Unique Defensive Ball Pressure Concept: And How Your Help Defense Is Connected

Here is an interesting defensive concept to consider...

Your defensive pressure on the ball should be different than your defensive pressure off the ball (help defense). One is aggressive and the other is not.

Here’s a further explanation…

Strategy #1 - Pressure the Ball Aggressively with Packline Help Defense Principles

You can pressure the ball with the intention of making the offensive player uncomfortable and force more turnovers. You are about two feet from the defender and very active with your hands.

If you aggressively pressure the ball, you are going to get beat off the dribble more often. There is no way around that.

And if your help defense is in the passing lanes playing aggressive denial defense, they won’t be able to help and recover as effectively.

So you could complement aggressive ball pressure with packline help defense principles or some variation. You’re not actively denying passes outside of the 3-point line. You are positioned in a gap to immediately stop penetration.

This strategy allows you to do three things very well…

1 - Harass and wear down the ball handler mentally and physically which can result in poor offensive execution and more turnovers.

2 - Help defense is positioned to effectively stop dribble penetration.

3 - Help defense is positioned to effectively close out to defend the shot and the dribble. Since they are already in good help position, they are essentially only recovering on the pass.

Strategy #2 - Contain Dribble Penetration and Aggressive Denial Defense Off the Ball

Another strategy is contain the ball with the intention on eliminating dribble penetration. You might be three to four feet from the ball or about an arm’s length away. You are still close enough to contest and prevent shots.

If you don’t pressure the ball and don’t deny in the passing lanes, the offense can get too comfortable and pass the ball around as they please.

However, since the defense on the ball is more effective at containing dribble penetration, you can counter this. Now your help defense can get in the passing lanes and aggressively deny.

Even though the ball handler doesn’t feel immediate pressure from the ball, not being able to pass the ball can lead to poor decisions. At times, the ball handler will pick up the basketball out of frustration. And when the threat of dribble penetration is eliminated, the defender on the ball can then aggressively pressure the ball and cause more havoc.

This strategy allows you to do three things very well…

1 - Stop dribble penetration with the on ball defender.

2 - Force turnovers and poor offensive execution by denying all passes.

3 - Frustrate the ball handler without sacrificing dribble penetration.

The Championship Differentiator?

Containing the ball and playing helpline defense has also been an effective strategy, but could one of the two strategies above be more effective?


There is no question, if you are constantly more athletic than your opponents, aggressive ball pressure and aggressively denying passes can be an effective strategy.

However, what happens when you face somebody of equal skill and talent? What happens if you face a team in the playoffs that can handle your pressure on the ball? Does this strategy hurt you now because you can’t contain dribble penetration with your help defense?

Let us know what you think!

Related Resources:

FREE eBook: The Best 11 Defense Drills - From One Of The World's Top Defensive Experts

Youth Basketball Defense - Don’t Play Zone Defense

Defense Videos - Man to Man, Zone Defenses, and Pressure Defense


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Dave says:
1/27/2020 at 9:54:59 PM

I see many youth coaches say, "pressure the ball" but they don't teach the help concepts that come with the increased chance of the ball being driven to the hoop. I see this full court as well.

I like the fact you show the ability to stop the dribble coincides with the pressure on the ball. That link is critical.

Thank you for sharing!


CoachD says:
5/21/2019 at 7:10:44 PM

We start off teaching deny ball side in the frontcourt while positioning ourselves to take away back door cuts, sagging to the ball on weakside ... we contain the ball in the backcourt (staying in front of the ball no reach, no steals, unless their dribble is broke) ..once the ball reaches the frontcourt we apply all-out pressure on the ball, a no middle stance, forcing it to 1 side (weak hand side) then down to baseline ... once we get it there we don''t let it out ..as our season progresses we mix things up depending on team strength ie no shooters load to ball ... drivers pack gaps


Alex says:
5/21/2019 at 4:53:42 PM

Thanks for the article Joe. I''ve been using your Strategy #1 for many years now (7+). I personally like pressuring the ball since as it makes it tougher on the offense to run their sets, make entry passes and often makes the offense speed up when they want to be patient.

Most importantly it forces the players to play defense, learn to move their feet and understand help defense concepts (which applies to many defensive concepts). It teaches them to be aggressive on defense and learn to dictate to the offense verses solely reacting.

I''m now coaching an incoming 7th grade girls team, which I''ve had since 4th grade, and it''s been challenging for them (help & help the helper concepts are tough) but last year they started to play faster given it was their 3rd year.

As a result each of the girls get low, touch the ground, and get after it!!


Rudolph says:
5/21/2019 at 1:07:15 PM

Great article. I always believed in pressure defense. Never let the offensive get comfortable. Force the 1 and/or the 2 to multi-task. After a while they will make a mistake, usually a turn-over. I also like Jd's idea of changing up the defense. Although I am basically a man2man coach I throw in an occasional zone, usually 1-3-1, after an opposing time-out or coming out at the half. After the offense tries to adjust I'll go back to the man2man. Disruption is the name of the game.


Jd says:
5/21/2019 at 9:49:33 AM

First Joe, thanks for this article and everything you guys do here at BT Basketball. You have contributed immensely to my basketball education without making me pay an arm and a leg. As a student, this has been a massive help, and I hope to contribute to you guys through your paid products when I have the means.

This idea is one I really like, and we have been using it with our club team and youth teams in Canada.

Defense in a lot of ways is about disruption. There are many different approaches and styles of offense...and whatever offense we are playing against, we want to be disruptive.

To be disruptive, ball pressure seems to be the foundational cornerstone. Young players can be unsure of themselves if they are asked to get under the chin of the ball handler, because they do get beat more. By playing “up the line and off the line” one pass away, your on-ball defender doesn’t feel like they are on an island. They can work hard and trust that the help will back them up.

When the help is in position before the drive, you get way less fouls as well. They don’t have to move a lot on the drive to help, you’re already right there. By helping early in the drive, you are nipping the dribble penetration in the bud, instead of helping later when the offensive advantage is more fully matured into a really tough spot for the defense, where we don’t have much chance to recover and we have to resort to “pick your poison” mode.

I also love the concept of having multiple man defenses that you run. You can throw a changeup in by running some zone, but by playing different styles of man defense, you give yourself a full array of “pitches” that look similar, and start similar.

Thanks again for everything!


Coach Tony says:
5/21/2019 at 7:19:59 AM

I think ones you have a team for a while you can play both sagging and denial defense of course with the Same principals.

But Initially I teach deny the passing lane, teaching it first help to covert ...my thoughts is I just don’t think you should allow teams to pass the ball around the perimeter at will. They have to work to get open. But of course there success in both. Great topic.


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