When defending a player on the wing, you should do everything you can to keep the ball from being dribbled into the middle. This means forcing, influencing, or shading the ball towards the corner/baseline and then working hard at stopping the drive (by yourself) before the attack reaches the short corner.

Basketball defender guarding a basketball dribbler

The above sentiment is nothing revolutionary, but let’s examine why it works.

When the ball drives baseline, there are several factors in favor of the defense:

  1. The offense is actually decreasing the usable court space.
  2. The baseline becomes a defensive “sixth man”.
  3. Shooting angles are not as good as being in the middle of the floor (read: shooting percentages drop).
  4. Natural passing angles are fewer and more difficult.
  5. Non-ball defenders seem to drop toward the goal more easily than when the ball is driven into the middle.

When the ball drives into the middle away from the baseline:

  1. The ball-handler has more space.
  2. The ball-handler has more passing options with better angles.
  3. Post players have to be careful about stepping up to help leaving their players open at the basket.
  4. Teammates on the perimeter are reluctant to help for fear of giving up the three point shot.
  5. Statistically, this drive simply seems to favor the offense over the defense.

So, when you’re guarding the wing (outer one-third) of the half-court, do everything you can with your stance and your distance to make the drive go toward the corner more times than it goes to the middle. Percentage-wise, it’s worth it.

16 Responses

  1. I made the switch several years ago from forcing baseline to forcing middle because I started running the pack line. When I made this switch I also changed all my half court zones to do the same to make closing out easier and consistent in all our defenses. I have not waivered on this at all since I switched. I understand all the points of forcing baseline a day I agree with most of them. However my problem with forcing baseline was always teaching that rotation(help the helper). Forcing middle prevents having to help the helper and as made teaching rotations almost irrelevant..The idea is to force middle, but not let players get middle . Having said all that I am still excited about DD because Rick breaks things down so well and as such good cues.

  2. Middle penetration caves in your whole defense and puts everyone in poor position. The baseline drive allows your help to stay set and makes the defense more effective. I totally agree with this post.

  3. Personally, I like to drive left(my weak hand) because my counter will be back to my right.
    As a team we force baseline into a trap in short corner, it does leave open skip passes, but this is why we stress ball pressure

  4. I guess the cat’s out of the bag! I just finished my defensive project – something that’s been in the making for 3 years – a project that I started filming and editing a year ago this month! Keep your eyes open for it in about 3 weeks – maybe sooner if we finish our new delivery system. (Tease, tease!)

    In order to make my argument about forcing sideline and baseline, you’ll have to see the entire system. Let me say this about forcing a player to their weak-hand: When the ball is in the middle one-third of the floor, a defender SHOULD force, influence, or shade the offensive player to their weak-hand. I absolutely agree with that. However, once the ball is in the outer one-thirds of the floor, for the sake of engineering the system for the entire team, the ball is prevented from driving back into the middle one-third. Everything that can be done by the entire defensive team goes into keeping the ball from being driven or passed into the middle one-third. My reason: Ask any great player where they want the ball or where they want to get to on the floor, and they’ll say “in the middle”. If that’s where great players want the ball; if that’s where they feel like they can do the most damage, then everything should be done to prevent the ball from getting there.

    Keep your eyes open for Dynamic Defense. It’s a five hour + project that covers everything from training your players in Speed, Agility, Quickness to 52 minutes on training your players to be mentally prepared and mentally tough to play championship defense. Those that have seen it keep repeating one word: “Comprehensive!” I’ll let you decide after you see it.

  5. Last year, mid season we switched to forcing everyone weak. It was a tough decision, mostly because of what Rig River just said, everyone else was doing it another way (90%).
    Like all coaches, I was reading a John Wooden book, a few weeks later and one of his roughly 20 “Keys for the Season” was to emphasis forcing guys to their weak side.

    We became a much better defensive team when we made that adjustment and reading Coach Wooden’s words a few weeks later, confirmed that we will go against the norm. Heck, I did it three years before when we switched to the Read and React Offense.

    Here’s my main “selling point” to force weak but I would LOVE some counter points: When you force, even a good player weak and he gets a step past the defender, almost 100% of the time he will have to bring the ball back to that strong hand to shoot. See how many shots your team can make with a guy on his shooting hip.

    I think 99.9% of all high school players, even the great ones, are at best 15% slower going to their weak side. If I can take 15% of my opponents speed away, I consider that a MAJOR advantage.

  6. At present 90% of the teams in America force baseline (according to PGC), this is effective because many teams haven’t been trained how to fill the windows on a baseline drive. If your team is trained to use the baseline drive adjustment in the Read and React… we have found that the baseline skip pass is usually open and really catches the defense in bad position because
    1- the ball is reversed very quickly behind the defenders
    2-the defense is flattened against the baseline
    3-defenders lose vision of their man because they must turn to look at the ball

    From a defensive stand-point we have found forcing a player weak is more effective than forcing them baseline. If a player is equally skilled at going both ways then force baseline makes more sense, but a player like that is not the norm at the high school level and is probably a star player in which case the best thing as a defender is to work hard to limit their catches in the first place.

  7. That point about stopping the drive by yourself at the short corner is key. Most defenders will have a hard time, and it would generally require a rotation to stop that drive. If the emphasis of the Rick’s team defense is to force/influence baseline, I guess we now have an idea of what direction the team defense dvd will be in.

  8. Forcing baseline or denying baseline is also of function of where help is coming from. We are a Pack Line team, and the #1 rule is to deny baseline, because help is coming from the middle.
    If you run the Pack Line correctly, you should have 4 or 5 players in or around the paint at all times. I’d love to see some stats on the scoring percentage when that many players are engaged that close to the bucket.

  9. Coach Clow – are you saying that you would rather force a player to baseline than over play their strong hand and make them go weak?
    If so, I agree. Let them go baseline and utilize the strengths mentioned in the above article. How did you work out your differences with your assistant?

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