner for the outside shot (below right).
Remember, good man-to-man defense is "team defense". Here is a good quote: "The best man defense looks like a zone and the best zone defense looks like a man."
Also see: Basic Defense, Shell Drill, Man-to-Man Breakdown Drills, and Man-to-Man Positioning Drill.
You can create your own simple breakdown drills to teach the above principles. Or get Coach Bob Huggins' (University of Cincinnati) excellent book, "Building a Man-to-Man Defense". This booklet is loaded with drills on teaching these man-to-man concepts.
Copyright 2003-2005, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.
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