Initially, we teach players how to defend a drive from the wing to the baseline, and we also instruct players to force the offensive player to the baseline. However, just as common is penetration through the top of the key, either:

  • from the wing;
  • from the top of the key – “down the seam” or side of the key.

Help from Below the Line of the Ball

As with any situation where a teammate rotates to put pressure on a dribbler, and (if their teammate is beaten) to stop the progress of the dribbler, any help must come from “below the ball” as this is the only position from which a defender can be between the dribbler and where they are trying to go (i.e. the basket).

(English) Both x1 and x4 are above the “line of the ball” (which is shaded pink). From these positions, they are not able to stop 2 from getting into the key. Only x3 is in a position to help. x4 and x1 may “hedge” to apply some additional pressure but are not in position to stop the dribbler.

(English) Where a team is particularly good at dribble penetration, a coach may have defenders sag more into the key, to be in a position below the “line of the ball” so that they can provide more assistance. However, this approach must be balanced with the opponent’s ability to shoot from the perimeter!


Defending Middle Penetration from the Wing

Middle penetration from the wing provides good opportunities for the offence to get open perimeter shots (e.g. “penetrate and pitch”) and also shots in the key (e.g. a “runner” or feed to a low post).

(English) The first priority is for help defence to “rotate”and to stop the initial penetration.

On penetration from the wing:

  • x3 makes the first rotation to stop 2 getting into the key;
  • x1 may “hedge” (take a step or two) towards the ball, but then recovers to deny any pass to 1.
  • x4 drops into the key and is now responsible for the two perimeter players – 3 and 4. They must establish sight of both players, as well as being aware of the ball’s position.

(English) If 2 kept their dribble alive and retreated, x2 could re-establish position to defend them and x3 and x4 would return to their initial opponents.

(English) Once x3’s rotations stops the drive, they and x2 can double team the ball, particularly if 2 picks the ball up.

If 2 passes the ball, the defensive rotations will depend upon where the ball was passed. If it is passed to 4:

  • x4 closes out to defend the ball;
  • x2 moves away from the double team to defend 3
  • x1 remains on 1
  • x3 remains on 2

(English) The defence has now re-established position. This emphasizes the importance of all players developing both post and perimeter skills (offensively and defensively) because in a rotation they may end up playing out of position.

(English) If 2 passes to 3, the rotation is slightly different:

  • x4 still moves to guard the ball (3);
  • x1 now moves across to guard 4;
  • x2 becomes responsible for 1;
  • x3 remains responsible for 2

The reason for the different rotation is that it would be difficult for x2 to quickly get to defend player 4, given that they would have to move past x3 and 2.

(English) If 4 is unlikely to shoot from the perimeter, x1 may “hedge” toward them and then recover to guard 1, giving x2 time to get to 4.

(English) The defence is now re-established.

Teams can practice these rotations by having the offence penetrate from one wing and then pass.

Then penetrate from the other wing and pass.

At first the defence can be “passive” (allowing the penetration) and then play contested. The coach may require 3 rotations and then to play “live”.


Defending “Seam” Penetration

“Seam” penetration is where a player drives into the keyway from the top of the key, usually moving through the “elbow”. As seen in a 4x4 activity, this is harder to defend as there is no defender on the split line.

This is particularly so if 3 is a good perimeter shooter, as this will require x3 to be closer to them.

(English) The initial rotation to guard seam penetration is the same as for penetration from the wing:

  • x3 steps up to stop the dribbler getting into the key. To do this effectively, x3 needs to “hedge” closer to the middle of the court if they believe 1 is likely to dribble.
  • x4 drops to the key and is now responsible for “guarding two” (4 and 3).
  • x2 denies the pass to 2.

(English) As with penetration from the wing, the rotation that occurs when a pass is made, depends upon where it is passed.

If the pass is made to the top of the key:

  • x4 moves to guard the ball;
  • x1 moves to guard 3;
  • x2 remains guarding 2;
  • x3 has now switched to guard 1.

(English) The defence has now re-established position.

(English) If the ball is passed to the opposite wing:

  • x4 moves to guard the ball
  • x1 moves to guard 4
  • x3 switches to guard 1
  • x2 remains guarding 2

(English) Again, the team has re-established its defensive positions.

(English) Where there is an offensive low post player, coaches may opt to have that defender rotate to stop the seam penetration.

The defender (x5) is in a better position to stop seam penetration, although rotation to “help the helper” is difficult and this may leave a pass to 5 open.

(English) Where the low post is on the opposite side, this rotation is a little easier, with:

  • x5 moving to defend the dribbler
  • x3 rotating to defend 5
  • x4 rotating to “defend 2” (3 and 4)

(English) Having the post defender rotate, presents an opportunity for a pass to the post player for a lay-up.

This pass is particularly effective as a lob pass, which may result in a dunk with older, athletic players.

(English) If coaches do use the post defender (x5) to rotate and stop the seam penetration, the nearest help defender (x3) must rotate quickly to the post player to stop any pass.

(English) Once the penetration has been stopped, most coaches will have x5 rotate back to defend the post player once a pass has been made.

The defenders have now re-established position, with x5 returning to defend the post player, although other players may now be defending different players depending upon where the ball was passed.

Defend Middle Penetration
Defend Seam Penetration