Basketball Weak Side Defense & How To Establish Good Help Positioning

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Weak side defensive positioning is one of the most important concepts to teach. If not approached properly, it can also be one of the most difficult.

Simply put, good help positioning solves LOTS of problems for you...

It makes your team appear quicker because they have less ground to cover. For example, if your players are positioned properly, they can quickly close out to the players they are guarding or they can step in to help.

Good positioning is something you must maintain throughout the entire possession.

Why do you think most good offensive coaches preach ball reversals? This is because they want to reverse the ball a bunch of times so your players will eventually get out of position and they can expose the seams in your defense.

The great thing about positioning is that even slow players can get good at it. Positioning is more of a mentality and a habit than a physical ability. Even a non-athletic player can learn great positioning.

How Do You Quickly and Easily Teach Help Positioning?

As a coach, you will never have enough time to cover all the different situations your players will face. That's why we set rules that apply to all situations.

It's very important for you to do the same so that your players understand what to do when faced with unique situations. Here's an example of ours below:


When defending the player away from the ball:

  1. Stay between your man and the ball. See your man and the ball at ALL times!

  2. Deny all penetrating passes.

  3. Be close enough to stop the player you are guarding if the ball is passed to him.

  4. Be close enough to help! You should be close enough to the player with the ball to prevent him from getting into the danger zone if he dribbles by the defender that is guarding him.

  5. Always stop the ball if it is in front of you!

It doesn't matter if the player with the ball is at half court, high post, corner, etc. You should always be in position to stop your man and stop penetration.

Here are some scenarios to help you understand these rules...

How to Defend the Perimeter Pass (One Pass Away)

One Pass Away refers to when you're guarding an offensive player and there are no other offensive players between you and the ball.

When the ball is one pass away, your positioning is very important because this will determine whether you can help on the dribble drive or rotate if needed.

When One Pass Away:

  • Be Close Enough to Help - When a player is one pass away, the defensive player should be off the player he is guarding and both "Up the Line" and "On the Line."

    Up the Line - The line we are referring to is the imaginary line between the player with the ball and the player that the defender is guarding.

    The defender should be a 1/3 to 1/2 the distance up that imaginary line. This distance allows the defender to be close enough to help on dribble penetration. It also allows him to be close enough to stop the player he's defending if the ball is passed to him.

    If the ball handler gets by the defender and you cannot get there in time to help, you are probably not far enough "Up the Line."

    On the Line - This refers to when the defender should have his feet or hands in the path of that imaginary line. This positioning may vary depending on whether you allow or deny the perimeter pass.

    If you allow the perimeter pass, you may take a step back so you can stop penetration. If you deny it, you'll definitely want to have a foot and hand on the imaginary line to force more turnovers.

  • Be Close Enough to Stop the Player You Are Guarding - You want to be close enough to help, but you also need to be close enough to stop the player you're guarding if the ball is passed to him. If you cannot get to your player in time to stop him, you are probably too far "Up the Line."

  • Be Ready to Move - Just like any other position on the court, you must have your knees bent and ready to move quickly!

  • See Man and the Ball - You should be able to see the man you are guarding and the player with the ball at all times. This way you can see if your man moves. You can also react to help on dribble penetration if the ball handler penetrates.

Head Position

Something that is crucial while seeing your man and the ball is head position.

When you're one pass away, you always need to see your man and the ball at all times, so head position is really important. Your head should essentially be looking straight between the ball and your player so that you never have to turn it.

If you have to turn your head to see the ball, or if you have to turn your head to see the player you're guarding, you're in the wrong position. It's very important to see both the man and the ball without turning your head.

A big mistake that most players make is that they're constantly looking back and forth. If you have to look towards the ball for a split second, your man can cut behind you and beat you for a lay-up to the basket. If you take your eye off the ball to look at the player you're guarding, the offensive player might dribble-penetrate by the defender and you'll be too late to help or rotate.

Proper Head Position is illustrated here:

head-position (33K)

One Pass Away - Deny versus Contest (Allow)

When defending the ball one pass away, you can either "Deny" the perimeter pass or "Contest", or allow the perimeter pass.

Deny the Perimeter Pass:

deny (14K) If you've got a really quick team and you're going to rely on causing a lot of turnovers, you may want to position your perimeter players in the passing lane to deny the pass.


When your players are denying the wing, the opposing players won't be able to catch the ball, and this can cause turnovers, such as 5-second calls and bad passes. It could also force the offensive player to over dribble and destroy the offensive rhythm. Notice, the player in the picture is "On the Line."


Although, you can create more turnovers, you will be more susceptible to dribble penetration because you have more distance to cover when trying to help from a closed, denial position.

Contest the Perimeter Pass:

contest (13K) The other option is to contest the pass, which allows the perimeter pass. This focuses more on defensive help positioning rather than going for the steal. Even though the focus isn't on stealing the pass, if you have a guaranteed steal, you'd better go for it.

With this tactic, you step back a little bit so you're in better position to help, and you're allowing the perimeter pass to go through.

Even though, you allow the perimeter pass, you can also deny all penetrating passes. These are passes inside the 3-point line.

Although your defense is allowing the pass to go around the perimeter, ball pressure is still needed. Typically, when we contest the pass, we use an open stance (mentioned later) as well.


This is a good defensive tactic because it can make it hard to get the ball close to the basket. You also force low percentage shots because it's easier to contest shots since you are in good defensive position.


There is not much pressure beyond the 3-point line, so you might not force as many turnovers. Also, you may not mentally wear down the opponents as much as you can with a pressure defense that denies passes.

Wolf Pack Defense - Like Packline

This type of defense is also what we refer to as a "Wolf Pack" style defense. If a predator penetrates the wolf's boundaries, the wolf pack swarms them. Your defense should act in the exact same manner.

If the ball handler penetrates, the defender nearest to the ball should swarm to the ball and make him pick up his dribble or pass the ball. If the offense gets the ball near the "Danger Zone," your defense needs to swarm the ball handler and force him to turnover the ball or pass the ball away from the basket, which would result in a lower percentage shot.

Some other coaches might call this "Saggy" defense. We really dislike this terminology because it gives kids the perception that it's a lazy and relaxed type of defense compared to the denial defense when, in reality, this is completely untrue.

Just like a denial defense, you should be intense, always on the balls of your feet, and constantly communicating. The only difference is that you allow the pass around the perimeter.

If you use the "Wolf Pack" terminology, it brings a tenacious, intense mentality to playing this type of defense, which is exactly what you want from your players.

Here are a few more pictures that give you a different viewpoint of "Denying" versus "Contesting":

Denying the Pass:

denying-pass (32K)

Contesting the Pass:

contesting-pass (33K)

Defending the Perimeter Pass (Two Passes Away)

two-passes-away (2K)

Two Passes Away refers to when you're guarding an offensive player and there are one or more offensive players between you and the ball. It's very important to be positioned properly to help out on dribble penetration or to rotate.

In this diagram, Player 2 is guarding the player in the corner.

two-passes-wing (2K)

When the ball is on the wing and you're two passes away, we always teach for at least one foot to be on the rim line.

The rim line is the imaginary line going down the middle of the court from basketball hoop to basketball hoop.

two-passes-wing-2 (2K)

With a more aggressive defense where you are pressuring the ball and denying passes, you may want to use the one-foot-in-the-lane technique. This will enable you to steal more skip passes. At the same time, it'll make you more susceptible to penetration.

When we played pressure defense, we still used the rim line concept mentioned above.

If you're playing a "Wolf Pack" style defense to prevent players from reaching the "Danger Zone", it's better to get your players on the rim line.

two-passes-top (2K)

When the ball is on the top of the key, the player two passes away does not have to be on the rim line. Rather, just next to the lane or with one foot in the lane.

This is important because you need to be in the lane to help and stop any penetration to keep the ball out of the lane.

two-passes-top2 (2K)

If you're playing an aggressive defense where you are trying to force turnovers, you may want your defensive player to be a couple steps closer to the offensive player they are defending.

How Do You Teach Your Players Weak Side Help Positioning?

One of the best ways to teach help side positioning is to run Shell Drills and Over Load drills. Coach Jim Huber demonstrates a couple of examples below.

Shell Drill

4 on 4 With Baseline Drivers

Beyond that, if you want more in-depth information, our man to man defense video with Jim Huber shows you step-by-step exactly how to teach good help positioning.

The video also includes dozens of defense drills and all the key aspects of a tough man to man defense.


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Jonas Hecker says:
2/26/2021 at 8:16:59 AM

Hey everyone!

I'd like to use this website and especially this article in a work that I have to do for my uni. Is there any way I can find more about the author of this article?


Coach Rutherford says:
1/3/2021 at 10:00:01 PM


Anyone used up the line on the line as one call and up the line off the line as a 2nd call!

Any other ideas?

What about up the line, slightly off the line but only one step and dig towards penetration but recovery back to denial?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
1/5/2021 at 7:21:55 AM

Yes I have tried that but I find it's difficult for teams to make the adjustment on the fly during a game unless you spend a decent amount of time practicing it. So just like anything, you have to evaluate whether the practice time spent on that is worth the benefit you'll get from it.

For my advanced teams, I prefer to teach them to adjust 1 pass away positioning based the situation (so there was no "call"):
- if offensive player is in triple threat and ready to dribble, get in gap
- if offensive player has the ball above head or in a position of weakness (not facing basket), get in the passing lane

We'd practice this during shell drill. In most cases, about 80% of our players would do this very well. 20% never really got it, which was fine.. they just played one way all the time and we lived with that. This was at the high school level.


Basketball Coach says:
4/13/2019 at 11:41:04 AM

Thanks for the reply. Makes sense on how you defend the post. That's how I always preferred. I never felt comfortable with a full front. Not saying it's not effective for others but something I never could commit to.

How do you prefer to defend screens? I used to teach help and recover on everything but the longer I've coached I think we struggle most against teams that switch (HS V Boys). We generally play 4 guards and a post and I've started to give them the freedom of switching all guard screens and only help and recover if the post is involved. Thanks for input.


Basketball Coach says:
1/2/2019 at 11:19:37 PM

Great reply thank you

Do you ever sag off on non shooters on the perimeter or do you think the ball should always be pressured? I do have the Huber DVD but don't remember that being addressed. I could see it both ways. You always want to pressure the ball but at the same time if the guy is a non shooter maybe you just want to sag and protect the house?

  1 reply  

Basketball Coach says:
1/3/2019 at 10:49:53 PM

Nevermind I went back and watched and he did address that.

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/4/2019 at 8:12:42 AM

Ok. Sounds good.

  1 reply  

Basketball Coach says:
3/31/2019 at 11:35:34 AM

Another question for you.

I know Huber's base teaching method is on the line up the line one pass a way but I know you mentioned you like your players over time to defend one pass away with good basketball IQ using a mix of open and closed stance.

This made me start thinking about defending the post. I know Huber advocates for 3 quarter front when the ball is above the FT line and full front when the ball goes below the FT line. Would you want to alter that based on scouting? If there's a bad or average player in the post do you want to be full fronting him?

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
3/31/2019 at 11:45:13 AM

Personally I never alter that 3/4 approach. They only thing we adjust is if we see a great post player we will double team. At higher levels we double team from the weakside and really work hard to anticipate so the double is early and the post defender is in the right position. The help defender makes sure the post can't turn middle and the on ball defender makes sure the post can't turn baseline. So it's something you have to practice and players need to anticipate.

The reason we never change is because it's easier not to change and I don't want bad post players getting the ball on the block either... because it's just a habit for players to turn their head and compress when the ball gets inside. We don't want to ball getting inside.

  1 reply  

Basketball Coach says:
4/4/2019 at 10:28:26 PM

Do you full front when the ball goes below the FT line?

Also, curious on a double why you have the help defender make sure the player can't go middle as opposed to baseline. I would think if the post defender was three quarter fronting he may get pinned on the topside and the Low Help Defender would be rotating over to take away baseline side.

Sorry to nitpick your reply. Thanks for answering.

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
4/5/2019 at 5:50:30 AM

We play 3/4 front when ball goes below FT line.

On the double, the help defender takes middle away for several reasons:
- that's the angle he's coming from and easiest for him to take away
- the person the help defender left is now open, so we don't want the post turning and seeing that open player
- many post player like scoring by making or starting with a move to the baseline

You are correct, the post defender could get pinned if he doesn't move his feet on the flight of the ball. The player guarding the post, needs to be taught to move feet on flight of ball to get baseline position on the catch. We practice so the offensive post player is sandwiched on the catch. Defenders need to anticipate. It's something we work at and get good at... especially if we know we'll be facing a great post defender in an up coming game. It's incredibly effective if taught properly.

  1 reply  

Basketball Coach says:
4/5/2019 at 8:33:25 AM

Okay one more thing: Let's assume the ball is at the wing area. In this case are you 3 quarter fronting from the high side? If the ball gets passed to the corner are you 3 quarter fronting from the baseline side? If so, would you have your post defender try to go over or under to get to that position? Thanks again

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
4/8/2019 at 10:00:52 AM

1) Yes. 2) Yes. 3) We usually go under the defender to get around, moving feet quickly.


Basketball Coach says:
12/23/2018 at 12:18:03 PM

What is your personal preference on defending one pass away?

I've taught the closed stance and have noticed we get beat too much and have nobody available to help. I've stressed it and done a bunch of shell drill etc. I'm a HS boys varsity coach and start three sophomores so that may be part of the problem.

Most of my guys have mostly played zone defense in the past. Do you recommend maybe trying the wolf pack style? We do not play with a shot clock so that does concern me some. Thanks for any advice.

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
12/24/2018 at 8:23:34 AM

My preference is to deny one pass away whenever you can and have smart players that adjust as needed:

- if ball is dead, tighten up and deny
- if player holds ball above head or is in position of weakness, deny
- if player with ball gets athletic and brings ball into a position where it looks like the might drive, start opening stance and prepare to seal the seam / plug the gap on the drive
- if player with ball is super fast and good at driving, always open stance and always be ready to plug gap
- if player with ball is slow and "catch and shoot" only player... always deny

We teach our players (even our 7th and 8th graders) to have a high IQ and read the situation one pass away. Then can learn this and do quite well with it... but I have also been teaching the man fundamentals for a few years now.

Now if you inherited a bunch of players that have played a lot of zone, it can take longer to teach them how to play man defense. Some kids never get it and never break those bad habits they learned at the youth level... which is sad. Sometimes they just have to sit on the bench or you have certain players always use an open stance and your high IQ players deny situationally.

To teach how to plug gaps and deny, we play 3v3, 4v4, and 5v5 shell drill and some live half court.

With shell, we instruct players to drive on almost every catch (defense can't steal and offense can't score). We repeatedly tell defenders "hip to help" so they plug the gap and help in a way so they can still see the person they are guarding and recover with a good close out on the kick pass.

Then move to 3v3 live. I like 3v3 live because you can really emphasize the drive and focus on a small number of players getting them do it the right way. Then add 4v4 and then 5v5.


Coach says:
6/20/2018 at 12:59:34 PM

1. If you were to play with an open stance and allow perimeter passes as opposed to a closed stance and deny perimeter passes would you influence the ball middle as opposed to influencing the ball baseline since you have better help from one pass away?

It seems like traditionally coaches in man force baseline but I've studied Pack Line where they defend perimeter passes by allowing them in an open stance and it's non negotiable you CAN'T give up baseline!

It would still seem to me like it would be fine if the ball handler went either way since you should still have help established with wall defenders that could rotate so I'm struggling to understand why Pack coaches are hell bent on NEVER getting beat baseline.

2. I've also heard it mentioned that how you defend in the post should influence which way your perimeter players force the ball. It seems as if all pack coaches three quarter front and some of them will full front if the ball gets below FT line.

If you were a coach that forced baseline would you then full front or half front from the baseline side?

I do understand you want to guard your yard and never get beat in a straight line as there's nothing a defense can do to defend that.

Putting in the Pack Line with my team this year and just trying to put everything together. Thanks for the help.

  2 replies  

Joe Haefner says:
6/20/2018 at 5:23:01 PM

As a coach, I stopped saying force middle or force baseline. I don't want my players to have the mentality that they're going to get beat anywhere. I also teach butt to basket as I want my players to just focus on stopping the player.

If you're going to force a certain direction, how about force to the corner, sideline, or half court? That's the direction that you want players to go.

As for the post, at the youth and high school level, I've had more success just going to a full front. If I have a great shot blocker, maybe I'd change that, but I never have.

What you're saying about playing on the baseline side makes sense. However, I've only taught players to defend from the baseline side when the post player is in the mid to high post.

Additionally, the position of the post player might also determine this. If they're below the 2nd hash, you might want to be on the top side. That way, the post player isn't pushed too far out of help and an entry pass doesn't result in an easy basket for the post player.

Being on the top side and forcing the post player and the perimeter player towards the baseline can be helpful too.
That way, you can use the backboard to create bad scoring angles for them.

It might be something you need to test out and see what works best for you. I've seen coaches have success using all three methods defending in the post.

  1 reply  

Coach says:
6/22/2018 at 6:34:31 PM

Thanks for the reply.

A couple other questions:

1. Defending ball screens. We covered this in practice a couple nights ago. We hedged and went UNDER the ball screen. My reasoning is I don't think a lot of teams we play can come the ball screen, rise up and hit the threes. I'd rather take away penetration.

The problem we ran into...and may not be a problem at all..
We just went 2 on 2 with no help in the lane. The roll man scored a lot of layups. We weren't able to hedge AND recover quickly enough. Is this to be expected with no help in the lane?

I've seen where coaches JAM the ball screen if going underneath and don't allow the screen man to roll, while the teammate has time to go underneath. Is this how you would defend if going underneath or just something I need to experiment with?

2. I probably know the answer here but do you teach the same way to defend the post in all of your defenses? IE: man or zone defending the post the same way to create consistency? I do believe in only running 1-2 defenses and getting really good at them .


Amedeo says:
1/12/2019 at 9:45:23 AM

How do you teach a defender to leave their player and come from behind to trap or steal ball from ball handler


Edwin Bywater says:
1/16/2018 at 12:59:00 AM

How do you teach boxing out to the guy that is 2 (or more) passes away? Do you teach them to go back out to the 3 point line to "find their man" and box them out? Or should they keep their position and try to watch their man as their man attacks the basket? My players are having a hard time boxing out on the far side because they are so far from their man (due to being in help position)...
Thanks for any thoughts you might have!

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
1/16/2018 at 8:31:36 PM

We teach them to go find their man on the perimeter and make contact... then go get the ball. Usually you have some game slippage so I'd err on the side of going all the way out there and making contact. There are lots of box out drills you can use... shell drill box outs, 4v4 games and give 3 pts for offensive rebounds, etc.


Mike says:
11/23/2017 at 8:24:42 PM

Great article with helpful pictures!


Mark Horner says:
11/22/2017 at 6:47:48 AM

Love this article. Just forwarded it to our youth coaches. Appreciate your mission!


Coach Vranes says:
11/21/2017 at 11:53:36 AM

Great article and visual examples. I’m going to send this to my 8th grade varsity squad, to read over Thanksgiving. Keep up the good work, guys. Thanks!


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