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Vertically Challenged – Implementing an Up-Tempo/Pressing Style of Basketball Against a Team with Superior Height

By Carl Normandin on January 08, 2015 Coaches Print

In the game of basketball as in most team sports, the most productive scoring opportunities arise from mismatch situations. An effective fast-breaking team can beat its opponent down the floor. This does not mean it hopes to out-run all five players, but it does hope to come down the floor quickly enough to momentarily outnumber the defensive players. This will increase the chances of scoring by carefully taking advantage of the 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 situations, thus nullifying any height disadvantage.

Below are some prerequisites for developing an effective Up-Tempo/Pressing Style of basketball:

  1. Build a basketball team that is two deep at every position with virtually no noticeable drop-off in talent, effort, desire between the first and second teams. Practices are competitive and game-like and the motivation for your efforts.
  2. Develop an offense that is balanced with unselfish supportive attitudes and a defense that is tenacious and will serve as a catalyst for your offense.
  3. Establish a pressure defense that will be largely responsible for establishing steals, forced turnovers and positive statistics.
  4. Emphasize physical conditioning throughout the season and keep it a top priority.

The Up-Tempo/Pressing style of offense also needs to be extremely balanced. Teams using this style will need to attempt to push the pace of the game and look for the high percentage shot off the fast-break.

When a scoring opportunity is unavailable in transition, teams will then shift into a half-court offense predicated on the following principles and key teaching points:

  1. If you are making a pass from the wing to the top, player should take a dribble to shorten the length of the pass while the receiver should step towards the pass. This will help protect against deflections or interceptions. Your wings should down-screen on the reversal pass to get the defense to move.
  2. Player should always be in the habit of showing their hands to the passer as a target. With players in motion and blocking the passer sightline, a couple of high hands will give the passer a target.
  3. When using a screen, the offensive man should drive hard off the stationary teammates shoulder (shoulder to shoulder) to prevent an opponent from slipping between the screener and the cutter and breaking up the play.
  4. Any time a player sets a screen, he or she should be opening to the ball to spot any switching or defensive denials. An intelligent screener can actually be more dangerous than the player driving off the screen, especially the screen and roll play.
  5. When setting screens, the offensive player should make sure to take up as much room as possible to prevent the defender from shooting the gap for a steal. The player waiting for a screen should hesitate just a little bit before using it. It is better to use it late than early.
  6. It is a good habit to also wait for your point guard (with the ball) to cross the top hash mark before initiating the offense or on the reversal of the ball.  This will enhance the timing and play execution.

Simple Motion Offense 

Simple Motion Offense Chart 1 

Defensively, in the Up-Tempo/Style, teams will need to apply as much pressure as possible to take their opponents out of what they have been working on and probably do best.

Being outsized can easily demoralize any team even before the opening tipoff, but only if the team allows it to happen by allowing the taller opponents to get into good positions and make easy shots. What coaches need to remember is that (1) aggressive low-post play and good-help defense can be altered in your defense, and that (2) while lack of size is not always fatal, teams cannot put all their trust in speed and quickness every trip down the floor.                      

Teams can aggressively press or trap before the”big player” gets to touch the ball, but even big teams have athletes who can handle the ball and beat the press. One way to defend superior size is by playing an aggressive player-to-player defense inside the paint. To do this, the team will need to place two of its taller players on the blocks as low post defenders, and have the next best defender cover the opponent’s best scorer. This defender must set up in a full denial (fronting) position facing the ball with their back and back-side as well as arms and hands “maintaining contact” with the player behind them. Being able to see the ball and the possible pass will enable defenders to deflect or intercept the entry pass, taking away the direct pass and only allowing the lob pass in this stance.

Simple Motion Offense Chart 2 

This kind of strong-side, low-post defense calls for a player with a strong upper and lower body in order to hold his defensive position and to reach in and go after any incoming passes. The weak-side low-post defender must be prepared to help out on any lob pass to the strong-side post player. He or she must be able to anticipate well and time his or her move to help out. Mutual trust and commitment to leaving your player are also important when playing help-side defense. The post players do not necessarily have to steal the pass every time. A good strong move may cause a tip or mishandled reception and turnover, a deflection or altered entry pass from the wing or point.

The defensive mindset of all players needs to be that of being disruptive as possible. Teams should try to force the offense into difficult trapping situations, to rush the offense into taking quick low-percentage shots and continually confront the opposition with an aggressive defense. The team defensive objective is to initiate as many fast-break situations that will produce layups or other high-percentage shots (defensive play creating offensive opportunities).

In addition to the disruptive half-court player-to-player defense, teams can utilize any series of full and three-fourths court presses to create turnovers and scoring opportunities. Teams believe in pressing because it:

  1. Enables a team to exploit its physical conditioning, especially in the last five minutes of the game.
  2. Enables you to develop quality depth by involving six or 10 players over the course of any game.
  3. Applies pressure on the offensive team and forces it to play differently than it has practiced. This is a major adjustment for any high school team to overcome during a game.

To make any defensive “press or front-court pressure” effective, teams must play aggressively, anticipate “the pass” and communicate when providing any “help” defense and play physically. Players also need to avoid committing the senseless fouls in the front court. Playing against a team with superior height is a challenge, but it can be countered to a degree with superior team conditioning, aggressive front-court pressure and strong, quick help-side post-play in the paint.