This article was written by University of Southern California assistant men's basketball coach Chris Capko.
Transition defense is a very important part of any basketball game and extremely difficult to teach and organize. As a coach you cannot control when it will happen, how it will happen, or how many players will be involved. You have to build daily habits with your team and hope that when presented with the situation they are able to execute. At Florida International we have some key components to our transition defense that we focus on. Hopefully they will help you with your team.
A great question to ask yourself as a coach is; how many people are getting back when the shot goes up? For us the number is two players. The point guard and shooting guard are getting back on every shot. If the one happens to shoot the ball, than the three man will get back and vice versa. We drill this to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Even when we dummy our offense, the correct people must get back after each shot.
Stopping the Ball
When a shot goes up for us, the two will sprint all the way into the backcourt. The point guard will run to just before half court. On the outlet pass, he is picking the ball handler up at the three-quarter court mark. We do not want the ball handler to get a full sprint start and believe that picking the ball up at that point on the floor will help with that.
Turning the Ball Handler
We challenge our guards to be able to turn the ball handler at least twice once they pick the ball up. The more times the ball handler is turned the better. This allows for the other defensive players to sprint back and get set.
Keeping the Ball Handler on One Side of the Court
We also demand that our guards be able to keep the ball handler on one side of the floor. This can be extremely difficult, but if your going to be very good in transition, than they must take on the challenge. If you keep the ball on one side of the floor, the players who are back can load up to help and the last ones back can sprint to the weak side of the floor. The weak side of the floor is the longest pass and toughest one to make in this scenario.
Protecting the Basket
For us, the two man will ideally will be protecting the basket until the first big gets back. Once this happens they are release to go back out to the perimeter. This requires great communication between the two. This leads nicely into the next point.
Matching up in Transition
Young players especially will want to run to their man and say they did their job. However, that is just not the case in transition. This is where the communication habits you have instilled with your team really show. Are they talking about who is stopping the ball, who is taking the first pass or who is protecting the basket? Every player must be talking and pointing, “A quiet team is a losing team!”
You will never be able to execute great transition defense if your team is not willing to give a great effort in getting back. Players must be willing to sprint back and get into defensive position.
The points listed above are generally for a team that has missed a shot and can have somewhat of a normal court balance. As coaches we dread being in the position defensively where we don’t have numbers because of a turnover or loose ball situation. So a great way to work on this is offensive advantage drills in practice.
We do this everyday in practice, it is a staple of our transition defense. This is also a great for both sides of the ball because it promotes being able to take care of the ball in transition and make good offensive reads on the run. These situations will happen in every game, so you HAVE to be willing to put time in and practice it.
One of the big things that we work on is our stopping points. Who takes the first pass, and then what happens after that? The objective of the defense is to force as many passes as possible, this allows the rest of the team to get back in the play (if they are sprinting back).
How efficient you are on the offensive end of the floor will determine how much time you spend playing transition defense during the course of a game. If you are making shots and executing your offense, you will most likely not have to play very much transition defense. However, if you are struggling to shoot the ball or play against a team that really likes to run. You need to be able to lock down in transition. Transition defense can win and lose you games. It is important that you spend time mastering it and making sure that all of your players are on the same page when it comes to transition defense.