Whilst the term “pack line defence” is relatively new, the concept of “sagging” defence is certainly not.

However, the “pack line defence” is not designed to be a passive or soft defence. Instead, its effectiveness relies upon:

  • The player defending the ball doing so with a high degree of pressure;
  • If a player has a “dead ball” (i.e. they have already dribbled and cannot dribble again) all defenders moving into position looking to steal a pass;
  • Defenders being able to contain the ball and not get beaten off the dribble;
  • Post defenders using a 3⁄4 position on the high side to deny the post player the ball. Post defenders trying to move the post player so that they are not able to establish position in the post. Some coaches will front a low post player when the ball is at the wing, and in this alignment may allow them to have position “on the block”.

The “Pack Line” is simply an area inside the 3 point line (approximately 16 feet / 4.9 metres) from the basket. When defending a player that does not have the ball, the defender must have both feet within the “pack line”, positioned approximately half way between their direct opponent and the player with the ball.

The difference between this sagging position and defence that incorporates “denial” positioning is shown below:

Pack Line Defence

Players that are defending players without the ball, have both feet within the “pack line”. They are approximately half way between their direct opponent and the player with the ball. Keeping vision of both players is important.

“Man to Man” with Denial

Defensive position depends upon the distance an opponent is from the player with the ball. Players that are “1 pass away” are denied the ball.

Defenders will try to stop post players establishing position in the “post box”. If the ball is at the top of the key, the defender should deny from a 3⁄4 position on the high side.

Some coaches will also “front” the low post when the ball is at the wing (shown in red), others may maintain a 3⁄4 position (shown in black).

It is at the discretion of the coach, how to defend the low post player.

Similarly, coaches may opt to double team the post player once they receive the ball.

Coaches may choose to double the low post from the split line and/or crowd the post player from the wing defender.

Advantages of Pack Line Defence

Key advantages of utilizing the pack line defence are:

  1. It prevents dribble penetration as the sagging defenders are in a position to help, making it hard for offensive players to find a “gap” to penetrate. This should also give the on-ball defender confidence to be aggressive, knowing that there is help if they are beaten.
  2. It provides protection against back door cuts and flash cuts, with sagging defenders being in a position to help.
  3. An effective pack line defence is likely to cause an opponent to take more shots from the perimeter and those shots should be contested. This can result in the opponent shooting a lower percentage, particularly if the defensive team rebound well and do not allow the opponent to score “second chance” points.

Weaknesses of Pack Line Defence

Relative weaknesses of the Pack Line Defence are:

  1. When used with young players, on ball defenders may not develop the ability to contain the dribbler, instead relying upon the help that is inherent in the defence.
  2. The defence requires defenders to constantly “close-out”, which is a difficult defensive skill to master. If it is not done well, the opponent may have opportunities to penetrate creating higher percentage shots.
  3. An opponent that shoots well from the perimeter may do well against the defence.
  4. If there is no shot clock, the opponent may be able to run significant time off the clock before shooting.

Having regard to these weaknesses, it is not recommended that young teams use the Pack Line defence. It should not be used until all players are proficient at closing out and containing perimeter dribblers.

Practicing Fundamentals of Pack Line Defence

Two key skills should be practiced regularly to implement the Pack Line Defence:

  • Close-out – moving from an off ball defensive position to defending the player with the ball.
  • Positioning – adjusting position every time the ball or their opponent moves.

Blackhawk – practicing close-outs

x1 closes out to 1, keeping both hands high to prevent any shot.

1 passes to either wing player and x1 adjust their position to be in the “dribble gap” (half way between 3 and 1)

As 1 cuts to the basket, x1 must “bump” the cutter and defend them the cut to the middle of the key.

The ball is passed to the next player at the point position, and x1 again closes out.

After x1 has defended 2 cuts, on a third close-out they play live 1v1. Limit the number of dribbles that the dribbler has to 2 or 3, to focus on them penetrating to the basket.

2 on 1 Position

This is another activity that practices defensive position, and particularly the “gap dribble” position.

The coach moves and 1 adjust their position, x1 adjusts themselves to be in a correct position

As the coach penetrates toward the key, x1 must “hedge” to stop the penetration and then recover to defensive position to defend 1.

When the coach passes to 1, x1 must close-out to 1 and be in position to stop any baseline penetration

As the ball is passed back to the coach, x1 must “jump with the ball” to get into the “gap dribble” position and then continue to adjust as the coach moves.

After 30 seconds or so, the coach calls “live” and then when 1 has the ball, they attempt to score.

3 Out, 1 In, 1 Defender

3 perimeter players pass the ball, and x4 adjusts position to defend the low post.

When 2 has the ball, x4 either plays 3⁄4 or fully front, depending upon coach preference.

When the ball is at the point position (with 1) x4 must play “on the line, up the line” to deny any pass to 4.

If the ball is passed to the low post, x4 must move to a position behind the post player. The defender should keep their hands high and contest a shot without jumping.

As the ball is reversed, the post player can cut to the opposite post. The defender should “bump” the cutter and then establish 3⁄4 front position.