Being a basketball coach and facing a Full Court Press is one of the more interesting times you will have as a coach. No matter how many times you drill a press breaker with your players there is always the fear that it will all come apart at the seams when coaching in a game. However, in reality the fear and anxiety that a press often causes in players is unfounded. At its simplest, a press tells the offense how to break it by moving into space, because there is simply not enough defenders to cover all the options especially in the full court.
The first read the offensive team needs to be make is identifying the press prior to the ball being inbounded. One aspect of offensive play that often compounds the issues associated with a full court press is the lack of set-up into a press breaker play. If the defence is never identified, then the offensive players will never move into the correct positions to counter the defence.
The player who has the best possible view of the defence is the inbounder. This player must be more vigilant in calling the defence that is unfolding on the floor and letting their teammates know what is happening. Traditionally this role has been exclusively the role of the Point Guard and Shooting Guard who are usually involved in the initial outlet of the ball. These players too, need to be active in communicating the type of defence unfolding if it is indeed a full court press to the rest of the team members, but not exclusively, but in tandem with the inbounder.
The second read which needs to be made by the offensive team is what type of trapping principles are being used by the defensive team. Some presses are utilised by defensive teams as a delay of game tactic, others are reactive as to what the offensive team does, and finally there are those presses that are proactive and highly aggressive. Determining the trapping philosophy of the defensive team will provide the offensive team with further cluses on how to break the full court press down.
If the full court press is being employed as a delay of game tactic then the offense will simply be able to dribble the ball up the floor slowly in most situations. If time is of the essence, though this strategy will not be suitable. Against a delay of game press (where the trap is not really a heavily utilised feature), offensive players will need to be run into space and the ball advanced at a moderate pace up the floor. This is a simple solution, but too often, this fails because receivers stand behind the defensive players and never present as a passing option.
If the full court press is reactive then the offense can force the trap, and then look to pass into gaps as the defensive players condense. In a reactive press, often the trap is initiated when the ball handler starts to dribble. In these situations, the ball handler needs to be primed for this tactic and look to start the dribble as a means of creating opportunity for those offensive players off the ball. Once the defensive players are into their run into the trap, the offensive player should pick the ball up and finish in a jump-stop. This will allow either foot to be used as a pivot in the worst-case scenario of not being able to make a pass. Then look to make a controlled pass either back to the inbounder or to a receiver flashing to the middle of the floor. Once the pass has been made, it is vital for the ball to be advanced quickly so the press cannot have time to recover.
If the full court press is proactive, then dribbling is not a good idea. When facing a proactive press often the trap is initiated on the outlet pass and therefore to dribble is just to rob the ball handler of time and possible opportunities to see receivers. The outlet pass is to be made so the trap is triggered but the ball needs to be reversed quickly. As the ball is being reversed back to the inbounder it helps if this player (inbounder) can take two or three dribbles. This will pull the off ball defenders in and create further opportunity through space for the player who receives the pass at the end of the ball reversal, who is on the opposite side of the floor to the initial outlet pass. This player should then be able to push the ball through dribbling or passing up the floor.
The next vital read has already been mentioned in passing earlier. The read is for the offensive players off the ball to not stand behind a defensive player. All too often, this happens and good opportunities are squandered because offensive players stand and watch instead moving into space and being an active member on the floor.
The final, and very much overlooked read is the need for the full court press to be scored against. Just breaking a full court press is not enough. By simply breaking the press and then setting up in a half-court offense, this action does not penalise the defence and they will be more likely to just continue to use the press. To penalise a full court press it must have points scored against it.
The rational should be obvious here, if you beat the initial trapping action very often the offensive team will have a numbers advantage on the offensive end of the floor. The only real issue here is the ability of individuals to play one phase of the offense with control and the next with increased tempo and a higher level of aggression. Possession should not be wasted, but rather executed well leading to a high percentage shot the same as with any fast break or primary transition situation.