Sudden Change in Basketball – Defending Live Ball Turnovers

When you listen to our football coaching brothers talking about “sudden change”, some of them make it sound like some revolutionary thing happens on the football field, when in reality all that occurs is a turnover and a change of possession.  Basketball coaches usually don’t use the term sudden change because we change possessions so often in the first place and secondly we usually have at least 20 or turnovers in a game between the two teams and on upwards to 50 turnovers.

For most coaches, transition is a priority and preventing our opponents from getting a good shot after we miss a field goal attempt is not a simple task and requires planning, execution and hard work.  Even preventing a good opportunity by the opponent after our missed free throws and made field goals or foul shots can be very challenging against some teams.  (For our thoughts on conventional transition defense, please read an earlier Hoop Coach article in the Defensive Fundamentals series.)

Today’s article will focus on the worst of hoop coaches’ nightmares- the live ball turnover.  While the live ball TO is really the epitome of sudden change and is by far the most difficult to contend with in transition, there are things that we can do to better prepare our teams for those occasions.

The first drill is “Sudden Change Half Court”.  This exercise will help get our players ready for the full court version.  When we have our offense run a play or set of any kind, we randomly blow the whistle and have the offensive man with the ball put the ball on the floor. Then, the defense goes to offense and offense to defense at the same basket but to make the transition more difficult, no defender can guard the player who was guarding him.  Obviously, the possession lasts until a basket is scored or there is a stop. Giving each team 3-5 possessions and having a winner and loser can add urgency and competitiveness to the drill.

Communication is paramount and at the beginning there will be some confusion and frustration but eventually a sense of order will prevail and better yet, a sense of pride will develop when the defense matches up effectively and prevents a good shot.  One note-the more that Ball-You-Man principles are in force, the better.  Giving the defense great verbal credit for a stop is highly encouraged because of the degree of difficulty.

After practicing “Sudden Change Half-Court”, we’re ready to move on to “Sudden Change Full-Court”.  In this version- on the whistle, the offensive player can set the ball down as before.  Or, he can pass it to any defender.  In either case the defense-turned offense is off to races and the offense-turned defense has to get back to prevent any good shot but particularly the uncontested layup.  Applying the same 3-5 possession format to the full court version is recommended.

Since the full court sudden change is far more complicated than the half court version and far more realistic, the following principles/thoughts should be covered before-hand and stressed throughout:

  • On the “turnover” all 5 players have to turn and haul ass the most direct path to the defensive end.
  • In many cases, the ball-handler will have a break-away.  Even this can be defended.
  • If any of our players thinks and acts like the situation is “hopeless”, it is hopeless.
  • Everyone in defensive transition must realize that even a breakaway can be stopped or that the breakaway man can screw it up a variety of ways if he knows he’s being pursued- including missing the layup.     

The “leader of the pack” has to first try to angle and cut off the ball-handler as best a he can to first prevent the breakaway.

  • The first defender can take the charge, make the ball-handler pick up his dribble, make the ball-handler give up the ball, force the ball-handler to take a low percentage shot, or block/contest the shot.  (I once had a high school player block an opponent’s shot from behind on the floor perhaps 6-8 times over a two-year period.)  Simply put, the first defender has to try to buy time for the other 4 defenders as best as he can.
  • The second defender has to locate the 2nd offensive man down the floor and attempt to get into a ball-you-man position whereby he can defend the first pass.
  • The third, fourth and fifth defenders have to communicate and pick up the remaining
  • offensive players in sequence and communicate with each other.  These last 3  defenders have to do the best they can to establish ball-you-man positions.  All  defenders must be ready to rebound as the worst thing that can happen in a live ball turnover situation is for a missed shot and a put-back because all 5 defenders didn’t sprint back.
  • Any time the defense is successful in any way at all, great credit should be given to the responsible defenders as the degree of difficulty is so high in stopping an opponent from scoring after a live ball turnover.

While sudden change defense on live ball turnovers is extremely challenging, if our players are given a sound plan to contend with the issue, and then have follow-up practices to simulate these situations, they’ll be more confident and able to contend with them when they’re real.

How do you prepare to defend live ball turnovers? Let us know in the comments below.

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