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Special Situations: Breaking Zone Presses

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Breaking presses are all about great spacing, simple reads, and solid decision-making. In this post, we'll look at our zone Press Breaking concepts; Regular & Stretch.

Breaking full-court pressure is one special situation that all coaches need to be prepared for. There is perhaps no quicker way to lose a game than to allow teams to go on extended runs due to your inability to handle full-court pressure. Outside of preparation breaking presses always boils down to having great spacing, creating simple reads, and making solid decisions when we are inevitably trapped. As we put together our plan for breaking presses we want to have a find a way to allow our players to do these things in the most simple manner possible.

My approach to breaking presses has always been to keep things as similar to our normal transition offense as possible. In a typical 18-20 game season, we will only see 4-6 teams who truly emphasize pressing. Knowing that heavy pressing teams are in the minority I think it makes the most sense to create a press break that is only slightly different than what we do in transition offense every single day. Whether we are facing an entry trap, a half-court trap, 3/4 court pressure, or a full-court man, we will use the same simple concepts that can be applied to them all. In this post, we will take a look at our basic concepts for breaking zone Presses; mainly our Regular Press Break & Stretch concepts.

Other Special Situations Series Posts to Check Out:

Regular Press Break Positioning -

As we mentioned in the introduction the goal of our Press Break Strategy is to keep it consistent with our transition offense. The inbounder, outlet, sideline player, and middleman are all going to be in the same pace as they would be in our normal Transition Offense. Theoretically, when we need to call on our Press Break we would prefer to have minimal change.

Regular Press Break -

Inbound & Outlet:

Just as in transition offense we are going to ask our 4 Man to take the ball out of bounds and our 1 Man to be our outlet.

Typically our 4 Man is going to be one of our more athletic wing players, so it also needs to be a player who can become our "Check Down" player vs the Presses.

Sideline & Backside:

Our two wing players are going to occupy the Sideline Pitch Ahead & Backside roles. Just as in transition offense we are hunting opportunities for the ball side pitch ahead as soon as the ball is inbounded.

In our Regular Press Break alignment, we are asking our Backside Player to stay in the backcourt so we have a player to swing the basketball to.

Middle Man:

Our 5 Man occupies the middle of the floor. As he typically serves as the Rim Runner in our Transition System, all he has to do is simply come back to the basketball.

Press Break Options -

There are a number of different options that we can use to break whatever press we are facing. From a coaching perspective, we are encouraging our players to simply "take what the defense gives us". If they are taking away the pitch ahead passes then we simply check the ball down and beat it with the Dribble. If they are looking to trap in the backcourt then we are going to encourage guys to look over the defense and hit the Sideline & Middle Pitch Ahead players.

Sideline & Middle Pitch -

Sideline Pitch Ahead:

Most presses make it a priority to take away the sideline Pitch Ahead pass.

Getting the basketball pitched ahead along the sideline immediately puts 2-3 players behind the basketball and can often turn into an offensive advantage.

Teaching Point:

  • One thing I would caution players about would be that immediate corner three-point shots off of this pass. I feel strongly that those shots need to be reserved only for elite shooters.

Hit the Middle Man:

Perhaps the best way to beat any press defense is to get the basketball to the middle of the floor. That is why we would like players with the ball to be hunting that pitch ahead pass to the Middle Man right away. One of the true advantages of the Sideline & Middle pitch ahead passes is that we are putting multiple defenders behind the basketball and getting the defense in scramble mode.

Check Down & Swings -

Many times the Sideline and Middle Pitch Ahead will not be open immediately. On those occasions, we want to have a simple solution for the basketball. The solution that we lean on most heavily is the idea of a "Check Down". Once the basketball is inbounded the passer simply steps onto the floor and becomes an outlet for the ball. We want him to be the last person to cross half court, always making sure that we have an outlet if a trap occurs.

When to use the Check Down:

  • When the Sideline Pitch Ahead in Not Open

  • When the Middle Man is Not Open

Check Down & Swings -

Check Down:

We don't want players forcing the sideline and middle pitch ahead passes when they are not there.

"When in Doubt, Check Down"

This is something I find myself saying quite a bit when teaching Press Break. The inbounder positions himself behind the basketball and becomes our Check Down player.

Swing Passes:

If the Check Down Player (4) does not have the Middle Man open he should look to swing the basketball to the Backside Player (3).

There are a lot of options for the Backside Player as the defense attempts to shift from one side of the floor to another.

  • Using a Skip Pass to a Player Across the floor (1) or (2)

  • Hitting the Middle Man (5) as the Defense Shifts

  • Or Dribbling the ball across the Half-Court Line when Gaps emerge

If none of these options emerge then the ball needs to be Checked Down again.

Stretch Press Break Goals -

One of the in-game adjustments we use versus press heavy teams is to go to a Stretch Alignment. In keeping with the theme of making minimal changes from one strategy to another, we are only really changing the positioning of one player, our backside guard. He now moves into the frontcourt hoping to "Stretch the Defense Out".

What are the advantages of the Stretch Alignment?

  • Forces Back Man to Cover both Sidelines

  • Longer Check Down Pass Forces Rotations

  • Can Open Up the Middle Man, with Longer Coverage Rotations

  • Good Passers can keep us out of Back Court Traps

Stretch Positioning -

Inbound & Outlet:

Just as we do in our Regular Press Break we are going to ask our (4) to be our inbounder and our (1) to receive the outlet pass.

If we are using "Stretch" there is probably a lowered threat of a denied inbound pass.

Sideline & Stretch:

Our two Wing Players are once again on each of the sidelines.

"The Stretch Player" - in this strategy we are asking our backside player to stretch all the way down the sideline and opposed to staying the backcourt.

  • This will leave us with a two-man backcourt instead of the three-man backcourt we are using in the Regular Press Break alignment.

Middle Man:

For the 5 Man, nothing changes in this Press Break Strategy. Their goal is to once again step forward to get an early touch, and as the ball is advanced up the floor look to find an open gap that they can flash into.

Stretch Options -

The same options that are available to us in our Regular Press Break present themselves in Stretch as well. The Dribble Over, Sideline/Middle Pitch, and the Check Down options we covered earlier will once again be present. Some of the options, like Dribbling Over & the Skip Pass, actually present themselves more often with this alignment than with the three-man backcourt. Typically, it is the style of press and where the traps are coming from that dictate which alignment we use, but players' skills factor in as well. For example, having an especially quick Point Guard or a guard with great vision might be factors that might convince me to use the Stretch alignment.

Sideline & Middle Pitch -

Sideline Pitch Ahead:

Just as in the Regular Press Break we are immediately looking for the Sideline Pitch Ahead once we get the outlet pass.

That pass represents the best way to defenders behind the ball and create an initial advantage.

Hit the Middle Man:

If that Sideline Pitch Ahead is not open then we should be looking to hit the Middle Man (5) next.

We want the Middle Man to step forward to meet the basketball in the backcourt. Do not allow yourself to stand behind a defensive player. Once the ball is advanced past the three-point line you can begin to look for gaps that may be past half court.

Teaching points:

  • Engage the Trap, then Hit the Middle

  • Use Pass Fakes

  • Deceive with your Eyes

  • When in Doubt Check it Down

Check Down & Skip Passes -

When the Sideline Pitch Ahead and Middle Man are not open we encourage the basketball to look to the backside. In the Stretch alignment, this is typically a check-down pass to your backcourt partner. Often times the Skip Pass will emerge as teams load their defense to the ball side. If teams are quick to load to the ball and take the ball side options away we need to counter with check down passes and skip passes over the top.

Check Down & Skip Pass -

Check Down:

Presses will not be able to take away both back defenders and the Check Down.

  • Sideline Denied

  • Middle Denied

  • *Check it Down*

We are encouraging our backcourt players to engage two defenders and then check it down.

Sideline & Middle Check:

In the diagram to the right, the 4 Man catches the Check Down pass. As he catches it we want him to start his read progression over - looking for the Sideline and Middle Pitch Ahead passes first.

If those passes are not available then he should check for the Skip Pass. Given that presses tend to want to load to the ball side it would make sense that the Skip Pass would be a great option to relieve pressure. If none of those options open up we're looking for him (4) to Check it Down again.

Read Progression:

  • Sideline Pitch?

  • Middle Pitch?

  • Skip Pass?

  • *Check it Down*

Concluding Thoughts -

Providing our players with great spacing, clean reads, and simple strategies will allow them to play with instinct. If our players are overthinking where they should be or what the needed movement is then presses are going to quickly break the game open. Keeping our Press Break Strategy as close to our Transition Offense is a personal preference of mine, but I think it is worth looking into. From time to time we may use something like a "Four Across Pressbreaker" coming out of a timeout or dead ball, but in the vast majority of scenarios, we are going to keep our press break the same. Check back in next week as we take a look at how we can apply these principles versus Full Court Man to Man Pressure!

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