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Breaking Pressure

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I see a lot of questions regarding full court offenses and press breakers to combat full court pressure.

I don't believe that breaking pressure is a function of pattern play but rather a function of spacing and philosophy. Knowing that, here are a few things to think about that may help in executing against all types of pressure.

I also think that all pressures are the same. If you attack them with the same philosophy and intent, all pressures are forced to react similarly. Whether it is a 1-2-1-1 heavy pressure or a 2-2-1 wait and see, it you attack them the same way, they have no choice but to react the same way.


Like most offenses, your full court offense has to be performed inside of some type of thinking with an objective in mind. Do you want to clear the back court without turning the ball over and then trigger your half court offense, do you want to flow into some type of half court offense as does a transition break or do you want to turn it into a transition game with the intention of taking the ball to the basket? Whatever you decide to do, it must be articulated to your team so they all act as one.


I think spacing is critical to beating any pressure. Forcing any defense to play over a larger distance makes it more venerable and easier to beat. Put yourself in a position where they have to spread out to play you, holes will be everywhere.

My first step in spacing is to create 3 lanes. There is one simple rule: do not cross lanes with the dribble. Dribbling across lanes against full court pressure will destroy your spacing and create chaos that will enhance defensive pressure.

Create 3 lanes for spacing
* 2 outside lanes
* Middle lane

Try not to cross a lane with the dribble. It destroys the spacing.


The next aspect of spacing is to try not to inbound the ball below the block to the baseline.

If you can get the first pass to be up around the foul line extended, you have already gained an advantage against the pressure.

The ball should be inbounded to a ballhandler in an outside lane.

This involves teaching your players how to get open where they want, not where the defense wants.

Try not to inbound the ball to close to the baseline or the sideline.


These are the optimal areas to inbound the ball against pressure.



Next, you need to get the ball inbounds quickly. Some coaches like to let the ball bounce until they have set up their inbounds action, but I prefer to get it in and play on the fly. The number 1 enemy of pressure defense is advancing the ball quickly.

How you get the ball in quickly, again, is up to you. There are a lot of options. You can designate a player (Joe always inbounds the ball), a position (5-man takes it out), make a limited choice (closest to the ball between the 4 or 5-man), or first man to the ball. I am sure there are other choices, but I just have not used them. Over time I have decided that the limited choice is best for me. I think that either the 4 or 5-man will be close to the basket as the ball comes through the net.


I think all full court offenses should have the following options:


1. Break on the dribble
2. Long, over the top
3. Middle
4. Long , opposite
5. Back to the point reversal

How you affect those options is up to you. How, or if, your players rotate, how they cut, who they are, etc. is open to the things you like to do. They should be consistent with the other things that you teach and should contain those options, but other than that, I don't think it matters what you do.

Here are players positioned to take advantage of their options.

How they get there is up to you.




These are the options I like to use. I teach them in a progression so players learn them in the order we want to make the looks.

1. Beat it on the Dribble

When the ball comes in, I like to teach my ballhandler to turn outside and try to beat the pressure up the sideline. This accomplishes several things. First, if your ballhandler goes immediately and instinctively, the defense has to be pretty quick in their set-up to be able to defend it. This may happen a couple of times but it certainly won't happen as a rule. Secondly, at the very least, the dribbler will push the trap further up the floor making it easier to pass out of.

I like to have him turn outside and go up the sideline for a couple reasons. First, remember, do not cross lanes on the dribble. Going up the sideline spreads the defense and opens passing lanes. Next, think about how pressures work. Ball pressure usually comes from the inside and traps usually come from the top or the bottom. By going outside on the dribble, your ballhandler is going away from pressure from the bottom and can see pressure from the top.

By going outside on the dribble immediately and instinctively, you will beat most traps before they are set.

The ball is inbounded. Ball handler immediately turns to the outside and tries to beat the defense with the dribble.

He will either beat the press or drive the defenders back, creating more space.


2. Over the Top

The second look is long, up the court, over the top. After pushing the ball and the pressure up the floor, passing the ball over the top is a natural and instinctual action.

The way pressure works, there will usually either some type of pressure coming from further up the court, looking to set a trap or some type of containment designed to slow the ball down, allow defensive recovery and set additional traps. Looking over the top eliminates that aspect of the pressure. If the offense is able to complete "over the top," the basket will be in jeopardy and the pressure has to be called off. If the defense defends the "over the top," they will have to vacate the contain or trapping aspect of the press which will allow the dribbler to advance the ball.

Ball is inbounded.

Ballhandler turns outside and tries to beat defense with the dribble.

If he is not able to, one of the reasons could be because defense is rotating from up the floor.

If the ballhandler is stopped from the top, he looks over the top a passes long


3. Middle, Then Opposite

Putting the ball in the middle of the floor in any situation is an advantage for the offense. Once the ball is in the middle of the floor, there are unlimited options for the offense.

Because of the dynamics of pressure defense and the things that must be done to defend the ball in the middle, I really like to look to the opposite side when the ball is passed into the middle. A middle defender is usually brought from the weakside or from the point of the press. Either way, the ball has a safe outlet. By throwing opposite, up the floor you will create a numbers advantage that will put the defense at risk.

The next look, after busting on the dribble and looking over the top, is to the middle.

Player in the middle should be further up the court than the ball.

Player in the middle looks opposite and long to take advantage of the middle help vacating the weakside to play the ball in the middle.



4. Long, Opposite

When you bring a man to the middle, if he is not open it is because they have stripped their defense of the long opposite pass. Making this pass gives you similar advantages to the "over the top" option or the "middle, opposite" option.

It is a natural progression as the pass can be easily seen when the passer is looking to get the ball to the middle

If the middle man is not open, due to weakside help covering the middle, ballhandler throws over the top to the weakside long.


5. Back to the Point, Reversal

Everything in your full court offense should be designed to attack and push the defense up the floor. That leaves a lot of room to get the ball back to the point for a ball reversal.

Ball reversal is an enemy of full court pressure. If the defense has to defend 94 feet long and then defend 50 feet wide, it is a very difficult task. Not only do they have to cover the ground to defend, but they must also protect all the passing lanes as well. I very difficult task, indeed.

By passing the ball back to the point, you have the ball in the middle of the floor in the hands of someone that is facing the defense. Once again, you have a player with the ball in a very advantageous position in regard to breaking pressure because he can see all 5 defensive players and all his offensive counters.

If the ball cannot be advanced up the floor, the ball is passed back to the point.

The point now has the ball, facing the defense and can act without pressure as he is able to see all offensive and defensive players.

I believe that these options have to be present in any effective full court offense to counteract defensive pressure.

How you position your players, if and how you rotate them are a function of what you feel your players abilities are. Here are some sample rotations after the ball goes back to the point for reversal. Each rotation reflects the spacing and options that I feel are important in breaking pressure.

After the ball is reversed, all the options are once again present.

Here are some examples of how the players might rotate on ball reversal:



How they rotate is not important, as long as the fill the areas a give opportunity for the options.

Don Kelbick

Coach Don Kelbick has had 27 years of coaching experience, 25 at the college level including 14 years as a head coach and 10 years as a Division I assistant including stops at Hofstra University, Marist College, Keene State College, and Florida International University. In 2 years as a high school coach, his teams produced 6 Division I players and was ranked #1 in Florida 28 out of a possible 34 weeks. In addition to coaching he has scouted for NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Hawks, and served as a general manager in the USBL.

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