Sunday, November 22, 2015

Modern Pressure Defense

Photo courtesy of
This blog post is inspired by a post I made on the X's and O's of Basketball message board. It also may inspire me to write a more in depth booklet on the subject of modern pressure man defense. As most people know I LOVE offense. Unfortunately I also know that defense is what defines every single high school and college program that is successful long term. So I do spend a lot of time studying successful defensive teams.

With that said, there is no one defense that's the magic bullet. Teams win with everything from aggressive full court systems to passive half court ones. Coaches win with man, zone, SWARM, etc. So there isn't a magic defense - you just need to be committed to it and really good at teaching your system to your team. Each type of defense has it's strengths and weaknesses. In this blog I'm going to address the common criticism of pressure man defense - not having elite athletes.

Whenever I talk to coaches about pressure man, a common refrain is that "you'd better have athletes". While I do agree 100% that having great athletes is helpful (I've benefitted from that the last 3 years now), I believe that ANY team can pressure, if it's done right. You'll always be more successful at pressure man with better athletes, but I don't think there's a defensive system out there that you can't say that for. But how do you pressure with lesser athletes and still be disruptive to your opponent? Below are 9 things that I think will help any team "modernize" their pressure defense philosophy.

1. Guard Your Tunnel is Priority #1

  • If you can contain the dribble you eliminate the need for help and allow teammates to pressure. 
  • "Guard your tunnel" is an expression I got talking to Coach LaPlante from Rochester Community College (MN). The idea is that players are responsible for their area. 
  • Players are responsible for the area 3ft or so to the right and left of them. 
  • We don't help outside of the tunnel - there is no need to!

2. Use the bounce and reach step. 

  • The bounce means that as the offense goes to drive your first move is straight back a few inches. 
  • This is followed by what Brian McCormick calls a kick or reach step. Instead of stepping and sliding you push off hard with your back foot and lunge into position in front of the ball. 
  • The key is to beat the offense to the next spot, force them to go around you again and repeat until you've "bounced" them away from the basket. 
  • If you do this, you don't need help.

3. Understand How Much to Pressure the Ball

  • This varies for each player and for each match up they have. 
  • Must give enough space so you don't get beat in a straight line. 
  • You can use stunts to pressure from a little farther away. 
  • Must know your limitations. 
  • Allows your wings to deny harder because they don't have help responsibility.

4. Square Your Stance

  • I'm not against pushing middle or baseline per se. The advantage is that the entire team knows where the drive should go. But there are two problems. Problem one the offense doesn't care about your plan and the ball will be dribbled the wrong way at times. Problem two is that I found many times it allows too many straight line drives. 
  • Squaring your stance allows you to better anticipate the offense (because you are ready for whatever). 
  • Squaring up allows you to better guard your tunnel. 

5. Let Pressure Come from Denial

  • If you have an athletic team, turn the heat up on the ball. But if not, simply contain the ball and let your one pass away defenders do the work by denying the passes. 
  • Use jabs and stunts to fake pressure. 
  • Containing the ball let's your one pass away defenders really deny hard without worrying about help. 

6. Don't Help One Pass Away - Help from the Middle

  • Helping one pass away leads to open jump shots. BBall Breakdown points it out on a regular basis. Also, it's a reason dribble drive works. Drive, force the help, kick to a shooter. No more. Leave the help to the help defenders, one pass away defenders should stick with denial. 
  • Coach Wayne Walters, who developed the SWARM defense has always said you can't deny, help, and recover effectively. Coach Dick Bennett did too, which is why he went to the PACK. I agree with them, so we take help and recover responsibility away from the one pass away and give it to the players 2+ passes away. 

7. Don't Overhelp 

  • I believe players today help too much. You need to be taught when and where to help. Help creates closeouts and opportunities to get beat. You need to minimize it in pressure man. 
  • Only help when there is a clear danger of the ball being scored at the rim. If the ball is being dribbled east-west don't help. If the ball is being dribbled north south from top to baseline (outside the paint), don't help. There is no need. 

8. Lightly Deny Downward Passes

  • Bob Huggins said it once "I finally realized - why am I denying the passes that I WANT to happen?". I agree with Coach Huggins on this. We WANT the ball to get to a side so don't make it too hard for the offense to make that happen. 
  • Also, pressure teams get beat back door when the cut happens from a wing. When that happens we can deliver a pass without help. If the back door comes from the top we should have help defenders to steal that pass or at least clog the lane.
  • Still look to take one against a poor ball handler. 

9. Hard Deny any Pick UP
  • When the ball gets picked up, every defender one pass away should lock in and deny hard. The on ball is now chest to chest pressure. 

As you can see, these all kind of fit together. If you can guard your tunnel, helping one pass away isn't needed. Using a square stance with the bounce and reach step, while applying the right amount of on ball pressure will allow you to do this. Also if you deny the wings hard you don't need as much on ball pressure (if you can't pressure well). And if you do need help, the denial players can't get there anyway, so it's going to come from the middle. Having the ball more contained will allow you to have your one pass away defenders focus more on pressure. Also having them back off a little on the guard to wing pass will help them not get beat for back door cuts. Modern pressure defense needs to be more focused on pressuring the passes than it is the ball - this will disrupt the offense greatly - especially against pattern and set teams. This is because you can do it (pressure off the ball) with the lesser athletes. You can still disrupt an offense while not getting gashed for layups on the drive if your pressure comes more from denial than on the ball. Of course if you have the athletes then you go wild and pressure the ball and the pass!

And let's be clear, none of these ideas are my own (as usual on this blog). They are great ideas I've pirated from others and put together. They are also not new ideas, but ideas that I believe need to be rediscovered to be successful at pressure man defense. These are the ideas that will lead to more successful pressure defense for teams across the board - regardless of the type of athletes they have.

Thanks to Ttowntiger of the Xs and Os board for putting me onto Jim Huber. I just ordered his DVD and am looking forward to watching it.


Pete VanKempen said...

Coach: our team is super athletic this year but we are packing more because we feel like this will help us steal passes because we can anticipate the ball better in the gap without giving up penetrating drives. We are not huge so we can also trap from the gap and rotate behind. I have felt that denial allows easy buckets because it is so hard to rotate if someone gets beat...
It is more steps to get there. We will see how it goes this season. We will still run and jump press and play a trapping zone as a changeup

Unknown said...

Great post John... I truly liked the principles approach.. I think a follow up post on how to implement these principles would be great. I still am unsure of McCormicks bounce and reach step.

F.T. Dubbya said...

Great post Coach!! I am gonna run a defensive system similar to MSU and a lot of this falls in line with that.

Unknown said...

I think ball denial is determined by the way the opponent prefers to initiate the offense. If a team likes to initiate with the pass, we try to deny one step beyond the 3 pt line. If they like to initiate with the dribble, there is no need to deny. Pressure is designed to make players uncomfortable. You can make some players uncomfortable by making them drivers and others by making them passers.