“Quickness” in defence is often very different to the speed at which a defender can move. More important is the defender’s ability to correctly anticipate what will happen and to move in anticipation before it has actually happened.

x3 starts on the “split line” and is responsible for rotating and stopping any dribble penetration by 2. If x3 remains in the middle of the key, it will take 2 or 3 steps and if they do not move until 2 starts to dribble, x3 may struggle to stop them.

However, if x3 anticipates that 2 is going to dribble and moves toward that side of the court (shown in red) then they will be quicker to stop the rotation as they don’t have to move as far.

Coaches should give players many opportunities to practice anticipating what the offence will do and adjusting their position accordingly. Coaches must accept that the players will get it wrong sometimes, for example:

  • moving too far (and leaving their own opponent open);
  • not moving enough (and then not being able to get into position when the offence do move).

Making these mistakes is an important part of learning about optimal positioning. Where a player makes a mistake the coach should use questions to help the player identify what they could have done differently. If the coach simply tells the player what they should do, then the player does not develop their own ability to “read” the situation (and move accordingly) and really only learns that they should not trust their own instincts.

The coach can help the player to understand some “cues” that will help them to correctly anticipate what the offence may do, such as:

  • Ball position – if the player holds the ball at chest level or above, they are more likely to pass than dribble;
  • Chest position – the direction that a player’s chest is facing is most likely where they would pass or move;
  • Stance – if a player has straight legs, they are more likely to pass than dribble;
  • Ball side – whichever side a player is holding the ball is the side to which they are likely to pass or dribble;
  • Defender’s position – the offensive player is likely to move away from wherever their defender is standing (e.g. if a defender is on the right hand side of the offensive player, the offensive player is likely to pass or dribble to their left).

Players 3 and 4 must stand still and be ready to catch a pass from 1. 1 can pass to either player and x1 must try to deflect the pass. x1 should be prepared to move one way or the other in anticipation of where the pass is going.

A defender can also be added on the passer.

2 can either dribble into the key or may pass to 3 who attempts to dribble into the key. x2 attempts to stop both players from dribbling into the key:

  • If x2 believes that 2 will dribble, they should move 1 or 2 steps toward 2;
  • If x3 believes that 2 will pass to 3, they should move 1 or 2 steps toward 3.

2 is limited to 2 dribbles and 3 is limited to 1 dribble.

A defender can then be added to defend 2, which is an additional factor for x2 to take into account.

If x2 moves to stop 2 from dribbling toward the baseline, x2 can move towards 3, reducing the distance they need to move when the ball is passed (shown in red).

The defenders (x1, x2 and x3) must always have someone defend the ball – the other two defenders start in the key, but can then choose their own position.

The offensive players simply try to dribble into the key but can only start to dribble if there is no close defender (have the defenders touch the offensive player to demonstrate they are there).

The defenders in the key are encouraged to anticipate where the ball will be passed and take a step or two in that direction, so that they are then close enough to close out and stop any dribble. Shown on the diagram are movements the defenders might make if they anticipate different passes (movement is shown red and black).

The coach may stand under the basket to provide a passing target for the players. This requires the defenders to move together.

For example, x1 is standing to force the pass toward 2 and x2 moves toward them in anticipation. However, if x3 moves toward a pass across the key, this enables a pass to be made to the coach.

Instead, as x2 moves toward 2, x3 may move down toward the coach to pressure the pass.