Hoops Rules – Small Men: Attacking the Press

The idea of any full-court zone press is to trap … double-team … the man with the ball, stop his dribble, to make him hold the ball, to force him to pass the ball to a receiver that is, no doubt, being overplayed. The idea is not to steal the ball. That’s a mistake some defenders make and it only leads to trouble for the defense: silly fouls and bringing down the arms … letting the point guard (or small man) pass OVER the double-team. So, the idea of the full-court zone press is not to steal the ball but, rather, to force a mistake in the back court. What do do?

1. Catch the ball. The point guard (or small man) knows this is coming. First, he must catch the ball! He cannot catch the pass like an ordinary pass. He must snatch the ball AS THOUGH IT WERE A REBOUND. That is, he’s ready for contact. He knows he is going to be bumped and touched and slapped. So, he must grab the incoming pass with both hands … AS THOUGH IT WERE A REBOUND. With that, he has the ball but he is … still facing in the wrong direction!

2. Square up. That means executing a FRONT PIVOT to turn 180° and FACE THE TRAP. Many times a point guard will catch the ball and simply turn and dribble at the same time. That leads to having the dribble stripped or tipped away, to traveling violations, to charging fouls. So, he must execute the front pivot not only to face the defense but to keep his poise, avoiding hurry-up mistakes. He now has the defense in front of him and he has sent a message to his teammates: “I am under complete control.”

3. Read the defense. Again, use the principle of lowering the ball to ‘bring down the defense.’ But, see the floor. If a teammate is open, a good pass is much better than a bad dribble. Yes, that means the best ball-handler will have to give up the ball but you cannot bull your way through a waiting set of crocodile jaws. So, bring down the defense. So, use the fake pass. So, hit an open teammate … hopefully a good ball-handler. Then, sprint to get the ball back if that man is then double-teamed.

4. Attack one man. Many times a point guard, seeing the double-team … the trap … will try to beat both men on the dribble. That means the point guard has tried to ‘split the trap’ by going between the two defenders. That is exactly what the defense wants: for the point guard to dribble right into their waiting jaws. Instead, it helps the point guard if he concentrates on just one of the two defenders and tries to beat him one-on-one. So, he can fake going between them, getting them to ‘pinch,’ and then go around one of them.

Coaches can work on this with the 1-on-2 Drill. The coach throws the ball in-bounds to the point guard, who has two defenders waiting for him. At first, he must beat them by himself, on the dribble, learning to catch, square up, read the defense and attack one man. After that, the coach can expand to 2-on-3, giving the point guard a passing option. Then, 3-on-4 and 3-on-5. Yes, 3-on-5. That’s a start. The Rule: Attack One Man.

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Dan Peterson

Dan Peterson

Long-time Head Coach of Olimpia Milano in the Italian Serie A1