Letting the ball in play, containing the dribble, and resisting the urge to foul are all elementary principles of run and jump. All of these principles relate to defending the ball. This section focuses on the “puberty principles” of run and jump. The emphasis is now how to position yourself off the ball in the blindside and on the ball side. The decisions off the ball feel awkward and ambiguous to players. Finding consistency in how to approach the same type of play is difficult. And inconsistency is not a bad thing in run and jump. It is part of why offenses struggle – the defense is unpredictable.
Players often make the wrong decision with good results because they are decisive. Above all else, the one theme of the puberty principles is that players need the freedom to be aggressive. Coach John McNamara’s teams rely on run and jump defense every season. He summed up the mentality of players well, “The best run and jump teams have players who say ‘just let us go.’” And as I was reminded when I spoke to Matt Willis this offseason, run and jump is one of those things you want to try hard not to over-coach. Here are three principles I find helpful for playing off the ball in run and jump:
Wait until the Dribble Goes Fast and Attack Blindside
In the first example above, the point guard never sped up. As a result, the defense stayed home. If a second defender left to trap, the offense turns the play into a 4 on 3. In the second example, the offensive player turns her back to the basket which is a golden chance to trap from the blindside. The timing could not be better. The ball is just over half-court. In the final example, the speed after the catch makes the blindside trap an easy decision. The defender that she dribbles away from comes over to trap. Once again the trap is right over half-court.
Smart and well-coached point guards intentionally change speeds to probe the defense. If the point guard walks the ball up, consider it a minor victory for the defense for a couple reasons. First, transition options are eliminated. Second, the shot clock (if applicable) is wasting away. And third, the rest of your defenders get time to anticipate the first pass and are help on the dribble.
Generally, when the point guard walks it up while facing token pressure, the offense is not initiated the way the opposition practices. Teams love to work on sets exclusively in the quarter-court at practice. This slight pressure often forces offenses to set up higher. From there, players are forced to be spontaneous. Additionally, the timing of sets gets thrown off and decision fatigue becomes a factor on point guards.
Rotations on Sideline Dribbles
Defenders must attack whenever the ball is dribbled away from them toward the sideline. The weak side defender should search for the dribbler’s blindside. The wording might not make sense, but hopefully the video below summarizes the point. Notice how the second defender waits for the dribbler to accelerate and comes at an angle that is tough for the point guard to detect.
Players are trained at a young age playing man to man to stick with their player. Even in shell drills, they at least keep an eye on who it is they are covering. Attacking the blindside of a dribbler requires losing site of your player. And undoing this habit is not easy.
One practice when players were struggling to adapt to the blindside principle, I applied a hunting analogy. I licked my lips like a lion and told them “Lions love to hunt.” They chuckled. Probably told my athletic director to keep an eye on me. And then they turned the corner on the level of aggression they played on defense for that practice and the rest of the season. In run and jump, implore the players to hunt!
Attacking exclusively from the blindside is not how all coaches teach run and jump. Colleen Dufresne who was elected to the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame teaches players to attack up the sideline (more on that below). She also encourages the players to steal the inbound pass. We found that the conservative nature of our modifications allowed us to force turnovers without giving up easy baskets.
Stay with Your Player if the Dribbler Moves Toward You
If the ball is dribbled toward an off-ball defender on the sideline, she should stay with her player (see image above). The temptation and incentives to leave her player are obvious, but we discourage leaving your player on the strong side for a couple reasons. First, the point guard’s default decision if x2 leaves is pass to 2. In fact, many transition offenses are encouraged to make this pass regardless of if x2 leaves or not. We want to make the point guard’s decision tree more complex. The point guard will see or at least sense that x2 is coming toward her. If x2 has length and gets her hands up there is a chance for a deflection, but that deflection is not necessarily going to result in a turnover.
The second reason to stay home is for the benefit of the player covering the ball. The on-ball defender gains confidence if x2 stays in that spot. Knowing that the help is there on the sideline, the on-ball defender can focus on making sure the offense does not crossover into the middle of the floor.
Additionally, the rotation to the player on the sideline rarely arrives on time to intercept in my experience. If it does arrive, it potentially creates an open lane to the rim if the other players are slow to sprint back from their responsibilities.
There are times where our players did attack the ball from the sideline with success. We did not encourage this tactic, but they were decisive and aggressive.
Run and Jump the Dribble Toward the Middle
A run and jump toward the middle ends in a switch. Eddie Andrist drills the concept in this video. Where I teach run and jump differently is the sideline dribble. When players move to the sideline, we want to attack their blindside.
When players dribble toward the middle, it is a switch. The momentum of the on-ball defender makes switching possible. The flight of the ball on a pass takes the same angle that she moves.
The run and jump is unnecessary if the dribbler walks the ball to the middle. Assuming the ball is sped up, x2 needs to prepare for a pass right at her “windshield.” Many offensive players make a panic pass to the teammate that appears to be vacant. If x2 has high hands, the offense will not get a fast break because the pass will need more arch. Additionally, there is a great chance for a turnover with x2 getting a deflection and x1 picking up the cookie crumb for a steal.
One final note about the second defender coming at the ball. If the defender coming over sprints she is susceptible to committing a foul. There is also a risk of overrunning the play since the momentum of the offense and defense are going in opposite directions.
Toward the end of the season we did small-sided games and drills to simulate this action and told the players to treat it the same way they would treat a closeout. That type of footwork allowed them to bail out and react to sudden changes in direction.
This is part of a series on run and jump defense. For more information checkout: