Expect pressure. At one point or another, your offense can expect pressure. It may be from an opponent that pressures the entire game or simply a team that employs pressure to help them get back in the game. Regardless of how teams pressure and when they choose to do so, expect it to come.
Now that you can expect it to come, make sure you prepare for it. Pressure will kill you if you’re not prepared for it. Therefore, drill against pressure in practice and teach your players concepts that will help when playing against a pressure defense in games. Below, you will find 9 essential principles that will not only teach your players how to play against pressure but why these techniques will help them handle pressure.
Before we get to the 9 principles, it is important to understand that pressure defense is really a gambling defense. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-court 2-2-1 or a half-court 1-3-1 trap. No matter what type of pressure an opponent uses against you, their objective is always the same — to make you play hurried, rushed, and outside of your comfort zone. They are looking to either get steals or force you into bad passes and/or bad shots.
If you can’t handle pressure defenses, your team will be in for some very long games. The trick in handling and discouraging pressure lies in proper ballhandling and getting easy shots. It is essential to score easy baskets against pressure. Look to attack pressure rather than letting it attack you!
In order to attack pressure, you better be prepared to push the ball and fast break against it. Even if you play more of ball-control offense, you will want the ability to attack the pressure when opportunities present themselves. The pressure defense will force your players to make quick decisions and to go to the basket. They need to be prepared … and these 9 principles for attacking pressure defense will help you prepare them!
- Practice against pressure daily. The chances are good that you will meet some type of pressure in every game. Incorporate drills in your practice sessions that make your players go against pressure. Handling pressure is a learned skill like any other skill. Your players will not improve skill in handling pressure if they don’t work on it.
- Practice under game conditions. The use of the clock is especially helpful here. Set up scrimmage situations such as one team is up by 7 with 2:00 minutes left in the game. The defense will need to pressure in this situation and the offense will need to handle said pressure. Practicing game situations is extremely helpful in getting the players to understand what they are expected to do.
- Attack the basket. Regardless of how you break the pressure, look to attack the basket and possibly get an easy score. Do not be satisfied by merely getting the ball over the midcourt line.
- Look for odd-man breaks. As you are attacking the pressure, keep an eye on advantage situations. If you have a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1, attack it and look to get a good shot.
- Keep the pressure on. Once you have the ball on your offensive end, don’t “sit” on it. Keep the ball moving and look to get a scoring opportunity. Sometimes players playing a pressure defense will momentarily relax once you’ve broken the press. When that happens, be prepared to take advantage. Other times, especially when you have beaten the defense down the court, they will be confused as to where their man is or they will be out of position. Again, take advantage and look to score.
- Move the basketball forward. It’s hard to attack pressure if you’re passing backwards or sideways. Those passes also play into what the defense is trying to do and lets them dictate your offensive flow. Of course, you should have players in position to receive back and side passes in case of emergency. One example of an emergency is when a player is trapped. The easiest pass out of the trap is to a player behind you so you don’t have to pass into the trap or throw a slow pass over the trap.
- Limit dribbling. Most, if not all pressure defenses would prefer that you dribble. This allows them to easily trap and double-team you. It’s also important to realize that the ball travels faster through the air than by way of the dribble. Passes force the defense to move and react in ways that the dribble does not.
- Players away from the ball should always be ready. They need to be ready to flash to the ball when necessary and to receive passes. This is especially important when a teammate is being trapped. Players should always be aware of what is going on and be ready to help.
- Be a target. It is imperative that the teammates can be seen by the player being trapped. They must be able to get away from their defender and become a target for the trapped player to pass the ball.
These 9 principles are basically common sense ideas but they must be practiced because not all players have common sense on the court … especially when they are being pressured. Even with common sense and a good basketball IQ, many players still do not have adequate skills to handle pressure. Being prepared for pressure and practicing against it will help your players develop the ability, skill, and understanding of how to handle pressure defenses.