Combating Small Ball by Switching

We’re all pretty much aware that every sport changes and evolves as rules are changed, technologies are developed, athletes get bigger, stronger and faster and coaches innovate.

Our sport of basketball has evolved in many ways over the years with perhaps the most significant event being the advent of the three-point line, creating a style of play many now call “small” or “position-less” ball.

As in any sport, innovative offense is eventually met by innovative defense. The struggle goes back and forth with one side trending ahead until thinking on the other side of the ball catches up or goes ahead.

While switching on defense really isn’t innovative in and of itself and while it hasn’t really caught up yet with today’s offenses, it clearly is being utilized in the NBA and NCAA as a viable response and in some cases, even a weapon.

Let’s take a look at some of today’s relevant thinking on switching:

  • Length on the Perimeter- A buzzword term at high levels. A number of NBA front offices are consumed by finding “long” mobile defenders who can switch out on any screen or cross of any kind. Players who can guard the #1 through the #5 are talked about in reverent terms. Obviously, length is an asset in any switching scheme. As with any development in the NBA, eventually it filters down to lower levels. College coaches are now recruiting to this trend more than ever. The thinking will continue to find its way in both the college and high school games.
  • Switching as Weapon- In the past, switching was mostly seen as a containment or neutralizing action. None other than forward-thinking Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets this past season used switching as an aggressive weapon to three ends- 1) Deny a Pass; 2) Force a Turnover; 3) Take Away a 3pt. Shot. When one views switching in this manner, it takes on a whole new dimension. Think of the term “jump-switch” and its implications on a regular basis to disrupt everything from “small-ball” in general to the screen/roll in particular.
  • Switching #1 Through #5- Coaches who are switching all 5 positions on a regular basis who really don’t have 5 long players to do so, don’t worry about mismatches. They figure the havoc they create outweighs the risks they face with a “wrong” player getting caught on the “wrong” offensive player. These coaches believe the disruptive nature of this scheme is worth the gamble.
  • Selective Switching- Based on personnel and other factors, some coaches will not switch any screens involving a #4 or #5- or just the #5. Then there are those who will switch on certain actions or against certain teams or just on certain possessions as a surprise tactic.
  • Defensive Switching from the Offensive Perspective-Because this is a trending defense, it’s wise to practice against it on a regular basis even if one doesn’t employ it oneself.

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