Creating Trapping Opportunities on Defense

The theme for the week is run and jump pressure defense. This will be the fifth and final post on the topic. The first post documents the why behind implementing run and jump. The second post details the three principles of pressuring the ball. In the third post, are the three principles off the ball for blindside and ball side run and jumps. The fourth post broke down the importance of denying vertical passes and timing rotations to shoot the gap. If a team can consistently execute the first eight principles, that is a pretty darn good run and jump. To be elite though, they want to earn their college degree. The college degree involves three more principles. Run and jumps in the half-court, pressuring clear outs, and differentiating for exceptional point guards. The common theme with all of them is creating trapping opportunities.

Half-Court Run and Jump Opportunities

“Picture a lion running wild. He stalks his prey, attacking and killing at will, and then goes in search of his next conquest. That’s what his lion instincts tell him to do, he doesn’t know anything else. He’s not misbehaving, he’s not bad, he’s being a lion.  Now lock him up in the zoo. He lies there all day, quiet and lethargic and well fed. What happened to those powerful instincts? They’re still there, deep inside, waiting to be uncaged.” – Tim Grover

The half-court is where the lion ends up feeling stuck in the cage. For players that love to run and jump, that is not much fun. There are times in the half-court that players can still pounce. Here are a couple examples of when trapping in the half court is encouraged.

Trapping on Film

As you can see in the clip above, the ball is being brought up and everyone with the exception of the ball-handler is in the quarter court. There is still an opportunity for players that have great awareness. Here the ball is dribbled toward the sideline, so it is an easy opportunity for the player on the opposite sideline to go be a lion. The compromise is that this player traditionally is two passes away and a helper. If the ball is passed successfully, the player that gambles needs to go back to the cage.

North Carolina going back to Dean Smith is a program that utilizes run and jump. Having great athletes certainly helps them in any system they play. Let’s not discredit their success against other great teams though. Thirty seconds into the clip above, in a game they ultimately lose, they force an important turnover in the 2016 national championship. Carolina’s Marcus Paige recognizes the opportunity as Ryan Arcidiacano is dribbling with his back toward him. It is possible that Carolina intended to play straight man to man, but knowing that Villanova could have a more scripted play out of a timeout, this tactic completely disrupted Villanova’s offense.

Dribble Hand-off

Numerous teams utilize a dribble hand-off weave to probe a defense for a kick-out or drive. If there is an opportunity to scout such a team against man to man watch for tendencies of their personnel. Players that tend to go only east and west are great candidates to pressure. Typically, these players have less skill anyway, so they will be more susceptible to commit live ball turnovers.

Pressuring Clear Outs

Once the ball is in the hands of the point guard against full-court pressure many coaches tell the rest of the team to clear out. It is time to go one on one. If a run and jump defense is quick to act, this plays right into their hands. A well-connected defense turns the one on one into a one on two by trapping the ball.

In high school, there are very few players that throw a skip pass effectively. The physical strength eliminates many players. The mental task of reading the entire defense make it a risky option for the players that are strong enough. A pass from an empty backcourt includes all the obstacles of skip passes pluses the added hardship of teammates that might not even be looking for the ball.

The alternative to throwing a pass is to dribble. That is what the coach expects and why the offense implemented a clear out in the first place. What coaches fail to account for is the second defender coming up to join the party. Assuming the initial defender contains the ball, the offensive player must get by two players with the dribble.

The Challenge in Pressuring Clear Outs

The challenge in teaching clear outs to the defense is the timing of that second defender. If players double too early, all good point guards see it and throw ahead to their open teammate that is still relatively close to the ball. The other trouble spot is the potential for fouling. Eddie Andrist’s one on two defensive drill is something that our team did at least twice per week at practice to try to combat unnecessary reaches.  Skip to 2:08 of the clip below to see how Coach Andrist teaches discipline. Coach Andrist repeats these words and phrases throughout “cushion”, “hands wide”, and “don’t get into him.”

Withstanding Special Point Guards

Occasionally, a mouse takes the cheese without a trace. These are the elite point guards that come up in your schedule. They are the obvious caveat and hesitation to a pressure defense. These players prefer a defender in their face 85 feet from the basket. It is much easier for them to make plays in this environment than against tight zones or packline where their athleticism is less of a factor.

There are three options. First, your team can play quarter-court defense for the night. You are that poker player that folds every hand, but still has a medium sized chip stack after an hour when other players went all in and lost. There is nothing wrong with that. Especially if the result at the end of the night is positive. That generally is not the option for me though.

Second, you can just do what you do. Rick ‘the Wildthing’ Vaughn wanted Parkman.

It does not matter that the matchup appears unfavorable. The identity of your team is to put pressure on opponents. In John Wooden fashion, you let the opponent lose sleep worrying about your game plan. And as Jon DeMarco told me recently, great point guards are unfamiliar with pressure because most teams don’t go there. Again, nothing wrong with this, but it would not be my approach.

The Halfway Run & Jump

Third, there is a Goldilocks balance of options one and two. We called it “25” since 25 was about half of “55” the normal name of our run and jump. You are still “pressuring the point guard” but cannot get beat. Eight feet of space or even twelve feet of space is between the defender and the ball.  It is an awkward distance for a point guard because they cannot use a speed dribble or a change of pace to blow by. They are almost compelled to walk it up the floor.

As the ball-handler proceeds up the court, if they never speed up or turn their back, just play defense. If an opportunity presents itself to send a trapping defender just over half-court, do it. The mid-court line is your friend.

The most useful part of the run and jump is how difficult it is to simulate for opponents in practice. Players are making the decisions, not the coaches. Therefore, offenses are going to be caught off guard by the inconsistent habits of a defense. Sometimes they see a quarter-court packline and other times an aggressive trapping team.

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