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Get PDF The Complete Guide to Basketball’s Man-to-Man Defense

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Although some coaches favor active zone defenses, in my opinion a man-to-man defense is your best bet to win championships. Because a man-to-man defense forces your opponents to make decisions fast—and therefore commit more mistakes. One approach to teaching man-to-man defense is a weekly progression. The following is the progression he uses to coach a man-to-man defense. Improper stance and bad footwork are how you get beat on the court.

2. Get below the lowest player

Stay low and wide with your weight on the balls of your feet, and keep your back flat, head up and arms out to your sides. Make sure your feet are active and that you are ready to react to the ball or the player you are covering. Remember, you have to be great on the defensive end every day. This is critical. Whether you play in the passing lanes or play a pack line, two things are needed: stopping the drive and pressuring the ball. Without ball pressure, your opponents are free to run their offense at will. Then, once you apply pressure, how will you guard the post?

In high school basketball, this is tough to do because of the players' unequal size. Most coaches do not have a 6'4" or taller player who can dominate the post. Coach Jennings has his players front the post to prevent opponents from getting into solid post position. Do not let the opposing post player get to the block. The traditional man-to-man defense is by far the most common defense in the game of basketball today. This is especially true as players progress to a higher level of competition. In fact, due to the great outside shooting of professional players, every NBA team almost exclusively plays man-to-man defense.

Of course, there will be times when players switch opponents or help each other on defense, but for the most part, each player is responsible for one player from the opposition. Learning to be a great man-to-man defender is perhaps the most important skill for a player to learn during their years of youth basketball.

No matter what defense a player goes on to play at the next level or on another team, the skills they learn playing man-to-man defense will transfer. A lot of situations a player must know how to defend and where to position themselves. Unable to hide weak players — In the man-to-man defense, everyone is held accountable for their role defending the basketball and being able to help and rotate when needed. If you plan to run the man-to-man defense with your team, the next sentence is the most important thing you need to teach them…. Not allowing the opponent to into the middle of the lane from the top or the wings is the most important rule of man-to-man defense.

Instead, defensive players must use their stance and position themselves in such a way that the opposition can only dribble down the sideline and the baseline. When an opposition player has the basketball at the top of the key, we direct them towards the sideline. This is because the help defenders roles and responsibilities are clear in regards to who is meant to help and rotate when the basketball is on the wings or in the corners.

When the basketball is driven into the middle, however, who is meant to help and who is meant to stay on their player becomes difficult to define which often leads to open scoring opportunities for the opposition. The more you can get the defensive team to move and rotate, the more gaps will open up in the defense and the number of open scoring opportunities will rise. In the Pack Line defense which I often recommend , the players one-pass away from the basketball are helping in the driving lanes by taking away dribble penetration.

This allows the basketball to be passed around the perimeter. In man-to-man defense, since the players one-pass away from the basketball are denying the pass to their player, this leaves driving lanes open and means the on-ball defender is more accountable for keeping the player with the basketball out of the lane.

If they do, it will often lead to an in-rhythm jumper or an offensive drive after a difficult closeout. A defensive player must never allow their opponent to cut across their face in-between them and the basketball. This rule is also important when playing defense off the ball to stop players from flashing to the ball to receive a pass. Whenever the basketball moves, every defensive player on the court should be adjusting their positioning on the court.


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By keeping the importance of this in mind, players will learn that they must stay alert at all times and anticipate passes that they may be able to deflect. Therefore, you can always get quicker. This is incredibly important because the difference between a steal and an open layup or a missed steal and a break down of the defense can be a fraction of a second. On-ball defense 2. Deny defense 3. Help defense.

Bob Knight: The Complete Guide to Man-to-Man Defense

Each player understanding all of these roles is crucial to good team defense. Being out of position by even a small amount can be the difference between blocking a shot or giving up an easy layup. The role of the on-ball defender in a man-to-man defense is to contain the offensive player while influencing them towards the sideline and baseline. While containment is the ultimate goal regardless of where the ball is on the floor, if the defensive player is going to get beat, we want it to be towards the baseline instead of the middle.

This is why the on-ball defender slightly overplays the middle. If not, dribble penetration will break down your defense very quickly. In fact, I never encourage on-ball defenders to reach in for steals unless the offensive player mishandles the basketball. The biggest differentiator between a great defender and an average defender is that a great defender wants to be a great defender. All coaches must emphasize the importance of learning how to be a great defender and the benefits your players will get from the skill as they progress to a higher level of competition.

This means they should stay low, keep their chest up, and place an even amount of weight on each leg. Slightly overplay the middle to force the offensive player sideline or baseline. The spot on a player that is most difficult to fake with is their chest.

Why Man to Man Is Best in Youth Leagues

As per rule 3, any player one-pass away from the basketball should be in a denial stance to deter any pass to their player. A denying defender should have one hand and one foot in the passing lane at all times, their chest should be facing their direct opponent, and they should be looking over their lead shoulder to see both the basketball and their man. The reason this is the wrong stance is because if your opponent was to suddenly backdoor cut, the denial defender would need to do a full degree turn to defend it.

However, if your defender backdoor cuts when your chest is towards the player and you have a hand and leg in the passing lane, all it requires is the defender flicking their head around and the sliding in the deny position towards the rim. The purpose of this is that we want to remove all easy passing options from the player with the basketball.

This is why the man-to-man defense is an aggressive defense. The distance a denial player should be from their man will depend on the distance the offensive player is away from the basketball. A good rule of thumb would be close enough to ensure you can close the distance and pick off the pass if a lob is thrown over the top. One hand and foot in the passing lane. Chest towards your direct opponent.

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Eyes over lead shoulder to see both. They must be able to see both with their peripheral vision at all times. The position of a help defender will vary depending on where the basketball is on the court and where their direct opponent is on the court at that time. When the basketball is on either of the wings or in one of the corners, there should always be 2 help defenders with at least one foot on the split-line the line down the middle of the court. By establishing these two help defenders, it makes it much easier for the defensive players to know their understand their roles and rotations on drives to the rim by opposition players.

Whenever the basketball is within the lane lines at the top of the key, the team has one goal: Get it out of there! As soon as the basketball is dribbled over the half-court line, the point guard defender x1 immediately starts forcing the dribbler to the sideline by angling their defensive stance. At the same time, the wing defenders x2 and x3 pinch in and allow the pass to be made to a player on the wing. The goal when the ball is at the top is to get the basketball committed to one side of the court.

Let me take a minute to explain why we allow the basketball to get from the top to the wing…. The reason for this is because on a drive through the middle of the lane, the defenders can be confused on who should help and who should stay attached to their player. The player defending one pass away towards the top x1 must be in complete denial position. The on-ball defender x2 should be playing on the high foot of the player with the basketball to take away the middle drive and force them to drive towards the baseline if they choose to dribble.

If the offensive player does attempt to dribble middle, the on-ball defender should only slide vertically to force them to the top of the key. Looking at the help defenders, x3 and x5 should have a foot on the split line as the basketball is at the free throw line extended or lower. This puts them in the best position to help, but still gives them time to recover and perhaps get a deflection if the players with the basketball decides to throw a skip pass.

The player one pass away to the wing x2 must be in complete denial and not allow the pass to be made to the wing. The on-ball defender x4 must aim to contain the player in the corner. But by overplaying the high side, if x4 is beaten off the dribble, it must be towards the baseline because there is help waiting. The player in low-I x5 is in help position anticipating the drive from the player with the basketball. The player in high-I x3 is in help position and is preparing to drop down and rotate if 4 drives the basketball and x5 needs to help. The final player x1 is in ball-you-man position and are as low as possible while still being able to intercept a pass to 1.

As explained in the previous section, dribble penetration from the top of the key through the foul line is the hardest penetration to defend when playing man-to-man defense. This can often occur against a great point guard, if the player defending the dribbler is playing too close to their man, or if we allow ball reversals and rotations and closeouts are poor. When the defender at the top of the key is beat and the dribbler gets into the lane, whichever defender is the lowest on the weak-side must step across to defend the basketball.

They can quickly stunt to try to make the driver hesitate or pick up the basketball, but they must not leave their direct opponent. Since help always comes from the weak-side, x4 must step out and take away the corner three-point attempt. When x5 steps up to help, x1 must immediately rotate down and will now be the player that closes out on the basketball if the pass is made across court to 3 or 5. When the basketball is on the wing our ball-side and weak-side are clearly established which is great for the defense.

Remember: Help always comes from the weak side. Then since the basketball is on the free-throw line or lower, we have high-I and low-I established in the key. Low-I x5 helps on the drive and meets to trap the dribbler just outside the paint. X5 and x2 trap the offensive player if they pick up the dribble. The final defender x1 drops down and positions themselves so that they can intercept a lob pass made to either 3 or 1 or defend either of them if the skip pass is made over the top. The middle drive from the wing is a bit more difficult and not a drive the defense ever wants to give up.

If the on-ball defender is correctly playing on the high side of the player with the basketball, they should be able to take a large slide or two vertically and cut off the drive or draw a charge. If the on-ball defender has been caught out of position, the next goal is to force the offensive player to dribble to the top of the key.

If the on-ball defender has really been caught out of position and the drive is inevitable, the lowest weakside player must step across and challenge the shot and the correct rotations must take place. X3 can quickly stunt on this drive with their back to the basketball in an attempt to make the offensive pick up the ball as long as they can quickly close out on their player without giving up the shot. They should never fully commit to a trap as it will leave the wing shooter open. This can be a difficult rotation as if the dribbler crosses over the split line with their dribble, the help defender ball-side and weak-side changes.

As you can see, allowing the middle drive ends up very problematic and confusing for the defense. The player in low-I x5 is responsible for stepping across to set a trap with x4 if the player with the basketball decides to drive baseline to the basket. Finally, x1 drops and now has two offensive players they must position themselves in-between.

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If the interception pass is there, go for it. If not and the skip pass is made, x1 is responsible for closing out on either 1 or 3. To take away the pocket pass to the low post player, the defender in low-I x3 must step across and guard the pass to the low post player. To not give 4 an easy pass out of the trap, x2 must continue complete denial of the outlet pass to 2. Instead, low-I x3 steps across as traps the dribbler with the on-ball defender x4 just below the low block.