THE EIGHT ESSENTIALS OF PLAYING EFFECTIVE
MAN-TO-MAN DEFENSE

by

LYLE WELLS

    

An important component of a team's ability to be successful on defense is the capability of the coaching staff to communicate, accentuate, and evaluate the key elements of the defensive package. Athletes will not excel until they are clear about the expectations that are being placed upon them. The development of these eight essential components communicates the defensive priorities to the players as well as giving the staff a clear area of emphasis during each practice and game. Experience and evaluation have indicated that these eight essential areas are the foundation of a successful, swarming team defense.

1. TRANSITION SUPERIORITY

     Great defense begins with five players who are committed to running the floor and defending their basket. The defense must maintain numerical superiority during transition in order to be effective. Upon the change of possession all defenders must sprint ahead of the ball, locate their man, and get into proper defensive positon. The on-the-ball defender is responsible for directing the ball toward the sideline and allowing the other four defenders to establish strong-side and help-side position.

2. BALL PRESSURE

     The ability of an individual defender to place immense pressure on the ball is one of the truly vital components of man-to-man defense. The role of the on-the-ball defender is to close out quickly on the ball and prevent the uncontested jump shot. He must direct the ball away from the scoring area, forcing the dribble toward the sideline and disrupt the ball handler, causing him to pick up his dribble. Ball pressure continues as the defender chests up to the dead ball and forces the offensive player to make an indirect bounce or lob pass that can be easily intercepted.

3. PROTECT THE SCORING AREA

   Defending the scoring area, a space defined as the 3 second lane and the low-post position, is another defensive priority. The ball can enter the scoring area in one of three ways; via the pass, the dribble, or by allowing an offensive rebound. To deny entry via the pass the defender will full front his man any time that man enters the scoring area. This positioning is combined with the extreme on-the-ball pressure to make ball entry into the scoring area a very challenging task.

4. EARLY HELP

    Providing early and effetive help against a penetrating dribbler is another way to protect the scoring area. This is accomplished by having all four off-the-ball defenders in position to stop the penetrating drive. Defenders on the ball side will be positioned at least one-third of the way up the line between their men and the ball. Defenders away from the ball side will straddle the mid-line of the court on the line between their men and the ball. When an offensive player threatens the scoring area with dribble penetration, the nearest defenders move to cut off the drive as the other defensive players rotate to prevent an attacking pass into the scoring area.

5. CONVERGING ON THE BALL

     When the offense is successful at entering the ball into the scoring area via the dribble or pass, it is the responsibility of all five defenders to converge and prevent the shot or another attacking pass. The on-the-ball defender and the nearest help defender immediately trap the ball as the other three defenders rotate and cover the most immediate offensive threats. The ball is always double-teamed in the scoring area! If the defense is successful at forcing the ball to retreat outside of the scoring area, the defenders must close out, return to the men they were guarding, and reestablish proper defensive position.

6. ELIMINATE BALL REVERSAL

     With the emphasis that is placed upon the positioning of defenders relative to ball side and help side, it is imperative that the offense be discouraged from quickly reversing the basketball and creating a significant change in the responsibilities of all five defenders. Offensive players are denied reversal of the ball by the on-the-line positioning of the ball side defenders. The intense ball pressure provides a deterrent to the use of the skip pass by forcing the offensive player toward the sideline and smothering the ball when the dribble is eliminated.

7. CONTEST ALL SHOTS

     The ultimate goal of any defensive package is to prevent the opposition from scoring. By forcing the offense to take perimeter shots and then contest them the defense has a significant statistical advantage. Surveys of both high school and college shot charts demonstrate an alarming drop in the percentage of successful field goal attempts when the shots are contested. Field goal percentages will often drop 12-20% when shots are consistently challenged by the defense.

8. REBOUNDING AND BALL RECOVERY

     Defensive possessions usually end in three ways; a turnover, a missed shot, or a made basket. A defense that is able to pressure the ball and contest shots must be adept at recovering the ball when it is loose or deflected and rebounding missed shots. Effective defensive rebounding also prevents the offense from obtaining the ball in the scoring area with an offensive rebound. Rebounding and ball recovery not only terminate the defensive possession without any points being scored, but often times create a numerical advantage in the transition from defense to offense.

      Each of the eight essential areas can be evaluated efficiently, either statistically or subjectively. During practice or games an assistant coach or team manager can chart any of these areas and give the staff immediate information regarding the defensive effort and execution. Coaches will then discover that these eight essentials not only bring priority and purpose to the defensive scheme, but will also have a significant impact in the performance level on the court.

 

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