If your basketball game strategy doesn’t involve pressing the entire game, when should you press? Should you press at all? How long or how often should you apply pressure? Should you press in the halfcourt or in the fullcourt? Should you run a zone press or man-to-man press?
We’ll try to answer these questions and more in this article.
In discussing ‘When to Press’, we’re going under the assumption that you don’t normally press during a basketball game. If you are a pressing team and like to apply pressure throughout the entire game, then you don’t really need to question when to press since you are going to press all the time! We’re focusing more on when to apply the press to get back in a game or to change tempo or for any other reason you might choose to randomly press.
Generally, defenses switch to a fullcourt press in the latter half of a game — and when they are behind. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty at what time you should start pressing, however, it is better to start pressing a little too early than a little too late. If you wait until the last minute or two, completely confound the opposing team, and still lose by a couple of points, what good did it do to start pressing so late? What might have happened if you started pressing a minute or two earlier?
Though it is essentially impossible to give an across-the-board idea of when to start pressing, I do look at a few game situations that aid in making that decision. First, if your team falls behind by more than 10 points during the 2nd half of a game, you may choose to go into a fullcourt press. If it is early in the 2nd half and the press is not really affecting the opponent, you may want to come out of it for awhile. You have now seen how your opponent reacts to the pressure so that – if necessary – you can throw the press at them again later with possible tweaks and/or adjustments.
Should the press allow you to get back into the game or possibly even take the lead, you may decide that is time to stop pressing. Gut and instinct may tell you, however, to keep pressing a little lnoger to blow the game open.
Should you find yourself trailing by 6 to 10 points, you may wait to apply the press with about 5 to 7 minutes left in the game. Likewise, if you are losing by 5 points or less, you might want to wait until there is about 4-5 or less left to play.
The type of pressure you apply is really unimportant. Whether you play a man-to-man press or zone press is entirely your decision and may be dependent upon your players’ skills as well as your opponents’ skills.
More often than not when having to press late to get back in the game, it is my personal preference to apply a straight-up man-to-man press. The only thing to watch for is that you have sound match-ups on the court. This means your best on-ball defender should be guarding the point guard. Players should attempt to defend against someone that is near to equal in size and speed.
In a man-to-man press, you may also decide to switch whenever opposing players cross. If this creates mismatches, however, you won’t want to do this. I would also force the dribblers to sidelines and corners. This will keep them away from the basket and also gives you an advantageous situation from which to trap. Sneaking a trap in your man-to-man press can create havoc which will lead to turnovers and steals.
Smart offensive teams and teams with good ball-handling guards will simply clear out against a man press and let one player dribble up the court. As a smarter coach, you might decide to run a zone press defense. If your opponent can handle the man press by dribbling upcourt, play a zone press so you force the dribbler to pass the basketball. A zone press will also create better opportunities to steal the basketball because it is generally easier to intercept a pass than it is to steal the ball away from a good dribbler.
If you find that your fullcourt pressure defense isn’t working, you might decide to switch into a halfcourt press. Obviously you won’t be stealing the ball in the frontcourt, but the halfcourt press can eliminate easy-scoring chances and 2nd chance rebounds. Again, it doesn’t matter what type of halfcourt press you apply … it just matters that it is something you work on in practice. You may choose to go into a halfcourt zone press such as the 1-3-1, or you may prefer to apply a switching man-to-man halfcourt press. Any halfcourt press has its’ good points and bad points … just make sure you are utilizing the best one for your players abilities.
As you can understand from reading everything above, there are certainly many nuances that dictate when to press and what kind to apply. As a basketball coach, you understand that there will be plenty of games where you are behind. If you find yourself behind by a significant margin with only minutes to go, applying some type of pressure is an absolute must if you desire to win. If you are losing and you don’t press, that is like conceding defeat. And believe me, I’ve seen plenty of coaches concede defeat when there is still a chance! Personally, I don’t concede defeat until the buzzer sounds … I can’t imagine anyone else doing the same!
Understand that the press can and will win for you … but only if you prepare ahead of time. If you don’t practice applying a fullcourt or halfcourt press, how good can it possibly work for you to throw one on your opponent during the game? If your players don’t understand how to apply pressure, they won’t stop anybody.
Feel free to share in the comments or forum any types of pressure defenses you find valuable. Pass on any other techniques and strategies that can help our pressure become a dominating force.