A Basketball Secret: Setting Your Defense

Virginia defenseWhenever I watch a basketball game, one of the first things I try to note is how well a team’s defense gets set.  This applies to all situations, but is most difficult after misses and turnovers and against certain teams even after makes.

This is not to minimize the importance of setting one’s defense in dead-ball situations-full court, sideline and baseline.  Obviously in these instances, there is more time to set a defense but even then, it needs to be coached.

No matter the choice of defense, if the defense isn’t set, it will be less effective because the offense will have a better chance to get an initial advantage.  For instance, even in a season where the Virginia Cavaliers are “struggling” (3 straight losses), their signature Pack-Line defense is still extremely difficult to beat.  I would contend that the foremost reason that defense is difficult to penetrate is that the players are “set” earlier than most.  Of course, there are many intricacies to the defense as a whole but a great beginning is the key to rest. Before we go any further, we need to define and characterize the concept:

  • At least one full count and preferably more, all five defenders have to be  facing the ball in their best stances.  
  • All passes directly into the paint are being denied.
  • All other passes are met by a defender who gets a “tie on the catch”.
  • There are likely to be verbal or hand communications among teammates signaling to each other matchups and/or responsibilities.
  • The player who is supposed to stop the ball is especially set.
  • Whether or not the set defense is a zone, the visual of the set defense appears to be a zone.
  • The term “wall” can also be applied.  The visual should also appear to wall-like.
  • Besides defining and characterizing “setting one’s defense”, it must be practiced and broken down- as with any other concept.  The following teaching points might be of use:
  • Please read two previous Hoop Coach articles, “Transition Defense” and “Sudden Change in Basketball” for some general principles.  The teaching points in those two articles should lead up to the last few finishing touches.
  • As illogical as it might sound, practicing transition defense in slow-motion and half-speed can be helpful.  Slowing down the process, in the beginning, can help solidify your thoughts for your players.  As players get comfortable with what they are expected to do, they can much more easily absorb the acceleration to full speed.
  • Perhaps the key teaching point of all is having each player yell “set” when he believes that he is indeed set.  It will be obvious to him, the staff and the other players when someone isn’t set and calls it out prematurely.
  • Apply all the same principles to dead-ball situations.  Giving up a shot (let alone a bucket) or foul is inexcusable because of a lack of being set.  BEFORE the referee hands the ball to the inbounder, all 5 defenders need to be “wired” or “set”.

Once players “get it”, getting set can be a foundation of a defensive system and, for that matter, a program.  While there are many other sexier and appealing facets of the game to players, there might not be a single more important phase of the game for team success than getting set defensively as a team.

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