Don’t Press Your Luck

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     It always amazes me when a team loses a game because they can’t handle a full court press.  It also use to amaze me when my teams would lose to full court pressure too.  So amazed was I that I couldn’t sleep for days after it happened.  That’s when I decided I needed to prepare my teams and myself better so that this quit happening.

     Being a full court pressing coach myself, I certainly knew the benefits and disadvantages of such a tactic.  I knew what caused me to take the press off, what attacks caused my teams the most trouble, and the type of teams that seemed to handle our pressure the best.  What I wanted for my Press Offense was something that was simple to learn, fit into our fast break system, and allowed us to keep up the pace and still score quickly.  Experience had taught me that teams who were meticulous and pulled up after crossing mid-court to set their offense, were my favorite opponents to press.  It was a low-risk strategy because the opposition never tried to score, so we never gave up easy baskets and could always reset into our half-court, base defense.  Opponents who blew through us with a quick burst seemed to be attacking our safety with “numbers” too often for my liking.  So, it seemed natural that my desire to have a quick attack for my offense would be the way to go.

     Most full court pressure happens after a made shot by the opponent, either a field goal or free throw.  One of the most successful attacks my teams had through the years was to throw deep as soon as a field goal was made and before a defensive safety could get back to protect.  Since my fast break designates the (4) man to always take the ball out after a made basket and look deep for the (2),  this option needed to remain in the press offense.  What better way to defeat a press than to score three seconds after the opponent has scored? (Diagram #1)

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     My next goal was to keep the Press Offense as near to our fast break attack as possible.  (See earlier blogs on Developing a Fast Break Attack)  Therefore, the second option after a deep look, was to get the ball to the Point Guard (1) and have him look to pitch it up the sideline to (2) or (3) just like always.  (Diagram #2)  Two quick passes could possibly lead to a basket in 5 seconds or less without doing anything different than in our normal fast break.  As usual, the Point Guard would be wide and up the sideline to receive as deep of an outlet as possible.  But, if he was covered or pressured, we had him run a banana cut toward the in bounder and across the key to get open.  This allowed him to potentially start the break on one side of the court and then quickly change to the opposite side; thus, forcing the full court press to adjust.

     Everyone ran their same lanes as on a regular fast break, but slight adjustments had to be made for the times the deep pass or the sideline passes were not open.  This is where (2, 3, and 5) had to read the situation and adjust their responsibilities.  Against any full court pressure, the (5) was designated as the Safety Inlet.  His responsibility was to come back and help get the ball inbounds if the Point Guard was denied.  The wings, (2) and (3), ran to mid-court and were responsible for coming back down the sidelines to help if (1) and (5) were denied.  Thus, all four players on the court were safety release options for (4) if he was not able to get it in quickly to the point guard.  Generally this only happened on made free throws or other dead ball, out of bounds situations.  Diagram #3 shows a safety inlet to the (2) man instead of (1) or (5).  The (1) fills the spot vacated by the player who does take the safety inlet pass.  If (5) gets the inlet, (1) goes to the middle.  If (3) gets it, (1) goes to the left sideline.

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                    2-1-2 Alignment vs Zone Press from Secondary Break

     Against any zone full court pressure, we always balanced the full court with a 2-1-2 spread set.  The (5) was in the middle, (2) and (3) deeper sidelines, (1) and (4) in the backcourt to reverse the ball as needed.  Our basic progression was the same as if we were on a fast break, 1. Sideline, 2. Middle, 3. Cross, 4. Back-pass and Swing it.   I like (5) in the middle because he is a big target and when he gets it, he can see over the defense better than a shorter player.  He is instructed not to dribble, but to find an open wing down court. Usually it is the “crosscourt wing” who is open, so we teach that look first rather than to the “strong side” wing.  Anytime a pass is thrown in (5’s) direction, he is expected to “go get it” like a rebound and protect the ball by keeping it head high.  Again, his rule is to NOT dribble.  I have even gone so far as to say, “Don’t dribble unless everyone leaves the gym.”  A big man dribbling with small, quick defenders chasing him is not something my heart can easily handle.  When (5) catches it, he should face his basket immediately and look up court for an open wing.  Then pass it and cut to the basket looking for a return pass and dunk or layup.

     We have looked sideline, we have checked middle (5), and if nothing is there verses a zone press yet, it is time to reverse it.  When the Point (1) has the ball, the (4) is required to remain behind him, but away and on the opposite half of the court.  This allows the back pass lane for (1).  If (1) is near the sideline, (4) must move more to the center of the court to shorten the potential back-pass.   When (4) receives the back pass, he immediately looks to his sideline for a potential pass to the wing (2-3) on the weak side of the press.  (Diagram #4)  If that pass is not there, (4) follows the normal pattern (sideline, middle, cross, back pass) and next looks for (5) in the middle.  If (4) has to make a back pass to the (1), the Point Guard needs to get it and go as he also looks to his sideline.  The 10 second count would be about up by then, so the ball must get across half court quickly.  This doesn’t happen too often in our press offense because the middle or first reverse usually gets the job done.  Of course the deep pass score and the two-pass sideline attack helps make the press offense more successful and less stressful for my team too.

     The wings (2) and (3) run wide and look back to see the progress of the ball as they reach mid court.  If they see a press attack, they can stop at mid court and prepare to come back for a safety inlet.  If the ball comes in to the Point Guard or the (5), the wings space out along the sideline, away from defenders, and into open areas.  Hiding behind any mid court defender is a great way for them to get open.  They can space deeper (10-15 feet), behind the defender for a pass over the top, or flash in front if a shorter pass release is needed.  The (5) in the middle can hide too, if a defender is in that area.  When a defender matches on him, the (5) should work back and forth to get himself open in the middle and occupy the defender.  Like the wings, he can flash in front of a middle defender when needed.

     If presses soften up to three quarter court, an adjustment will be needed when the first two, quick attack options (4 to 5 or 4 to 1 to 2) are not available.  The point guard will face no immediate pressure as the defense sags back, so he will have to dribble up to a defender to force the opponents to adjust and match up.  This slows the attack, but a hard dribble that stops just short of a defender will not cause too much of a delay in the attack.  As (1) dribbles up, the wings (2) and (3) will need to drop back almost to the baseline offensive corners.  If middle defenders do not respect this move and drop back themselves, (1) will be able to pass over the top and beat the press quickly.  As always, the Point Guard will next look to the middle (5) if the sideline is not open.  The middle man will need to set up deeper than normal, somewhere around the top of his own key.  This is the middle of a soft press and now serves as the new, shorter relay point.  The Point Guard can also look for a cross-court, skip pass over the (5) to the opposite wing too.  The final option is the reverse pass to (4) who will look to get it up his sideline.  Everything is the same as full court pressure, just on a shortened court.  The point guard is responsible for shortening the court with his early, hard dribble at the defense.

     Once the ball is across mid court, we want to score quickly if the “numbers” are in our favor.  Usually the (5) is able to get free in the key area or low post if we look for him early, or we swing the ball quickly and look  for (5) again on the opposite side.  All of this is just a continuation of Early Offense discussed in earlier blogs.  Taking advantage of the defense as it transitions is the key to a good press attack.  When you score before they can set into their regular half court defense, you have actually had a fast break opportunity pay off.

     In later articles I will cover how to attack Half Court Zone Trapping Defenses, Full Court Man Pressure, (including the Run and Jump), and Prepping for Pressure in Practice.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Keep your Press Offense similar to your regular Offensive Attack.
  2. Look to score whenever you have “numbers” vs the press.
  3. Look opposite when receiving a pass in the middle of the court.
  4. Take your attack to a “soft press” with a hard dribble.
  5. Keep the Offense spread so you can reverse the ball.
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