One of the keys to a good Help Defence is the ability for players to make the right reads during games. These reads help the players on defence to make the best possible decisions in real time. While coaches often talk about what to look for, often this is only at a superficial level. Most situations in the half court have a number of different reads, but most players would only have a handful of these discussed by their coach (if any at all). This is a significant problem as when players understand reads, and can identify what is happening on the floor and they can then be conditioned to make the right choice more and more with experience. Without this knowledge however, players will resort to trial and error, which often leads to frustration and breeds conflict between players, coaches and the team in general.
To start with, what are the times when a player in help defence should go to help a teammate?
The first situation when help defence will usually be needed is when the on-ball defender makes a jumps on a shot fake or pass fake. This example of poor judgement is usually the catalyst for the offensive player driving towards the basket looking for a pull-up jump shot or lay-up. This is an easy situation for the help defender to identify, but the problem arises on where the defence should stop the offensive player. The no go zone should always be the keyway, and this area should be defended at all costs from allowing the offensive player to enter and undertake a high percentage shot. So with this in mind the help defender must be beyond the perimeter of the keyway and have two feet outside the key prior to the offensive player attempting to enter. When thinking of this happening in real time during the game, the help defender will need to be in motion during the first dribble by the offensive player to achieve this desired positioning.
The next circumstance under which help defence will need to assist is if the on-ball defender is beaten by the dribbler. This is one of the more challenging reads as this will be dependent on the ability of the on-ball defender to recover against their match-up. For example, there are some on-ball defenders who will be clearly beaten initially by their offensive match-up able to recover before the dribbler can enter the keyway. This makes the read in this situation very challenging to get right consistently. For this reason during training sessions this scenario must be practiced to ensure all players develop a greater ability to recover when beaten from the perimeter and additionally so the help defence can improve their decision making in regards to when to, and when not help.
The general read for the help defence in this situation is if the help defender can see the offensive players hips on a dribble, then the on-ball defender is in trouble.
Another time when the help defence must react is when the on-ball defender loses their footing. This worth mentioning as this happens for a number of different reasons during a game. A defender can fall over, trip, or lose their balance because of some individual offensive move performed by the offensive player (such as a crossover). In these instances it is not that the help defence does not realise there is a problem, but often they become distracted by the teammate’s situation. Help defenders need to be drilled to focus on the offensive player and make a read the same as any situation. All too often these types of scenarios result in the on-ball defender not being able to recover and help defence not rotating only to have an uncontested shot range shot taken by the offense.
The final read that will be discussed in this article is following an offensive rebound by the shooter. In situations where the offensive player takes a shot only to not be boxed-out or fights through the box-out the help defence must still be conscious enough to make a read and assist. In every game, this scenario happens where a phase of good defence results in a poor shot attempt being taken, only to have an offensive rebound secured and all too often no help defence rotating to stop an even closer shot or lay-up from happening. The help defender must remain vigilant of where the ball was shot from and should the ball rebound back towards the shots original position a help position must be re-established by the defender. Then normal reads from the help defence will apply.
The first rotation in help defence really makes or breaks the opportunities presented to the offensive team. By being active in help defence and making the right choice more often than not, a team’s defence will significantly become more efficient and effective.