Member Login

How to Exploit a High Pressure Defense


I’m almost positive that in every league across the country there is at least one team who is known for their pressure defense. These coaches who have implemented this style of play understand the potential advantages that this comes with; primarily the opportunity to create turnovers and convert them into easy points. Along with the in-your-face pressure, defenders are often instructed to be overly extended and aggressive almost to the point of fouling. Some teams it seams have even adopted the mindset of being so aggressive with their pressure that if referees called every foul there would be no players left for them to compete. Coaches realize the predicament that referees are therefore put in, as no referee wants to foul out an entire team!

So what should opposing offensive coaches do? What adjustments should they be making? The most popular reaction made by coaches is to yell from the sideline to their players to “be strong with the ball” or something like “front pivot, rip through and get in triple threat”. While these are all things players should do, these fundamentals don’t necessarily ATTACK the defense! You need to be able to make adjustments!

If you truly want to expose a high pressured defense and force them to adjust, your team must to do two things: (A) make the defense work by reversing the ball side to side and (B) strategically ATTACK the basket.

Pressure Defense

Before we talk about the three tactics you can implement to accomplish the two points above, here are 2 things your team must avoid doing:

  • Don’t Pick Up Your Dribble: As soon as an offensive player picks up his or her dribble, all defenders are taught to fully deny their man! This not only makes the pass itself harder for the offensive player but mentally causes most passers to rattle. Instruct your players to (A) only use their dribble in the half court offense if absolutely necessary and (B) if they do pick up their dribble to be STRONG with the ball!
  • Avoid High Risk Areas: Similar to the point made above, your players and offense has to avoid high risk areas such as the corner and baseline. If the ball gets stuck in one of these two areas, the likelihood of the defense causing a turnover skyrockets! This is largely due to the fact that there are less quality passing angles from these areas. Even more, because there are fewer passing angles it makes it easier for defenders to anticipate the pass and go for a steal. If your offense frequently utilizes these two areas and you know that you are facing a high pressuring defense you might want to consider adding another offense to your team’s arsenal.

Now that we have covered what NOT to do, its time to focus on the 3 tactics that you can use to ATTACK a pressure defense.

Backdoor Cuts: The most popular method to combat a pressure defense is for players to make a backdoor or basket cut. This forces off ball defenders to “play honest”. If defenders choose to continue to over extend and deny, players who make a hard backdoor cut will surely be open. A common rule for teams who do this is to utilize the pass fake as a signal for when to go backdoor. If the ball handler is in triple threat, and the player whom they wish to pass to is being denied, the ball handler will pass fake which in turn tells the receiver to go back door. Players who start to make a basket cut MUST continue their cut all the way to the basket even if they don’t believe they are going to receive the ball. So many teams have unforced turnovers because the cutter stops mid way only to see the passer make the pass moments later. Additionally, players need to be reminded that even though they don’t receive the ball on their cut, their cut may open up another player for a scoring opportunity.

Back Screens: Another tactic is to have your post players set back screens for your perimeter players! Having post players set back screens for perimeter players is best because if puts pressure on the defense to not switch. If they do switch, then there is a mismatch for the offense to exploit. By setting back screens it forces defenders to always be looking at what’s behind them instead “ball watching”.  Also, when a post player steps out to set a back screen, most coaches will instruct their post defenders to stay home and protect the basket which might lend itself to a pick and pop scenario. If post defenders do come out to the point of the screen and the perimeter player gets hit by the screen, then the offensive player cutting will be left open unless a help defender slides over – which if happened would leave another teammate open. Again, players need to adopt the mindset that even if they do not receive the ball on their cut, their cut could set up a teammate for a scoring opportunity.

1-4 High Sets: So far, we know that backdoor cuts and back screens are great options! One possible argument against these two tactics is that because of the spacing of most offenses, help defense should be there to discourage the pass to the cutter going towards the basket. One way to eliminate help defenders is to use 1-4 high sets. Because all four players are technically one pass away at the start of the offense, in theory defenders should all be denying their offensive player. This eliminates all help side defense and paves the way for a nice backdoor cut. Also, because opposing coaches know this, some will leave their post players “home” to protect the basket. If post defenders are not denying their man, continue to have your wings go back door, thus keeping post defenders occupied and near the basket, making the high post a great area to attack!

Written By Dave Stricklin

No more spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars building your own coaching library. Inside Basketball Classroom are 6 modules containing a combined 150 pdfs, featured length videos, charts, animated plays, mp3 files and much more. Click on the link to learn more!

Learn more about Basketball Classroom: