In yesterday’s article on shell defense and in a previous Hoop Coach article, “On Ball Defense”, we have discussed the foundation for today’s topic of help and recover. The premises of those two articles were: the more a defender can stay between his man and the basket, the better; the less help the four support defenders have to provide, the better; the less the defense fouls the better and last-even though we would prefer not to help, the other four defenders off the ball need to be in “best spot” help positions on every pass and every bounce.
The reason the other four defenders have to be there is because we know they will have to help numerous times in actual game situations. In the end, there are really three types of defensive help- No Help, Fake Help and Fire-Alarm Help
Let’s break this down. When an offensive player catches the ball, he has 3 choices- shoot, dribble or pass. As previously discussed, if the defender “gets a tie on the catch”- meaning he’s within an arm’s length distance on the catch to prevent a good look, the offensive man won’t be able to get a good shot off or will force or rush a shot. (These shots do get made and when they do, we have to live with them and explain to our players that rationale). Next, if the offensive player on the catch can’t take a good shot, he will look for a drive opportunity, BUT if all 4 off-ball defenders are THERE in help position, he very well might not put the ball on the floor. What we do know is that if the other 4 defenders aren’t THERE, he will put the ball on the floor. The ideal on every catch is that player can’t shoot or drive. In theory, it becomes an endless (unless a shot clock is involved) series of passes and catches. What also could happen is just like the forced or rushed shot, the offensive player could make a poor decision and drive into the teeth of the defense and force a play
Let’s now get into the concept of “fake help”, which is really central to any defensive system-whether a coach uses that terminology or not. Fake helping is actually hedging any time an offensive player puts the ball on floor and threatens the basket. On a high-screen and roll, for instance, the screener’s defender is basically “showing” to force the driver wider/higher to buy the driver’s defender more time and space to stay between the driver and the basket. The hedger is essentially “faking help”. For instance, picture a simple guard-guard help and recover situation. If I’m the off ball defender and my teammate’s offensive man tries to drive the gap at me, and I “help” when I don’t need to, my man is open behind me for a wide open catch and shoot trey. You see this all the time. Players erroneously think they’re doing a noble thing by helping, when all they’re really doing in these situations is giving up an open shot by needlessly or prematurely “helping”.
So what does the off ball defender need to do? First of all, stay in his stance; second, stay in a ball-you-man spot, third, keep his peripheral vision as he’s sliding and most importantly, stay square to the opposite end of the floor. As soon as the defender turns even a little towards the driver, his man can get behind him for a shot. Some well-schooled defenders “bluff” the driver with hand gestures but they never get out of “square”. As the offensive player drives at him, the defender’s position changes even if his man stays home. If the off ball offensive player fades or flairs, the defender has to fade or flair with him-so that once again, he would get a “tie on the catch”. This is really what we mean by “recovering”. What I’ve really just done is show or hedge. If you’re not “fake helping”, you’re really not “recovering” either. This can be practiced in any 2 and 3 man help and recover drills anywhere on the floor.
Last, what happens when fake help doesn’t work and real help is necessary? We don’t want to be in this position but inevitably we will. In that case, the first defender off the ball is the best option in a “fire-alarm” situation. If the driver gets past his defender AND also the first available helper, he’s deep into the heart of the defense and the defense is in severe danger. The deeper he gets, the less time there will be for the remaining defenders to react. You’re really in scramble mode and you’re in peril for giving up layups, open treys, offensive rebounds and fouling.
But these types of breakdowns have to also be practiced in the same types of 2, 3 and 4 man help and recover situations. This time, in an emergency, the first off ball defender makes a split second decision to leave his “spot” and “square” to the driver in order to make him pick up his dribble, pass off or charge into him. When this defender makes this decision, a verbal cue-like “fire” to his teammates can be very helpful (but difficult to execute) so that everyone else knows they’re in a rotate mode. If the first available defender off the ball leaves his spot to help, the second avaible off ball defender has to leave his spot to rotate and “help the helper” If executed perfectly, you can stop the ball, help the helper, not commit a foul and force a turnover or poor shot.
Obviously, the more you can avoid the fire-drill, the better. No help and fake help are much preferred. Regardless, it’s wise to practice all three-sequentially. If players know and practice the sequence, they’ll be better prepared to avoid the fire-drill but be able to handle it when it does happen.