Basketball HQ Co-Founder Kyle Ohman wrote this basketball coaching article.
During the course of a basketball season, you will face teams looking to speed you up by using pressure. It may come in the form of a man press, zone press, or a basketball team that likes to trap and gamble at different points throughout the game. Whatever type of pressure defense you are facing, you need to have a game plan with your team, and that plan needs to have been prepped in practice beforehand.
This basketball coaching article aims to give you some focus points that will be pivotal in beating pressure defense in basketball. They will help you to be able to handle any type of pressure that comes your way and will allow your team to play with the confidence needed when facing a pressure defense.
So here are ten keys for beating a pressure defense in basketball and giving yourself the best chance for success.
10 Keys for Beating Pressure Defense in Basketball:
Make the Defense Pay
One of the biggest mistakes that basketball teams make against a pressing defense is automatically pulling the ball out to run offense every time after they have beaten the press. Don’t get me wrong; this is an excellent option at points in the game, depending on time and score. But, if you can make a pressing team pay by getting to the basket for a quality finish, do it!
The best way to get a team to back off on the pressure is to make them pay with easy baskets. If you pull the ball out every time and reset after beating the press, why should they ever stop pressing you and gambling for steals? There becomes no penalty for pressing you, so they will continue to do it. Make them pay.
Stay Strong with the Basketball
It doesn’t matter what your game plan is if your players aren’t strong with the basketball. This means not only holding the ball with strong hands, but it also means being able to operate from a position of strength when looking to run an offense in the half-court. Players need to catch the ball and IMMEDIATELY square their defender up in triple threat. This will be the only way that they will be able to make the defender pay for overpressuring.
The reason it must be immediately is because if an offensive player doesn’t, the defender will eat up their space and force them to pivot backward. Offensive players must battle for the first 12 inches on every catch and square up their defender. Doing this will allow the offensive player to pivot to make a dribble move or pivot to make a straight line pass to another teammate.
If you are playing against a trapping defense, the player with the ball needs to play in a position of strength and do their best not to hold the ball for too long. As soon as the trap starts to come, the player needs to be aware and then look to make a quality pass out of it or split the trap with a dribble.
Use Pass Fakes and Pass on a Straight Line
Defenders off of the ball are going to be playing the passing lanes and trying to jump passes. So one of the most important tools to beating a pressure defense is the simple but extremely effective pass fake. In a basketball pressing defense, the players off of the ball are like free safeties in football.
They are reading the passer and trying to anticipate where they are going to pass the basketball. Throwing in pass fakes will freeze them or cause them to jump out of position before a player makes the pass. Players need to fake a pass and then fire a pass to an open teammate.
Along with pass fakes, players need to make sure that they aren’t throwing looping passes. Looping passes not only open up chances for live ball steals, but even if they do reach the receiver, most of the time, the defense is going to be right there on the catch and ready to harass or trap again.
Passers need to do their best to make straight-line passes to their teammates. This will help prevent tips and steals on passes, but it will also allow the receiver to attack an open space before the defense can shift. And, while yes, there will be times when a pass can be thrown over the top to a receiver, these types of passes need to be made with extra care and limited as much as possible.
Get Open to Receive the Pass
We have all seen basketball games where a point guard has turnover after turnover trying to get into the offense against an aggressive, pressuring defense. The average fan would blame the ball handler, but this is not always the case. In most cases, there is also some responsibility with the players off of the ball as well.
The players off of the ball need to do a great job of getting open on the wing to create a target for the ball handler. The other players on the floor can’t leave the ball handler out to dry by not getting open.
This does not mean dancing back and forth with a wing defender trying to fake them out either. Offensive players need to step across their defender’s high foot, seal them off like a post up, give the ball handler a target to hit by showing their hand, and then go meet the pass as it comes to them. And, if the defender is drastically overplaying, they can back cut them. Nothing will soften up a defense like getting some easy backdoor layups and dunks.
Another big part of getting open to receive a pass on the wing is timing. Players need to time up their step across move so that they are executing it right before the passer is ready to make the pass. If they go too early, they may not be able to hold the seal long enough to stay open. If they go too late, the passer may be under extreme ball pressure and not be able to get them the ball.
Meet Every Pass
Tips and deflections are what pressure defenses in basketball live off of. So it is vital that the receiver comes back to the pass and meets it with two hands every time. If players sit back and wait for the ball to come to them, they allow the defense more time to the ball and also a better angle to jump in and get a deflection. Players need to make it a habit to meet every pass.
If a player is being trapped and is in trouble, teammates must sprint to them and make themselves open receivers. At this point, players shouldn’t be as concerned about running the offense as they are with giving the passer an outlet pass to prevent a turnover.
When pressure is relieved with a pass, the player who caught the ball needs to reverse the ball immediately. Typically, in a trapping situation, the defense is loaded up on one side of the floor. A quick ball reversal will make the defense pay for trapping. As we discussed earlier, the best way to get an over-aggressive defense to back off is to make them pay with easy baskets.
A great way to make a pressure defense pay is hard cuts. Players need to set up their defender and then make a hard cut to get open. If your team is running a specific basketball play, they need to use the cut in that play to get free, but if you are running motion offense, they really need to be reading the defender and then making the correct cut.
Your players can use several different cuts to get open. They can set up their defender by walking away from the ball and then cutting hard across their face, or they may act like they are trying to get open on the wing before cutting hard backdoor to the basket. Whatever type of cut your players use, they need to be sharp with it.
The better your basketball team’s cuts are, the more worried the defense will be about them, and that takes away from their ability to pressure you.
Another essential key to cutting is making sure that your players are a threat to score on every cut. Even if a player doesn’t get the ball on their cut, they need to be thinking, “cut to score.” This will make their cuts more deadly and will force the defense to respect them. A great cut may also open up another player off the ball by forcing their defender to help.
Play at Your Pace
Pressure defenses in basketball are designed primarily to do one thing, and that is to speed you up. By speeding you up, they force you to be sloppy with the ball and to take quick, low percentage shots. You must play at your speed and refuse to let the defense force you to get out of control.
A lot of this falls on the point guard as they need to understand the game flow. They need to know when they should be making the defense pay by being a little more aggressive and when the ball needs to be pulled out to run the offense.
So as a basketball coach, make sure that you are in clear communication with your primary ball handlers on game flow. A good point guard will already naturally understand this, but you can really help out by the play you call out or a calm word encouraging your team to slow down the pace and execute.
Avoid Danger Zones
When playing a pressing or trapping basketball team, there are places on the floor that you want to avoid at all costs. These areas are danger zones and will increase the chances of a turnover. One of these areas is the corners of the floor. Here are a few examples of corners being bad in a press.
- Corners: You must stay out of corners as much as possible. The spacing is tight, and the out of bounds lines and half-court line act like extra defenders.
- Inbounding Full Court: Make sure that your players set up at the free-throw line so that they have the space needed to cut to the ball to get open without having to catch the ball in the deep corner or tight to the baseline. Players will tend to want to start closer to the inbounder because they think they need to shorten the pass. And, while it is important to shorten the pass, they need to start higher so that they have space to cut to get open first.
- Bringing the Ball Across Half Court: Never dribble or pass the ball to someone that just crossed half court and is standing in the corner. The half-court line immediately becomes another defender. A great way to avoid this is by having your ball handler look to reverse sides of the floor as they bring the ball up the floor. This can be either done with a pass or with the dribble.
- Offensive Baseline Corners: Depending on what type of defense you are playing against, these corners aren’t as dangerous. However, against some half-court zone defenses in basketball, they will trap it anytime the ball goes to the corner. So make sure you are aware of that.
Another danger zone is over-penetration. Players need to make sure that they don’t get sped up attacking the press and then dribble into trouble. Your ball handlers must recognize potential trapping areas or areas that are too congested to dribble into. A great move to avoid these situations is the retreat dribble.
If a player does happen to find themselves stuck in a danger zone, they need to be calm, patient, and strong with the ball. The worst thing they can do is toss the ball across the floor in hopes that it might find an open teammate. A wild pass like this is what the defense lives for and will most likely end up in a wide-open layup or dunk for the other team.
The player being trapped needs to be strong with the ball. They must do their best to pivot around or through the trap to make a pass to an open teammate. The other four players on the floor are in emergency mode and must flash hard to the ball to present an open target.
Have a Release Valve
When bringing the ball up against a pressing zone defense in basketball, you always want to have a player behind the ball. This player is the release valve and will be there for trapping emergencies and being able to reverse the ball quickly. This action works like a seesaw. If the ball is swung over to the trailing guard, the player who just passed it must now get behind that ball handler to be their release valve.
Obviously, you still need to be looking to advance the ball up the floor because you only have a limited amount of seconds to get the ball across half court. Having a release valve helps with this because it spaces the defense out and allows the ball to quickly change sides of the floor and then be advanced.
If you are playing against an aggressive full-court man defense that likes to run and jump, you want to get all of your players away from the ball handler. This will prevent the run and jump because the distance is too great. However, if you have players hanging around the ball handler as they bring the ball up the court, the defense can run and jump as they please and create havoc.
If the ball handler is really struggling with the full-court pressure, you could try two different things. The first would be to have your post player set a ball screen in the backcourt. This should be okay because the other team’s post defender is most likely not going to be as quick of foot and will not be able to execute a good trap.
The second option is to have one of your bigs bring the ball up the floor. If you have a hybrid post player that can handle the ball, go ahead and give them the ball, clear the floor, and then have them bring the ball up. Once they cross half court, your point guard can come to get the ball from them to run the offense. A handoff is an excellent action to help with this.
If you are taking rushed low percentage shots, a pressing defense in basketball doesn’t even have to get one steal to accomplish its goal and beat you. It is paramount that you get quality shots on every possession. Don’t allow yourself to get into an up and down game where you are shooting wild shots. As we talked about earlier, you should be making the defense pay for pressing you, but this means taking a great shot.
A big part of this comes down to time and score. If you are on a run and rolling, a dribble down open three from one of your better shooters might be a good shot. On the other hand, if the other team just went on a 6-0 run, this is not a shot you want to be shooting. You will want to run a solid set and make the defense have to guard to get a stop.
This is going to be something that clearly needs to be explained to your players. The better they understand the ebb and flow of a basketball game, the more confidence they will play with. If it is confusing to them about what you are asking of them, they will play tentative, which also falls into the defense’s trap.
Drills to Use for Beating Pressure Defense in Basketball
It is essential that in practice, you are able to simulate pressure defense and prepare your team for what it is going to look like. So here are a few basketball drills that you can use during practice to help you work on some of these areas. *Disclaimer* These drills only work if the defense is getting after the offense!
- 4 on 5 No Dribble Basketball Drill: This drill is excellent for working on being strong with the ball and meeting every pass. The drill is exactly as the title describes it. You are going to have four offensive players and five defenders. The offensive players cannot use any dribbles and must complete ten passes or make a layup/dunk to win the drill. The defense is trying their absolute hardest to get a steal.
- Teaching Points: The more your players can get the ball moving, the easier it will be. The problem comes when a player holds the ball for too long, and the defense can sink their teeth in on the trap. Also, challenge your players to get the ball reversed as much as possible as this will force the defense to have to cover more ground.
- Partner Pressure Passing Basketball Drill: This drill will work on being strong with the ball in triple threat and being able to make a pass out of it. You will have groups of 3 players, and it will be set up like the monkey in the middle game. The player with the ball must hold on to the ball and stay strong in the triple-threat position for 3-4 seconds while the defender in the middle harasses them. After a few seconds, the player will use a pivot, pass fake, etc., to get the pass around the defender to the 3rd player. The player making the pass is going to follow the ball and become the next defender. Just repeat this pattern for the desired amount of time. * Players can grab and reach a little bit as well to make this basketball passing drill harder.
- Teaching Points: The player with the ball needs to keep their eyes up and see the floor as they are being pressured. And, even though they aren’t able to use a dribble in this drill, they need to stay in an athletic position where they would be able to get by the defender with a dribble in a game if needed.
- 3 Man Perimeter Passing Basketball Drill: One of the biggest things that will kill a pressure defense is ball reversals, and this drill will work on just that. You will have three players on the perimeter, located on both wings and the top of the key. They are each going to be guarded by a defender. The players on the perimeter must be able to swing the ball back and forth between each other without using any dribbles or getting pushed out away from the 3 point line. They can, however, back cut for a finish if the defender is completely overplaying them. Here are a few variations of this team basketball drill.
- Variation 1: Have the defenders play dummy defense. If you have younger players that aren’t used to getting open, you should start here. Go for a set time or a number of passes and then switch offense and defense or rotate new people in.
- Variation 2: Full speed defense and have it go for a set time or number of passes. After that, rotate new people in or switch.
- Variation 3: Full speed defense, and then once you are satisfied with the offensive player’s ability to move the ball, call out, “live” and then let them play 3 on 3 looking to score (they are now able to use dribbles). It makes it a little more game realistic.
- Teaching Points: This drill is also a great way to practice timing when getting open. As the ball is being swung, players should time up their step across and seal. The better the timing is, the easier it will be to move the ball.
To really turn up the pressure on any of these basketball drills, encourage your defenders to be extra physical and maybe even permit a little grabbing and fouling. Not only will this allow your players to work on playing against physical teams, but it will also help to teach them to play against missed calls. Just make sure that your defenders know not to reach and foul when they go back to playing normally (don’t want any bad defensive habits).
Beating Pressure Defense in Basketball Conclusion
Notice that this article’s title is not “handling” pressure defense, but rather it is “beating” pressure defense in basketball. That is because when you face a pressure defense, you need to not only take care of the ball, but you must also attack the pressure and make them pay for gambling.
As a basketball coach, this needs to be the mindset of your team. This type of mentality will also be inspiring to your team and give them confidence when playing against pressure. If you have spent the needed time with your team working on beating pressure, your team’s eyes should light up when they play a gambling defense because they know they are about to exploit them.
Beating a pressure defense in basketball also has a lot to do with mindset. If your players can go into a game with a confident mindset, it will be a long game for the other team. However, if they start to doubt themselves and begin to play tentatively, the defense will be all over it and capitalize on it. As a basketball coach, it will be key that you are staying positive with your players and maintaining this confidence throughout the course of a game.
All of these keys for beating pressure defense in basketball will allow your team to play with confidence and deal with any pressure that comes their way.