You get to the top of the key and check your shooter on the left wing. He's a no-go. You scope out your big man who sets a screen then cuts to the hole, but he's not open either. Forced to move into the lane, you throw a quick head fake, jab left and then move right to cross up your defender. But what happens? He picks your pocket, gains control of the rock and heads down court. What do you do?
Use the following five rules, courtesy of Joe Abunassar, director of IMG Basketball Academy, to shut down a fast break. Trainer of NBA superstars and high school ballers alike, Abunassar can help you become a transitional defensive animal.
1. Stop the ball
“Defense has to stop the ball,” he says. “With any defensive philosophy, the ball is the most important thing on the court. The sooner it’s stopped, the sooner the fast break will be stopped.”
A better, quicker defender can begin guarding the ball at ¾ or full court, because he can recover faster if the ball handler blows by him. A slower player, however, should start guarding the ball at mid-court to minimize the time the ball handler has to get past him for a free run at the hoop. No matter your speed or where you pick up the ball though, force the ball to one side of the floor to eliminate the ball handler’s options and opportunities to create plays from the middle.
Abunassar says, “Ball handlers are usually instructed to take the ball as far as they can. Defenders should pressure the ball to stop progress, make it difficult for the ball handler to see the floor and dictate movement of the ball.”
2. Pick up dangerous people
Dangerous people are the wings running hard in transition and the first post man, who is usually instructed to sprint the floor to the ball-side post. Picking these players up by half court and communicating with teammates are critical to making sure everyone is defended, Abunassar says. Too many times, players just run down the court without locating dangerous players, and also without communicating to teammates as to what man they're on.
Identifying your opponents best shooters, post players and scorers before or early in the game is key. Without doing this, you can't effectively defend a fast break and prevent easy scores.
3. Defend the three-point line
Three things stop a fast break: solid defense, keeping players in front and eliminating opportunities for an early shot and drive. Just running back to the lane isn't good enough. And while you should locate and pick up players by half court, guarding the perimeter to prevent scoring threats at the three-point line is equally important, Abunassar says. The three-point line has become such a big part of the game; offensive players are often directed to run there, where they become real offensive threats off the ball.
In addition to pressuring three-point shooters before they reach the line, it's also important to guard them low to prevent them from driving to the hole and making an easy layup.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Communication between you and your teammates facilitates a smooth shift from transition defense to half-court defense, which is critical. When you're working to stop the fast break, its inevitable that you'll be picking up a man other than the one you're supposed to be guarding in your half-court defense, he says. Switching to the right man is key for a successful defensive play. Let your teammates know who you're on, who needs to take your place and who needs to be covered.
5. Finish the defensive possession
The ultimate goal of defending a fast break is stopping the ball and slowing the play down. But the play doesn't end there. Defense ends when possession of the ball is regained. Until then, you have to defend the entire play, block out and rebound, Abunassar says.