How to Break Pressure Defenses

:: From the Hoops U. ‘How-To’ Series ::

The purpose of this article is to help the basketball player by giving specific tips, techniques and an understanding of how to beat pressure defenses such as full court presses and half court traps. Basketball coaches will also benefit from this article by sharing these ideas with your players. For specific offensive sets to help beat pressure, check the ‘Attacking the Zone Press‘ page.

As an offensive player going against either a full court press or half court trapping defense, what is your thought process? Are you in a hurry to get rid of the basketball? Do you feel the need to rush to get the ball past midcourt? Do you fear the pressure? Do you even want the ball in your hands, or are your afraid of making a mistake?

The above questions are all normal — that is the intent of a pressing defense. Teams either press because it is a part of their defensive philosophy or because they are behind at the end of a game. Whether the team is behind or if it is part of their game plan, full court pressure and half court traps are utilized to force the offensive team to play in such a way that they are not comfortable playing. They want to speed up the game, force you into mistakes, create turnovers, etc…

A capable defensive team has the ability to do these things because most players allow the press to intimidate them, to make them hurry, and to make them make bad decisions on the basketball court. Sure, it can be difficult to play effectively and efficiently against high-pressure teams, however, with a few tips, techniques, and changes in your mentality, you can learn to take advantage of pressing teams.


The most important tip, or change in thought pattern, is to ATTACK the defense — ATTACK the rim. All too often, offenses merely look to get the ball across midcourt against full court pressure; or they simply play keepaway against a half court trap. Most full court and half court presses are looking to trap, or doubleteam the player with the ball at some point. The trap can be challenging at times, however, it can also create an offensive advantage.

Once you pass beyond the trap towards your basket, you now have an advantage. For example, if you are being trapped near midcourt, you have 4 teammates to pass the basketball to…and the defense has 3 defenders to guard them. If you hit the open teammate, it is now a 4 on 3 advantage (remember, 2 defenders are guarding you!). If your teammates attack the basket, there is a good chance they can get an easy shot. Attack, attack, attack — don’t just try to survive the pressure! (As a side note, there is a reason that I call my press offense sets “Zone Press Attack Offenses” — because we want to attack the defense and get to the goal)

Other Tips & Techniques to Beating Pressure Defenses

  1. Inbounds the Basketball Quickly
    Most teams only press on made baskets. If this is the case, make sure you get the basketball quickly and pass it inbounds right away. If you are the point guard, call for the ball, go meet the pass, and look to push it up the floor before the defense gets set. Do not be in a hurry if it isn’t available; just look to be quick.
  2. Run the Baseline
    If you are the player that takes the ball out of bounds, remember that on made baskets you can run the length of the baseline. Utilize this nuance to give yourself a better passing angle and to get closer to an open teammate. Just remember that you cannot run the baseline after a violation or after the basketball has been knocked out of bounds. If you are unsure whether you can run the baseline or not, ask the referee before he hands you the basketball.
  3. Stay Out of the Corners
    Do not receive a pass in any corner of the court; this includes the baseline/sideline and the midcourt/sideline areas. If you get trapped in these areas, it is like being trapped by 4 defenders (2 defensive players, the baseline, and the sideline). Basically, you have no way of getting away from the trapping defenders if you are pinned against the out of bounds lines. Also, if you dribble the ball across the midcourt line, do not pick up your dribble at that point. Many teams encourage you to do so in order to trap you here. This error in judgement inevitably leads to a turnover.
  4. Meet the Pass
    It is always important as an offensive player to go and meet the pass. It is even more imperative to do so against pressure defenses. Don’t be lazy and wait for the pass to come to you or else smart defenders will anticipate the pass, steal it, and go the other way for an easy fast break layup. Be an aggressive offensive player!
  5. Keep Your Dribble
    If you started dribbling, do not pick up your dribble until you know who you are passing the basketball to. One of the worst things you can do against a pressing, trapping defense is pick up your dribble because now the defenders can trap you without worry about you dribbling away from them. If you find yourself dribbling into a trap situation, keep your dribble, pull back away from the trap, and either dribble around it or find an open teammate. Stopping your dribble and holding the basketball will only cause negative things — such as a turnover!
  6. Triangles
    No, this isn’t a course in geometry! Well, maybe it is! Basically, if you have the basketball, a teammate on your right and a teammate on your left, you have a triangle (I don’t mean the three of you side-by-side, I am talking about having a teammate about 10-15 feet away). If you have a teammate on each side of you, as well as a teammate looking to flash middle (see next tip), you will have an open player to pass to against a trapping defense. For example, if 2 defenders are trapping you, that leaves 3 defenders to guard your 4 other teammates. With a teammate on each side and one flashing middle, someone should be able to get open. If not, you still have the option to throw a skip pass to your 4th teammate. Triangles — obtuse, acute, whatever — learn to love them!
  7. Flash Middle
    Always have a teammate flash to the middle of the court. Whether against a full court press or half court trap, get a player to the middle of the basketball court. If you can get the basketball to the middle, that player can now look to attack the basket with a possible player advantage (remember the attack tip above). It is also much more difficult to trap in the middle as there are no out of bounds lines nearby. Also, most defensive teams will not even attempt to trap here. Different offenses may look to do different things once the basketball is in the middle, but the objective is always the same — the defense can more easily be attacked from the middle.
  8. Lover’s Lane
    I’m going to borrow a term from the late Dick DeVenzio for this last tip. I won’t get into why he called it Lover’s Lane, but the point is to get the basketball to the lane. This goes along with the ‘Attack’ tip above — don’t be content with getting the ball across the halfcourt line or with playing catch. Attack the defense by getting to the paint. Good things happen when, as an offense, you get the basketball in the lane. The defense is at a disadvantage and is susceptible to shot fakes, jump stops, dump-down passes — basically the defenders will not know what you are going to do! Get to the lane and look to score!

I hope that these tips and techniques will help you achieve great success at beating pressure defenses. Don’t let these types of defenses pressure you into mistakes. Don’t be intimidated and fearful. Attack the pressure with the objective of scoring. Be patient, be smart, and be confident. Turn the tables and make your offensive ability pressure the defense into mistakes!


  1. i got a championship game says

    Thanks for this i been killing it since the begging of the season avg 15.5 ppg and 2.1 bpg 3.1 seatls per game

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