Helping the Helper

Players also need to understand when, and how, to “help the helper”. This means being alert to help a teammate that is helping to stop a dribbling penetration. The task of the second helper is to stop their teammate’s player until the teammate has recovered. This second help is also performed without losing sight of their own offensive player, as they will recover to guard them.


A 4x4 framework is a very good way to practice “help the helper”. It is important to remember that this is not a “switching” defence. Each defender ultimately will continue to guard their own player.

Player 3 dribbles to force the nearest defender (x1) to “help and recover”. The dribbler passes, forcing the next defender (x2) to “help the helper” and so on.

(English) The “help” defender (e.g. x2) stays with the offensive player until their team mate recovers.

When a defender moves to “help and recover” their direct opponent should move, so that it is harder for the defender to “recover”. If the offence simply stays in the same position, it is easier for the defender to recover back to their initial position.


Defensive Rotation

On occasions it may be necessary not to “help and recover” but to rotate to stop the dribble penetration because the dribbler has beaten their defender. The principles of “help the helper” apply, however defenders will change who they are guarding.


“Initial Rotation”

If x2 is beaten, x3 rotates to stop the dribbler. Their role is to stop 2 from getting into the keyway. Accordingly, x3, must take 2 or 3 steps from the “split line” to meet 2 at the side of they key.

Once x3 sees that their team mate has been beaten, x3 no longer needs to keep vision of 3 – their focus is on now guarding 2. x2 stays “on the hip” of 2, trying to force them toward x3.

(English) However, if this is the only movement that happens, 3 will be open to receive a pass and get a lay-up!

Accordingly, the team needs to have a “secondary” rotation, which provides “help” to the “helper”.


“Secondary Rotation”

As x3 rotates, x4 must also rotate to protect the basket. They are now responsible for guarding Player 3. This is again an example of “help the helper” as x4 is now guarding Player 3.

x1 must rotate to the top of the keyway, to guard any pass and here they are responsible for, and must keep vision of, both Players 1 & 4. They must also keep vision of the player with the ball.

(English) Once Player 2 has been stopped from penetrating into the key, x3 and x2 can double team or players could rotate back to their initial defensive match-ups.


“Rotation on the Pass”

On Player 2’s pass to Player 3:

  • x4 guards Player 3;
  • x3 moves to the split line and is guarding Player 2;
  • x1 guards Player 4; (as they are closer to the ball than Player 1)
  • x2 moves to the split line and is guarding Player 1.


On Player 2’s pass to Player 1:

  • x1 guards Player 1; (as they have the ball)
  • x3 guards Player 2;
  • x4 guards Player 3;
  • x2 moves to guard Player 4.


On Player 2’s pass to Player 4:

  • x1 guards Player 4; (as they have the ball)
  • x3 guards Player 2;
  • x4 guards Player 3;
  • x2 guards Player 1.


“Rotation by Post Defender”

The addition of a post defender does not need to change the rotation – the principle remains the same. The closest player rotates to stop the dribble penetration. Other players then make secondary rotation to “help the helper”.

Alternatively, the coach may stipulate that the post defender does not get involved in the rotation. In that case, x3 in this diagram would rotate to stop 2’s dribble. x4 and x1 would rotate as shown.


Teaching Defensive Rotation

4x4 provides an excellent framework to teach Defensive Rotation and by awarding the offence a point for any dribble penetration into the key (in addition to any baskets that are scored), the coach can create many opportunities to practice the rotation.

Two other activities that can be used are:



3 defenders guard 4 – 6 perimeter offensive players. The defenders must always occupy the 3 positions:

  • “Basket” – low split line;
  • “High” – high split line;
  • “Ball” – the Player that has the ball.

Initially, the offensive players pass the ball – defenders must “fly with the ball”16 and reach their next defensive position as the ball is caught.


The activity can be progressed to where the offence may shoot (if unguarded) or can dribble to attempt to penetrate the keyway.

Rather than strictly dictate what rotation the defenders are to use, the coach should focus on the outcome (defenders occupying the three positions) and let them “explore” the most efficient rotations to achieve that. The coach can guide players on what might be more efficient. Generally, the player closest to the ball moves to defend the ball!


In this rotation, x2 moves to the ball, x3 moves away from the basket to go high and x1 moves to the basket. Coaches may instruct x3 to delay moving until x1 has returned to the basket.

In a game, coaches will often prefer players to defend the basket first and may prefer for x1 to move to the high split line position at the free throw line, leaving x3 at the basket.


This alternate rotation is shown for x2 who rotates to the ball (as they are closest) and x1 rotates directly to the free throw line.


Another situation that can have more than one solution is where the ball is passed across the top of the key.

(English) Often the defender on the ball will be able move across and follow the pass. Coaches may prefer not to do this, as it can lead to the other defenders not moving at all.

Accordingly, coaches may prefer in this situation for x1 to rotate to the ball and for x2 to rotate to the free throw line.


“Disadvantage Shell Drill”

The activity commences with x2 next to the player with the ball, giving Player 2 an open drive and forcing defensive rotation. x2 hands the ball to Player 2, and attempts to get into position, but the likelihood is that the team defence will need to rotate.

x3 may become focused on Player 2, and lose vision of their own player, even before the activity starts. Player 3 can be encouraged to cut into the keyway to receive a pass when this happens.

Shell Drive
Defensive Rotation Guard Penetrational
Baseline Defensive Rotation
Help from Below Ball
Help the Helper
Baseline Rotation with Post Defender
Basket High Ball