This article was written by University of Southern California assistant men’s basketball coach Chris Capko.
Transition defense is an important part of any team defense in basketball, but it can sometimes be 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 they can execute when presented with the situation.
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, then the three-man will get back and vice versa. We drill this in practice 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.
Turning the Ball Handler
We challenge our guards 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 keep the ball handler on one side of the floor. This can be extremely difficult, but if you are going to be very good at transition defense in basketball, 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 be protecting the basket until the first big can get back. Once this happens, they are released 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 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 execute a great transition defense in basketball if your team is not willing to give a great effort in getting back. Players must be willing to sprint back and get into a defensive position.
The transition defensive points listed above are generally for a team that has missed a shot and can have a somewhat 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 team basketball drills in practice. By doing these different basketball drills, you will prepare your team to battle in transition and help slow up the offensive attack until the rest of your defense can get set.
We do the 3-on-2, 2-on-1 transition basketball drill every day in practice; it is a staple of our transition defense. This is also great for both sides of the ball because it promotes taking care of the ball in transition and making good offensive reads on the run. These situations will happen in every game, so you HAVE to be willing to put the 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).
Transition Defense in Basketball Conclusion
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 lock down in transition. Transition defense can win and lose you games. You must spend time mastering it and making sure that all of your players are on the same page when it comes to transition defense and everything else that goes into your basketball team defense.