Transition Offense or Transition Defense?

This entry is part 15 of 20 in the series Practice

The game of basketball is a game of transition.  The quicker and better a team can transition from one end of the court to the other the better they will be. Playing well in transition creates easy offense while limiting easy offense for the other team. Which is more important:  transition offense or transition defense?

Transition offense and secondary break offenses may be more glamorous and more fun. They may look better on a white board.  They may be more interesting to coach. However, transition defense is more important. No matter what kind of team you have and no matter what your philosophy, you must be able to play transition defense.  It’s critical to limit fast break opportunities and force teams to play 5 on 5 half court offense.  Even teams who don’t want to play at a high tempo will take advantage of teams who do not play good transition defense. Any team would prefer an easy layup over having to play 5 on 5. Transition defense is a staple to any successful team.

Transition defense starts with playing good offense.  This doesn’t necessarily mean scoring, although it certainly helps. It means limiting turnovers, it means taking good shots, and it means having an offensive rebounding philosophy that fits your team.  If you can play good offense, playing good transition defense becomes much simpler.  However, we’ll never score 100% of the time. Even if we do, we still have to transition back into defense.

So what does transition defense mean? How do we accomplish that?

First we must determine how many people are we going to send to rebound offensively. Do we send everybody to rebound?  Do we only send 2, 3, or 4 players?

Then, we must determine our pick up point.  Do we pick up the ball in the full court? Do we pick it up at half court?  Do we pick it up in our front court?  At some point, our players must know when the ball must be stopped.

Do we crowd the rebounder to slow down the outlet?  Do we protect the basket? If we do any of these things, who is responsible for these tasks? Is it the same person all the time? Does your team have to make a read?

Then of course we need to install that defensive scheme and enforce it at all times.  Failing to execute in transition on defense cannot be acceptable.  In my opinion, it’s worse than missing a layup.  A team must have a transition defensive system. It can be simple, but there has to be a plan. Does your team understand what it looks like to have a successful possession of transition defense?

No matter the scheme, there are two ingredients for successful transition defense. Teams who “get back” sprint the floor and they communicate. If we don’t sprint, we don’t have much of a chance to stop another team who is sprinting. Of course, we need to sprint with a purpose. Sprinting without direction or a goal isn’t productive. Do we sprint to an area or a person? How do we know which area or person to sprint to?  As much as we might have a plan, communication is the key to executing the plan.  Whether verbal or nonverbal, players and teams must communicate with one another. Otherwise, it is left up to ESP or chance as to who is doing what. That’s a formula for disaster.  As much as a team may have good chemistry, a lack of communication will lead to easy baskets.

Transition defense must be considered in any basketball philosophy. It is the beginning of your overall defensive philosophy and must be taught and practiced on a regular basis.

What is your philosophy on transition defense?  How do you teach it?

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