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Correct positioning for effective pressure man-to-man defense

By Morgan Wootten


Being in the proper position and knowing the responsibilities associated with that position are crucial to good team defense. A player in correct position has an excellent chance of making the right play. Conversely, a player who is even a half step out of position is prone to committing a foul or surrendering a basket.

For a pressure man-to-man defense to be successful, each defensive player on the court must know and be able to execute various responsibilities. These responsibilities are constantly changing, depending on the offensive player being guarded and his position in relation to the ball’s position.

Defending the Ball
Have the player guarding the ball put intelligent pressure on the ball handler in an effort to stop the dribble. The defender should attempt to make the player put the ball on the floor, and then force him to pick it right back up for a “dribble used.”

The defender whose offensive player is one pass away from the ball should be positioned between that player and the ball. The defender should also be slightly off of the offensive player. From this position, the defender decreases the offensive player’s quickness and gives himself more time to recover and contest the backdoor cut. The defender’s chest should face the offensive player, and his back foot should be positioned so that it cuts the offensive player in half. The defender’s front foot, outside arm, and hand should be in the passing lane.

Denied the ball this way, the offensive player is forced to go backdoor, where the help-side defense is positioned. This overplay position also allows the defense to continue to dictate and control the tempo of the game. But to do so, defenders must always see both the ball and their player while they are in the overplay position.

This type of defense makes it difficult for offensive players to get open. An offensive player can take two to three full steps toward the basket before his defender is required to take a step to contest the pass. Not having to react to every single step of the offensive player also allows the defender to shut down the pass to his player off a V-cut, which many offenses rely on to get started.

Defending Two Passes Away
The defender whose offensive player is two passes away from the ball should have one foot in the foul lane. He should position himself to see both his player and the ball. This puts the defender in position to either stop the penetration on the ball side of the court or to react to the lob pass to his player.

Defending Three Passes Away
When a defender is guarding an offensive player who is three passes away from the ball, the defender should position himself in the lane. From this location, the defender is in the best possible spot to stop the ball-side drive.

Rules of Man-to-Man Pressure Team Defense

  • Do not let offensive players catch the ball. If they do catch the ball, put aggressive but intelligent pressure on the ball.
  • Get the dribbler to pick up his dribble and close up on him.
  • Completely overplay the first receiver. Get off the player and toward the ball with one hand in the passing lane.
  • When the offensive player is not an immediate receiver (two or more passes away), the defender should be well off his player and in position to help or deny the flash.
  • Rotation rules: (1) The high post never gets involved in the rotation. (2) The low post, off-forward, and off-guard rotate one offensive player closer to the ball. (3) If the ball goes into the post, defenders who are one pass away collapse and dig in, then retreat to their correct positions once the ball is back on the perimeter.


This is an excerpt from Coaching Basketball Successfully, Second Edition.




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