The full-court press is a defensive strategy in basketball. The purpose of this press (“press” means “pressure”) is to overwhelm the offense and force them to commit turnovers.
What is a full-court press in basketball?
The full-court press is a defensive style that puts pressure on the entire length of the basketball court. In this type of defense, as soon as the inbounds pass puts the ball in play, intense pressure is applied. (Some coaches may also preach denying the inbounds pass in a full-court press.) The full-court press may be enforced using a man-to-man defense or a zone press.
- The full-court pressure defense was invented by John McLendon in the 50s, the same man who came up with the fast break.
- The purpose of this defensive stye is to force turnovers and to speed the game up. Forced turnovers often lead to multiple easy scoring opportunities on the other end.
- Most high school and college teams employ a variation of a full-court press. However, it’s not often seen in the NBA, mainly because of the high level of skills of the players.
Why Run A Full Court Press
The most obvious reason why teams run the full-court press is to force the offense to make bad decisions. If the defensive team can force a turnover in the backcourt, that’s an easy layup and score.
But even if you can’t force the turnover, there are many advantages to this approach. One is it takes precious few seconds off the shot clock. Another reason is it forces opponents away from their strengths and their usual offensive sets. If you’re playing a slower team, for example, the full-court press is a good way to compel them to play at a faster pace. It may also cause them to take shots that they’re not comfortable with.
One notable press was run by Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson in the late 1980s. His pressure D was called, “40 Minutes of Hell.”
Types of Full-Court Presses
There are two general types of full-court presses. These are the man-to-man press and a zone press. Let’s take a look at each type.
A man-to-man full-court press is basically a mix of the normal man-to-man and the intensity of a full-court press. In a man-to-man press, the coach assigns a matchup to his players. Their job is to shadow their assignment all the way, only leaving to double-team on the first inbound pass or to trap someone in the corners.
A zone press is a full-court pressing defense but instead of individual assignments, the players are assigned areas on the court. Any offensive player who enters their respective zones is swarmed. A zone press is less intense than a man-to-man press and therefore much easier to sustain throughout the game.
The sub-types of a zone press are the 2-2-1, 1-2-1-1, and the 3-1-1 full-court presses. The numbers simply refer to the formation and the placing of the players over the court.
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Zone Press Video: 221 Zone Press
This video shows how to run a 2-2-1 zone press.
Full Court Pressure Video: 1-2-1-1 Press
And this one shows how to correctly run the 1-2-1-1 full-court pressure, also called the Havoc Defense.
Ways to Beat The Full-Court Press
There is no doubt that the pressure created by this type of approach can be a devastating defense. But like any other defensive strategy, it’s not foolproof. Here are some simple ways to overcome the dreaded full-court press:
Save the Dribble
After catching the inbounds pass, the number one mistake an offensive player commits upon seeing a full-court press is to dribble right away. Dribbling the ball right away invites all kinds of traps. Instead of putting the ball on the floor, look up and survey the court first before anything.
The beauty of using ball fakes in this situation is you can manipulate the defense to shift one way or another and then exploit it as they commit.
Do not always go forward with the dribble
At some point, you will need to put the ball on the floor. If it comes to that, don’t think that the only way to beat a full-court press is by advancing the ball. That’s really not the case! A retreat dribble allows you to keep your space and survey the floor for better options. Remember to always keep your eyes up!
Break the Press Strategies and Tactics
Isolate and attack
In the normal progression of a full-court press, the defense swarms in and double teams you. The best way to fight through that is to pick one guy to beat (most probably the one in the middle to give you space to work on) and put a move on him. Remember that if you beat one guy in a full-court press, you are beating the whole press.
Fake off with your eyes
The no-look pass is the unsung hero in breaking a press. Aside from beating the full-court press with the dribble, you can also do so with a pass. The trick is to manipulate the defense with your eyes so you can throw the ball to someone in a better position to score or move the ball forward.
The whole point of this approach is to speed things up, so why play right into the defense’s hands? Be quick, but not in a hurry.
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