Pressing on Made or Missed Free Throws

NCAA Basketball 2016 -  Georgetown beats USC Upstate, 105-61

A good Full Court Press can create some steals and easy baskets for a well organized defensive team.  But the question most coaches have is, “How much and how often to use this high energy requirement during a game?”  In my 35 years of coaching both high school and college, I found there are four basic situations where a full court press is successful:

  1. From the beginning of a game till the end when you have better athletes and more depth than opponents.

2. Early in the season before opponents have had much chance to prepare for pressure.

3. At the end of a game when the pressure is on the opponent in the lead and turnovers can quickly change the outcome.

4. As a surprise or situational defensive changeup that can confuse an opponent.

I have done all four with some success, but I seldom had the depth to do Situation #1 very often.  Because I always favored a fast break attack, quick transition defense and a tough half court defense, I felt my teams did not have the reserve energy to do a game-long pressure defense without tiring at the end of games and the end of the season.  Thus, I stuck with Situation #3 and #4, “end of game” and “surprise tactic.”  My favorite “surprise” was the Make or Miss Free Throw Press, where we pressured an opponent every time we shot a free throw.  Some years I used a 1-2-1-1 alignment with pressure on the ball rebounded or taken out of bounds. (Diagram 1)  Other years, I found my talent worked better with a 2-2-1 press that pressured the rebounders on “misses” or denied inbound passes on “makes.” (Diagram 2)

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One of the keys to our success was a strategic lineup during our free throw attempts.  Our Rim Protector (5) was always sent back to the safety position, except when he was the shooter of course.  When that happened, our other Big (4), who was the “on-ball man” on 1-2-1-1 or “left mid court” on the 2-2-1, switched to the safety position.  As other players had their turn shooting a free throw, their teammates adjusted and filled spots on the press.  We always had a Big as safety, a guard at mid court, as well as our shooter and two rebounders up front. (Diagram 3 below)  If the second free throw was made, the regular press was on with pressure on the inbound pass receivers. (See above)  If the second free throw was missed, the near defender (2) to the rebound put pressure on the ball immediately, bothering the potential outlet pass. (Diagram 4 below)

The shooter (3) who missed moved back and covered the middle of the court.  The rebounder on the opposite side (4) covered the middle around the key.  The mid court guard (1) sprinted to the strong side looking to steal an outlet pass, and the Safety (5) read the situation and watched for any long passes to intercept.  (Diagram 4)

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As the ball neared mid court on an opponent’s attack, all defenders sprinted back into the key area to stop the ball and then fanned out after finding their man.  It was “hard pressure” in the backcourt and then “quick transition” back on defense to help the safety.  If the initial attack to cause a turnover was unsuccessful, we did not want to give up any easy baskets on the other end.

Key Teaching Points:

  1. Fouling defeats the purpose of pressing.  Don’t reach and make silly fouls.  Give the opponent a chance to make mistakes without bailing them out with free throws.

2. When lining up for a free throw, players should first see if they can play their normal position.  You can make your own rules, but I have given you a couple of mine above.

3. There are times you may not want to press on a free throw attempt.  If so, don’t.  Remember, it’s “Situational.”

4. Never allow slow transition, slow out of traps, or slow rotations.  Everyone has to hustle all the time or you will get beat at the other end.

5. Breakdown drills help teach trapping, dribble control, and quick retreats, but there is nothing like working 5 on 5 for a few minutes every other practice or more.

6. My favorite way to practice getting spots correctly filled is to have every player shoot one free throw and then press on the make or miss.  Doing this often makes the transition to games much smoother and helps develop free throw shooters too.  It’s also a great way to work on your press and your press offense.



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