Man-to-man defense enables us to get pressure on the ball at all times (“on-ball defense”), while still protecting the basket (“helpside defense”). Good man-to-man defense is a team defense, not just five individuals guarding their own man, but five players working together. Here is a good quote: “The best man defense looks like a zone and the best zone defense looks like a man.”


  • Force to the sideline and baseline.
  • Deny the Wing Pass
  • Keep pressure on the ball
  • Defensive positioning off the ball – 3 options (Deny, Helpside, Help and Recover)
  • Help and Recover… stop the seams.
  • Don’t allow the pg to bring the ball up the court


Man-to-Man Defense – Force to the sideline and baseline.

Our on-ball defenders force the ball toward the sideline and then down to the baseline. Once at the baseline, we do not allow penetration along the baseline, but try to trap there. Forcing the ball to one side immediately allows you to establish your help-side defense. When the ball is at the top of the key or in the middle, the low defenders must play fairly “straight up” and you must defend the entire court but once the ball goes to the side, our weakside defenders can move into a helpside position and deny the pass into the post, and help prevent dribble-penetration. When the ball is in the corner, we only have to defend one half of the court and can load all five defenders toward that side. With the long skip pass to the other side, there is usually enough time (while the ball is in the air) for the defense to quickly rotate back.

We deny the point to wing pass. If the ball gets to the wing, we want to deny the pass back out to the point, and force the ball even further into the corner.

Now realize that most often the pass to the low post comes from the wing. And once the ball gets into the low post, most of the time bad things happen… they either score or we foul. So it is very important to front the low post as the ball moves to the wing and corner areas. We must deny that pass into the post.

But what about the “over-the-top” lob pass? First of all, this pass is a difficult pass to consistently complete… it is often thrown too high and out-of-bounds. But when this pass is made, the opposite low post defender (in “helpside”) must immediately rotate over to double-team that pass, while the opposite wing defender (who should already be inside the paint in helpside) rotates down to cover the opposite low block.

The disadvantages of this strategy include (1) the wing defender getting beat by the back-cut, and (2) dribble penetration up the lane by point guard who can shoot or dish off to the low post.

Man-to-Man Defense – Keeping pressure on the ball, on-ball defense.
We want defensive pressure on the ball at all times. This will cause offensive turnovers and allow us to get easy transition baskets.

Force the ball toward the baseline, and focus on the players belly-button. Don’t get your feet crossed unless you have to sprint back. Avoid “reaching-in” and taking a swipe at the ball, as this causes the defender to lose his/her balance and defensive stance and the offensive player can now beat him/her off the dribble. Reaching-in also leads to fouls. Keeping pressure on the outside harasses the offensive player and makes it difficult for him/her to see the floor and his/her teammates.

Man-to-Man Defense – Defensive positioning off the ball – Deny, Helpside, Help and Recover
First, pretend there is an imaginary line up the middle of the court called the “helpside line”. And then also imagine a line drawn from the ball to each offensive player. We like to have our defenders one pass away from the ball in “deny”, playing “on the line”. This is especially true if we want to deny a pass back out from the corner to the wing and from the wing to the point.

Man-to-man pressure – Defensive positioning off the ball – Deny, Helpside defense
Defenders whose man is two passes away are in “helpside”, and are “up the line” sagging into the lane (paint) area. This helpside positioning almost looks like a zone away from the ball and puts our defenders in a better position to help prevent inside passing and dribble-penetration.

Helpside defenders should never lose sight of their man and should use their peripheral vision to always see the ball and their man. Some coaches call this the “pistols position” pretending that your index fingers are pistols, with one pistol pointing at the ball and the other pointing at your man.

Once the ball gets down in the corner, all helpside defenders should have one foot on the helpside line.

Help and Recover
Help and recover on the perimeter is necessary because when you play tight pressure defense on the ball, there are going to be times when the on-ball defender gets beaten off the dribble. To help stop dribble-penetration, the adjacent perimeter defender gives help, trying to deny the dribble move.
When we help and recover, you must move your feet quickly to establish position to prevent the dribble penetration… you must not simply “reach-in” and take a swipe at the ball, move your feet on the flight of the ball and be ready to recover.

Man-to-Man Defense – Point-guard dribble-penetration.

We prefer to give up outside jump shots, not lay-ups and free-throws. It’s important to keep guards from penetrating from the top. We want our defender on the point guard to play fairly “straight-up”, and even over-guard the offensive player’s right or left side, depending on which way he/she likes to go. The point defender must work hard and play defense with his/her feet and stay in front of the offensive player, and not just “reach-in” and swipe at the ball. We also hedge on ball screens to prevent point-guard dribble penetration.

Man-to-Man Defense – Defending cutters.
Another important aspect is to deny the pass to a cutter moving through the lane. Here the defender must try to keep between his man and the ball, denying the pass.

One technique the defender can use is to “bump the cutter” off his/her intended pathway by getting position and riding the cutter away from the basket. Rather, it means getting inside position on the cutter, or at least an arm in front in the passing lane, much like the ½ or ¾ fronting of a post player.

The defender tries to beat the cutter to a certain spot on the floor, which really is no different than two players fighting for rebounding position… both are entitled to that spot on the floor, it just depends on who gets there first. So the defender must use good footwork and establish position over the cutter… you cannot simply push or hold the offensive player.
An important point is the concept of “jumping to the ball”. As the ball moves (either pass or dribble), defenders should “jump to the ball”, or move a step or so toward the ball. Not only does this help deny the pass, but also puts the defender in the cutter’s path and the defender has a better chance of bumping and denying the cutter. All defenders should react to just about every movement of the ball.

Man-to-Man Defense – Defending screens
You must have a plan for defending against screens. Of utmost importance is communication between defenders and calling out the screens before they are actually set. Inside post screens should be switched, since you usually do not end up with a size-quickness mis-match.

On outside perimeter screens, you must communicate whether you want to switch these screens, try to fight over them, or slide through (under) them. Switching on the outside could occasionally lead to size and quickness mis-match, especially if a post player steps outside to set a screen for a guard.

On-ball screens (Pick and Roll).
We prefer to “jump switch” on-ball screens. The defender sees the screen coming and yells “screen, screen, screen!” As soon as the screen is set, the on-ball defender should adjust his stance to force the ball handler into the ball screen, the defender guarding the screener should hedge (jump above the screen right into the ball-hander’s path). He switches, and prevents the dribble move around the screen and “downhill” toward the rim.

Important points on the jump-switch…

1. The three remaining defenders must be ready to give help if the screener rolls off the pick inside and gets the pass over the top.

2. The defender guarding the sceener must jump out, stop and contain the dribbler.

3. We also jump switch the hand-off screen.

Outside Lateral Screens
It is easy to switch these screens and usually a mis-match does not occur. Since our wing defender is in helpside, there really is no-one to screen. It becomes more of an exchange. When they attempt to screen, we switch.

Man-to-man pressure defense – defending Post Screens Man-to-man pressure defense – defending Post Screens

If the cutter goes low (baseline side), the screened defender gets an arm bar up and stays with her/his man (no switch)… “step under and stay”  The key is… the defender getting screened must step back toward the baseline before the screen actually arrives. If the cutter goes high (over the screen), then the defenders switch… “step under and switch”. The screened defender always steps-under (toward the baseline) just before the screen arrives.

We have defended down-screens by following in the cutter’s footsteps, as we chase around the down-screen, and do not switch. This is similar to how we defend the curl cut, where we chase the cutter and do not switch.

Man-to-Man Defense – “Red” — Aggressively Trapping the Point Guard
On occasion, as a surprise tactic, you can try an aggressive trap on the point guard… We use this as a surprise tactic, maybe after a time-out, or a made free-throw, or with a new  Also, this can be a late game tactic, when you are behind and need a steal…