Dribble-At: Defensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 24 of 24 in the series Dribbling Actions

The Dribble-At is a very sneaky way to generate offensive scoring opportunities. It can be used in its most basic sense as a way to generate movement and release pressure. However, as players improve their skills it can be a way to create scoring opportunities. While overuse of the Dribble-At can cause your offense to be stagnant, using it occasionally will cause catch undisciplined defenses sleeping and is the trigger for a lot of different secondary actions. It is not difficult to defend the Dribble-At as long as defenders are alert and disciplined, but defenders can easily lose focus.

  1. Staying between the ball and the basket
    In the case of a Dribble-At, the ball handler isn’t going toward the rim. It is important that the player guarding the ball stays between the ball and the basket. In many cases, the defender will over pursue the ball handler in an attempt to cut them off. When they do so, they open up a lane to the basket if the ball handler can quickly change direction.
  2. Defending the cutter
    If you’re defending the cutter, you just can’t get beat back door. It’s really that simple. This can be a result of being too focused on the ball. It can be a result of over playing the receiver. It can be simply a matter of losing focus. However, defending the backdoor cut is only step one. It’s important to maintain good defensive positioning even if the backdoor pass is denied. The cutter can post up at the end of the cut. The cutter can decide to screen. The cutter might react to penetration. They might fill to the weak side of the floor. The key is to maintain sound defensive positioning relative to the ball no matter what the cutter does.

2 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Attack Dribble)

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series 2 player combinations

The following diagrams show how two players can combine two attack dribble actions back to back in 4 different ways.  In short, it shows the 4 possible combinations of players using the attack dribble to their right and to their left.

A number of different skills can be taught as a part of this building block.  Ball handling, 1 on 1 moves, passing, post slides, circle movement, shooting, finishing, pivoting, and spacing are all possibilities on the offensive side of the ball.  Of course if you put defense on the court, there are many other possibilities as well.

Keep in mind there are a number of other combinations as well with different players at different spots, but these building blocks teach players how to be aggressive with the ball as well as show them their different options when they are aggressive.  Placing defenders on the court forces them to learn how to defend a ball handler who wants to use their attack dribble.  It’s important in these situations to make the defenders be aggressive so they can learn how to keep a ball handler in front of them.

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Drill variables

Tangent Alert!!!

Most of what I’ve been talking about are what I call building blocks.  They are conceptual combinations of actions.  I talked about why I don’t call them drills in a previous post. The building blocks are applicable to all teams.  However, coaches must take these building blocks and design drills every day that accomplish their goal.  I wanted to take a minute to list a few of the “variables” that coaches may consider in designing drills.  These variables should be considered on a daily basis to create the type of learning environment that is appropriate for their team on that day. A drill changes every time you change a variable. The building blocks may be the same, but making slight changes in these variables can have an impact on how players think about the drill, which helps them grow.

How do players rotate in the drill?  Offense to defense?  Defense to Offense?  Are there players watching the drill? Is it a reward to watch or a punishment to watch? Does the offense get the ball a certain number of times? Do players start themselves?  Do they have to wait for a command?  Who gives that command?

Length of time
How long does a drill last?  Til one player reaches a certain score?  Til one group reaches a certain score?  Til the whole team reaches a certain score?  For a certain number of repetitions/possessions? For a certain length of time? Until it’s done correctly once?  Until it’s done correctly a certain number of times?  Until a certain player or grouping does it right? Until everyone does it right?

Scoring the drill
How do you keep score in the drill? Do you award points for doing things right?  Do you award points for doing things wrong?  How many “things” are being tracked?  How much does each thing count?  Who’s keeping score?  Players?  Coaches? Managers?  You can count actual points, touches for a certain player, 1 foot paint touches, 2 feet paint touches, travels, good screens, bad screens, good cuts, bad cuts, good rotations, bad rotations, good hedge, bad hedge, good shots, bad shots, good execution, bad execution, good position, bad position, face cuts, box outs, second efforts, dives on floor, charges, deflections, or any number of other things.  You could choose not to keep score at all. Is there a winner and a loser?  How is it determined?  Are players competing against yesterday’s score?  Are they competing against each other?  Individually?  In groups?  Are they competing as a team against some standard?

Is it even or uneven?  Does offense have the advantage or does the defense?  How much of an advantage? Give offense or defense an advantage by restricting space, changing an alignment, or implementing rules?  (ie the offense can’t dribble or #12 is the only player that can score.)  Do you restrict the actions that players can execute?  Per group? Per player? Per drill?  Is there an action that must be included?  Is there a specific order to the actions?  Is there freedom to the actions?  The list of rules that can be created is a whole different post.

Participation and roles
Number of Offensive players?  Number of Defensive players? Managers? Coaches? Who’s live? Who’s not?  How do players sub?  On their own?  Never?  When a coach tells them to? Is the rotation set? How are teams/groups selected?  Do they choose their own?  Are they chosen on the spot?  Are they chosen before practice?

Where does the possession start?  Where does it end? Where does the ball start? How do you start the next possession? How does it end?  How do you start the next repetition/possession? Does the offense rebound continuously? When does it end? What happens if defense gets possession?

Necessary Equipment
Number of balls? Cones? Chairs? Pads? Heavy balls?  Tennis balls?  Agility ladders? Ball Racks?

Is this a lot of work?  Yes I think it is.  As teachers, we must answer these questions as we develop our daily lesson plans.  There is value to consistency.  There is value in familiarity.  I would ask how many possessions in a game are the same? Shouldn’t we force our players to learn to deal with variety?  Shouldn’t they learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable?  

The question becomes, “What do you want to accomplish?”


4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 4 player Combinations

4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

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If the initial attacker were to reverse pivot and pitch it back to the safety, these diagrams could look much different.  I have added those to the to draw list.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Read Line

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

5 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
Since this is the first action that is not initiated by the ball handler, a defender is needed in order to initiate the action.  Locate 5 players on the court in 5 spots.  Place a dummy defender in position 1 pass away from the ball.  Have the defender step across the Read Line.  The player then cuts back door while the other players fill.  The defender can stay in one location and continue to step over the Read Line as players fill.  This dummy defender could be another player, a coach or a manager.


You:  WHOA!  Slow down coach.  What is the Read Line?
Me:  We use the college 3 point line as our Read Line.  You may choose use the high school line or the NBA line for your team.
You:  So you’re telling me that you use the 3-point line to initiate an offensive action?
Me:   Well sort of.  The line can’t really initiate an action.  Only players can initiate actions.
You:  I was wondering about that.  So who initiates this action?
Me:  This layer is initiated by the defense.
You:  But coach, I don’t want the defense to dictate what we do.
Me:  I hate to tell you coach, but they already do. When they play man to man, you do one thing.  When they play zone, you do another thing.  When they trap, you do another thing.  Defense always dictates to the offense in one way or another. Some defenses dictate more than others. Some defenses give up more than others. Some defenses give up exactly what they want.  Some defenses give up everything.  In any case, defense makes an impact on how we play offense, don’t they?
You:  OK. OK.  I still don’t like it. But I’ll entertain you for a second. What is the action?
Me:   It works like this.  When a player who is one pass away from the ball has a defender who steps over the Read Line, they immediately cut to the basket.
You:  That’s it?  It’s that simple?
Me:  Yep.  That’s it.
You:  Well that makes sense, except I want #23 to catch the ball on the wing every time.
Me: If defense wants to keep #23 from catching the ball badly enough, they will.  They might give up a lot in the process, but they can keep #23 from catching the ball.
You:  Coach, you can’t keep Lebron from catching it on the wing.
Me:  You’re right.  But you don’t have Lebron on your team.
You:  Don’t I wish I did.
Me: We all do. Now that we’re done dreaming, I’ll give you 3 reasons why this layer is important.

1.  We fight fire with fire.  If the defense wants to attack us by denying a pass, we will attack them by cutting to the rim.
2.  The action initiates offense without the ball handler having to do anything.
3.  It eliminates confusion between the ball handler and the receivers. Either the receiver is open or not.  Either they are going back door, or they aren’t.

You:  Those are 3 pretty legitimate advantages.
Me:  Not to mention the options that the cutter has that we will talk about later.
You:  I have one more question.  We emphasize playing in gaps defensively.  We are never in a denial position.  How can we practice this action if we’re never over the Read Line defensively?
Me:  That’s a tougher question to answer.  I hope to help you figure that out as I describe an implementation plan for this layer.

2 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This building block is very similar to the 5-player building block with 2 players.  Players without the ball can start in a position one pass away. Coaches can also have them start more than one pass away.  In this situation, players fill up to the open spot in order to learn the Read Line action.  In either arrangement, a dummy defender steps over the Read Line.  Players without the ball must react quickly to the dummy defender with a hard cut to the basket.  Passers must learn to make the pass as early as possible and work on fitting passes into tight spaces or making the pass late when the defender has relaxed.

Defenders can be live in this building block as well. This may only be applicable to teams with defensive philosophies that have off ball defenders close to the line of the ball. This is a good start to teaching players how to defend the back door cut. For teams who play off the line of the ball significantly, this may serve no purpose as a defensive building block.

3 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is very similar to the previous building block except there is now a player to fill the empty spot. The dummy defender can stay in position and step over the Read Line for each new receiver as they fill.

3 offensive players 2 defenders 1 action
It’s important for the offensive players to cut when the ball handler “sees” them.  Receivers could make a great back door cut, but if the ball handler doesn’t see them it doesn’t matter.  Place  the defenders on the players off the ball.  The defenders can be over the Read Line or not.  The ball handler looks each way.  If the defender is over the Read Line, the player cuts backdoor.  If not, they stay.

A building block of any more than 3 offensive players is probably not worth very much until other actions are combined with it.  For teams that play on the line of the ball defensively, this will fit right into what they do defensively.  These teams should force their teammates into a steady stream of backdoor cuts by players one pass away. For teams that play off the line, coaches may want to have a manager or coach step in as defenders.  It may be difficult for them to learn this habit if they don’t play this type of defense on a regular basis.

Remember the Dribble-At?  Let’s say the player one pass away should be making a Read Line cut.  Maybe they don’t see the defender.  Maybe they forgot.  Maybe they never knew to start with. Well if the person with the ball recognizes this situation, they can Dribble-At this player and send them back door.

There’s another situation that may you may consider a “Read Line situation.”  This one is up to you.

Maybe the defender isn’t over the Read Line, but the ball handler still doesn’t feel comfortable making the pass.  Maybe they are in a position to to steal the pass without being over the Read Line.  Maybe the ball handler just doesn’t want to pass to that player right now. As opposed to that player standing still, they can cut to the basket.  So the rule can be stated like this.  If the ball handler recognizes you as a receiver who is 1 pass away but does not pass you the ball, cut to the basket just as if your defender is over the Read Line.

An Important Detail:
Keep in mind, we only use the Read Line for players who are 1 pass away. We don’t want to help the defense get in better position.  A player who is more than 1 pass away and who is over the Read Line is in pretty poor defensive position.  We want to keep that defensive player player there.  While I’m sure this offensive player could get open for a layup, if everyone follows the Read Line rule at the same time, they could all end up at the basket at the same time.  Now no one is open.  Limiting this rule to only the players who are 1 pass away is important to giving cutters who cut to the basket a chance at  being open.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Implementation Plan (1 action Part breakdown)

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

I have decided to break down the breakdown. This post will cover 1 action building blocks for the Pass, Cut, & Fill layer of offense. There are so many offensive and defensive concepts that can be taught with just one action. Before players are asked to defend multiple actions, they must be taught to defend individual actions. This can also help slow the game down for players offensively. Before worrying about executing a second action, they can learn to take full advantage of individual action.

In the 3, 4, and 5 player building blocks, the idea is that players execute single actions on the coaches command. Coaches may decide to design the drill from the building block in such a way that players stay on the court for more than one action. The idea is that players execute one action and fully complete that action offensively and defensively before they execute the next action.

2 offensive players 1 action
For this introductory building block, players start at two adjacent spots. The player with the ball passes to the other player and cuts to the basket. Coaches can stop the drill right here since that is literally 1 action. However, this can become pretty boring pretty quickly.

I would encourage that the the building block be finished with a pass to the cutter. The receiver delivers a pass to the cutter. Since the receiver passed to the cutter, they should cut.

I know this is a second action. I know this is considered a “Post Pass.” I know we haven’t covered it yet. We won’t really cover post passes until the next layer. However, it’s pretty simple. When you pass, you cut. Right? Not very difficult. Keep it consistent. It will make the next layer easier to learn. I also think it’s important to show players that it is possible to score off of this action. It isn’t that we just Pass & Cut for fun. It is meant to be a scoring option.

A tendency in this very simple building block is that players tend to turn this into a layup drill. This is not a layup drill (even though it’s a good way to work on finishing). This is a Pass & Cut building block. Offensive players should really tune into their spacing, passing, catching, and cutting fundamentals. You may have to teach those skills in some sort of individual breakdown. These small things can make a big difference for players. It’s tough to find time to do everything. It’s up to you to make decisions on what’s most important.

2 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is a great building block for teaching a lot of different concepts. The coach just adds a defender to either the passer or the receiver in the previous building block. Coaches can use this building block with “dummy defense” as a way to continue emphasizing offensive skills and concepts, or they can use it to teach defense. For now coaches may want to limit the offensive players options to only passing. We will combine layers later. However, this can be another way to create a 1 on 1 scenario. If the defender is guarding the player with the ball, the ball handler may be given the freedom to attack off the dribble which will help keep the defender honest.

Numerous 1 on 1 offensive concepts can be taught with this building block.

  • Making a pass with pressure
  • Catching a pass with pressure
  • Footwork on the catch
  • Footwork on a cut
  • Passing to a cutter early in their cut
  • Passing to a cutter late in their cut

Numerous 1 on 1 defensive concepts tie in with this layer as well. Of course these concepts may be approached differently based on the location of the offensive players on the court.

  • Defending a potential passer
  • Defending a potential receiver
  • Defending a player who just passed
  • Defending a player who just caught a pass

There are numerous ways to design drills around this simple building block to teach and emphasize different skills. It is up to the coach to design the drills that fit in with this building block and their philosophies.

3 offensive players 1 action
This building block is very similar to the 2 offensive player 1 action block except now there is a player available to fill the open spot. With only offensive players and only 1 action, this building block may not be very productive at this time. However, it will become a critical tool when multiple actions and layers are included.

3 offensive players 1 defensive player 1 action
Coaches can use this building block with “dummy defense” as a way to continue emphasizing offensive skills and concepts. However, playing live defense just became more difficult. Previously, the offensive player could only pass one way. It was predictable more for the defense, but this is a good way to teach and drill a defensive skill or concept. Now the defense has at least one more thing to react to. The defender can be on the ball or off the ball. If they are on the ball, they are required to react to the pass in either direction. Coaches can give the ball handler the freedom to attack off of the dribble as well. Once the pass is made, the defender must defend the cutter based on the technique that fits the defensive philosophy of the coach. If defended successfully, the receiver may be instructed to take a shot which now turns the building block into a 1 on 1 rebounding drill.

If the defender is off ball, they may be required to either defend the ball if the pass is made to their player, or get into proper help side position. Of course the offense is now filling spots which forces the defender to now find their proper 1 pass away position again. Do your defenders trail their players and as a result give up Draft Drives? This is a good way to teach them to get in proper off ball position more quickly. When we start adding a second action and combining layers, having this defensive foundation will be important.

3 offensive players 2 defensive players 1 action
This is similar to the last building block. Are your defenders both off ball? Is one on the ball and one off the ball? Remember if they are on ball, you can give the ball handler the freedom to attack. This building block is only one action though. So we’re still breaking things down to the basics. Can your defenders defend one action well even though they don’t know what that action is going to be? I know everyone wants to get to multiple actions with different layers. You want to set screens. You want to include post players. So do I, but we have be able to guard 1 action first. If defenders aren’t in position for the first action, can we expect them to be in position once the offense really starts moving?

3 offensive players 3 defensive players 1 action
You’ve trained different combinations of defensive concepts. Now you can put it all back together in a 3 on 3 scenario. Remember we’re still only working with 1 action. However, this trains the defense to defend a single action regardless of the action and when the action is unpredictable. It also trains the reactions of the offensive players. You can have the two offensive players without the ball start with an empty spot between them and the ball. Then they fill the empty spots to start the action.

4 offensive players 1 action
The addition of a fourth offensive player gives coaches the opportunity to continue to teach players to fill up to the next empty spot. However, using four players also allows coaches to start talking about the concept of waiting to fill if they are more than one pass away. This is a very useful way to set up different attacking options. Those will be covered later, but players can be taught to think about being “patient when they fill.” Then if the ball is passed and there is an open spot between them and they ball, they can fill up.

4 offensive players 1 defender 1 action
This is very similar to the previous single action building blocks, except now there can be a defender 2 passes away. You could use this building block to teach players how to go from 1 pass away to 2 passes away and visa versa. Again, if they can’t defend one action, how can we expect them to defend more than one. I know this building block may seem “dumb” and a waste of time. Maybe it is for most teams. However, I have learned to never assume that a player knows anything. Making sure players know how to defend players with and without the ball based on the position of the ball and their player is important. Coaches may need to break this down to the most basic level using this building block by controlling the pace of the actions.

4 offensive players 2 defenders 1 action
Now we can start teaching defenders how to work together. This could be two off ball defenders or one off ball and one on ball. Only one action is executed at a time, but now players can start to see how the whole defensive picture is going to fit together. Again, coaches may determine that this 1 action building block is unnecessary. Coaches may only use this building block for one or two practices. That’s up to you. It is still interesting to consider how these simple one action building blocks can be used to teach players how to defend. Do defenders execute techniques correctly in these basic building blocks? If not, then how can we expect them to execute them correctly with more layers or more actions involved.

4 offensive players 3 defenders 1 action
We are building on the previous building block by adding a third defender. Again, this may seem unnecessary. It depends on your team and your players. Helping players see how the whole picture is built is important. Players can get lost if the drill is too big. Keeping the number of players small gives the coach less to watch.

4 offensive players 4 defenders 1 action
This could be seen as a basic 4 out defensive shell building block. By limiting the building block to 1 action at a time, coaches can give attention to specific offensive or defensive techniques and details one action at a time. Players can see the whole picture start to come together.

5 players 1 action
We’ve finally arrived. If you’re still reading, I think you probably get the point. I won’t go through all the 5 player 1 action building blocks. I think there are still some value in these single action drills. Maybe I’ll explore this later. Right now, I am going to get into multiple passing actions as well as combining layers in the multiple actions.

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Implementation Plan (Whole)

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

5 offensive players and 5 defenders
We can really show the WHOLE picture at this point.  We can review defensive positioning based on the ball and the player. We can review the defensive concepts what we’ve covered so far. We can also show how we will defend cutters and provide help on cutters. Remember cutters are closely related to post players. So we can mention post defense even though we might not really spend a lot of time talking about it. We don’t spend a lot of time here. However, seeing the whole puzzle picture helps the smaller pieces make sense. Again, it doesn’t matter what defensive philosophy you employ.

5 offensive players
This may be a good time to review everything that has been covered so far.   What happens when someone attacks off the dribble?  What happens when someone dribble’s-at a player?  What happens when a player drives baseline?  What happens when a player drives with a player in or around the lane?  

Your choice to review is optional. I’m going to let you know that many players are going to default to this passing layer, because it’s comfortable to them. They think “because coach is in the gym, I have to pass the ball.” They might think “I don’t want to dribble because I know my teammates aren’t completely comfortable with those reactions yet and I don’t want to make them look bad.”  They might think “I would only drive when my defender is out of position and since there is no defense it doesn’t make sense to drive.”

I think it’s important to keep these actions in their minds.  They must continue to practice the habits.  They must not forget that dribbling is important just because they can pass now.  I want players to learn to use the dribble to create and execute offense, and score but not just score.  I want players to be comfortable with reacting to the dribble.  I want players to learn to visualize defense when it isn’t there.  I know this is the Pass, Cut, & Fill layer.  It just drives me crazy to watch teams “run the play” when there is a clear scoring opportunity and the players are being robots instead of basketball players.

Back on task….

5 offensive players 1 action
Players will start at the 5 perimeter spots.  The ball can start with any player.  Players pass, cut, and fill without defense.  Place emphasis on straight hard cuts to the rim.  Players without the ball must fill one pass away spots aggressively.  Passers must ball fake the cutter before the next perimeter pass is made.  This is used to show the whole layer.  Significant time does not need to be spent on this building block.

You can show this layer from any of the 3 main alignments.  It is up to the coach and the personnel.  Regardless, the rules stay the same. When a shot is taken, players rebound.  When a player drives right, everyone rotates right.  When a player drives left, everyone rotates left.  When someone dribble’s at another player, that player cuts back door. When a player drives baseline, 4 windows must be filled. When a player pass, that player cuts. It’s pretty straight forward.  It all sounds pretty simple.  Some players may struggle with it all initially.  But they will learn it.  And when they do, they will be very hard to guard.