Basketball Offense Versus Junk Defenses
(Box-and-1 & Triangle-and-2)

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Your team is facing a "junk defense." Not a bad defense but a "junk defense" a term usually attached to a non-traditional defense, such as the box-and-1 or triangle-and-2. How do you play against it? If you are going to look here for special plays to use against a box-and-1 or triangle-and 2 you are looking in the wrong place. I believe that creating a special offense to play against a situation that you might see for a few minutes per year will be damaging to your team as a whole. Preparing for unusual situations will rob you of valuable practice time and eventually have you less prepared for your everyday games. However, I hope to give you some simple thoughts that will make you a more effective team if you do see one.

I think in order to play against it, you have to understand it. Why are "junk defenses" effective? When played properly, they are very effective, but only for a period of time. They get figured out which is why teams don't play them all the time.

How Do You Beat a "JUNK" Defense?

Let's look at how they get broken down. Junk defenses take players out of their regular defensive scheme, which leaves holes. They leave holes in shooting areas, passing lanes and driving lanes. Attacked with consistency and patience, those holes will be exposed and teams will take advantage of them. Pretty simple.

What Makes a "JUNK" Effective?

Why do they work? That is a little more involved. Rarely do junk defenses prevent the player it is designed to shut down from getting the ball. There are other forces at work.

Junk defenses work because they are different. When you prepare for your season, you spend the most time on what you want to do with your team and then you spend time preparing for what you believe other teams are going to do. It stands to reason that you will spend the most time on the things you believe you will play against most. Preparing for junk defense comes at the cost of preparation for your season in general. The more time you spend on it, the less time you have for your regular offenses and defenses. Even if you think you might see some junk defenses along the way, most coaches believe it is too time consuming to put into their master plan in relation to the amount of time they will have to use it. I agree with that. The reason why the fabled Princeton Offense is so effective is that it is so different. Teams try to prepare for it in 1 day because they don't see it enough to work on it for an entire season. Invariably, teams are unprepared when they see something different.

The next reason junk defenses work is that they are confusing. These defenses are basically zones. However, the player who is being defended sees a man-to-man. Many times the player trying to pass to the defended player sees a man-to-man. No matter how you emphasize it, emotionally, players are going to believe what they see. So, you have some of your players playing against a zone and 1 or 2 players playing against a man-to-man defense. The two concepts don't mix. Your offense breaks down.

The next reason they work is that they force the player being defended to look at his game differently. He doesn't get the same looks, he doesn't handle the ball in the same situations as he is used to. This is usually due to the breakdowns in your offense rather than the defense. Think about it, if you have a player that is good enough to be junked, he is used to seeing tough defense. But when they toughen up in a man-to-man, you don't change your offense because of it. When you see a box-and-1, everything changes. Your player starts to pressure himself, starts to force shot, tries to make moves he is not good at and your team spirals down the drain.

Your other players start to fixate on the player being defended that they concentrate on getting him the ball and they ignore other opportunities. The offense loses its pace and its focus. They start taking bad shots and forcing the ball. Combine that with the problems your defended player is having, there is good reason for the defense to be effective.

Why Are They Playing "JUNK" Defense?

Often the purpose of the defense is misunderstood. Commonly, coaches believe it is to deny or shut down a great scorer, but there are many other reasons. Junk defenses can change tempo, they can hide poor defensive players, I have always had great success with playing the point guard and forcing others to handle the ball, commonly called "cutting the head off the snake." Often, you cannot get into the other coach's head if you don't know what his purpose is. Emphasizing the wrong thing on offense only helps the defense even more.

How Do You Attack a "JUNK" Defense?

So what do you do against a junk defense? I believe you play as normally as you can. Try to make your players as comfortable as possible. If you run a motion offense, that is what I would stick with. Having the ball switch sides, running screens and creating a lot of movement will break down the defense quickly. This is one of the situations that I run the "Get Series" or "Designated Shooter" that is referred to in the, "Motion Offense ebooks". Spend more time on the mental reasons that the defense is successful than the physical. Teach your players to understand what they are facing and if you have taught them well, they will respond. Help them to understand that possessions will be longer due to the fact that it takes a little while for the weaknesses of the defense to show up.

If you don't run a motion but have a zone offense with a lot of movement, that would be my first line of offense. Remember, most of these defenses are zones as a basic defense. Taking a man out of the defense to play your player man-to-man will weaken the zone and create opportunities. Within your offense, make a concerted effort to get the ball inside, even if you don't have an inside scorer. All defenses break down when the ball goes inside. Once the ball goes inside, you will get scoring opportunities. Once they defend the post, your perimeter players will open up. Play inside out for perimeter play. This will even open up the defended player. The ball will spend a lot of time behind the defender and his concentration level can only last but so long before it breaks down.

I would not put in anything special for the defense though. I might make some adjustment, based on what I see in the defense but those adjustments will be inside of what they already know. It is very difficult to get players to execute their everyday offenses. To give them something new or special due to this situation would be a very tough task.

How Do You Prepare For a "JUNK" Defense?

How do you prepare for a junk defense? Obviously, you have to practice against it. Previously I stated that spending time on junk defenses might weaken your team as a whole. However, I think you can practice against it but making some small adjustments within what you normally practice. Just to give you an example, in my defensive progressions I do a lot of "defensive disadvantage" drills, or drills that are stacked against the defense having success. I do a lot of 4 on 3 (4 offense, 3 defense) and 5 on 4 drills. We probably spent more time in 5 on 4 drills than 5 on 5. Inside of those drills, it is easy to add 1 more defensive player and tell him to defend 1 particular player. The emphasis is not on the one player playing man-to-man. The emphasis of the drill is still 4 on 3 or 5 on 4 so the players are still comfortable playing the defense. However, the offense must adjust to 1 player under pressure. They are all in a drill they are comfortable and don't feel that they have to learn anything new, they feel that they have to do whatever they are doing, just a little better.

I, also, have never played a box-and-1 or triangle-and-2. I try to use things that are inside my regular defense. My basic man to man defense has ball side pressure and very heavy weak side help. We do a lot of switching in the back. In games, we will play a "chaser." We will take one player and tell him he has no help responsibilities. His job is to keep one particular player from getting the ball. Sometimes we will play with 2 chasers. Practicing this, because we use it, is an everyday occurrence. Should we face a junk defense, our players have seen it so often that they have no issues with it. In addition our defense has gotten better because of the work we do.

The purpose of the above is not to blow my own horn, but to illustrate that you probably have things that you do already that will prepare you to play against a junk defense and improve your team at the same time. Remember the things that make "junks" effective (see section above). If you expect to face a junk defense I don't believe you should take 20 minutes out of your practice and put your 2nd team into a box-and-1. They won't play it as well as your opponents; they won't be excited about it. I would not install anything special because, given the limited preparation time; you won't be good at it. You could have used the time to get better at what YOU do and opposed to what THEY do. Spend your time getting better and getting your players comfortable with what you do instead of being concerned about what they do.


Do you have any questions or suggestions for this offensive play? Let us know by leaving your comments...



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Chris says:
1/25/2019 at 3:22:36 PM

I want to do this in our next game against an opponent that beat us, but should I? It is only 5/6 grade and if we double their point guard, none of their other players are very good.

They beat us 9-2 and she scored 7 of their points and the ball was just not going in for us.

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Jeff says:
1/25/2019 at 3:48:57 PM

Good question. I would not run junk defense at this age. Maybe at the high school varsity level. Instead teach your players better fundamentals on defense, offense, and all aspects of the game. I avoided bailing out my youth teams with "tactics" and "strategy"... instead I always tried to solve the problem with better fundamentals. More thoughts on that at bottom of this article: http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/haefner/should-you-use-the-popular-high-ball-screen-play-for-your-youth-team/

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Larry says:
2/6/2018 at 7:15:05 PM

I just started coaching this year and I am working with an instructional league of 4th and 5th graders. Some had played in the 3rd grade and I even have a 3rd grader on my team. There is not tryout any kid in the school can play so we have a mix bag of talent (these are also co-ed teams).
My son has played for 3 years and the first year (3rd grade) I was a volunteer coach and his team worked hard but we had the least talented team and only won on game and that was a forfeit because the other team didn't show up (schedule mistake). We worked hard on fundamentals dribbling, how to stand on defense, how to move lateral, jump, run, layup, how to use the glass, etc...
His next year (4th grade) I didn't get involved and the coach on his team didn't teach anything. Essentially he played one kid the entire game and he was the only one allowed to take shots and he was the point guard so my son spent the entire season standing around playing hard on defense and rebounding but was never allowed to be in the offense. The final game that season his team made the championship and then the PG kid who had played every minute decided to throw a tantrum and not play so now we had a team of kids who weren't allowed to dribble or shoot the ball trying to figure out how to play. I swore to my son it would never happen again.
This year I decided to coach his team. My emphasis is every kid plays (league rules too) every kid contributes and every kid will score a point in a game at some point in the season. I have 12 kids on team we play a 32 min game with 4 quarters. Subs are mandatory and evey kid plays at least 8 minutes a game.
Now we play junk defenses...the reason why is for the past two years these games resembled rugby games more than basketball games. as you have kids nearly tackling kids . I decided my team would be fundamentally the best defensive team in league. We are allowed to play zone and I am teaching them how it works. I don't believe learning how to play zone is bad. I feel they learn to work together as one unit. If one person isn't pulling their weight the entire unit will fall apart. We don't switch we stay at home position and close out on shooters. I am teaching them to move as the ball is in the air for the pass. I have mostly been playing box and 1. My on ball defender is my third grader he is a terror on man to man and he traps and steals at the half court line. Our base is 1-2-2 and my goal wasn't trying to take adantave my goal was to protect the paint it evolved to the box and 1 and now it is continuing to evolve to the triangle and 2,
We practice it and run against it in practice as well as 2-3 zone and some man.
I think you need to look at it both ways. If done correctly and you actually teach why and how it works these kids on my team are ahead of the game now. They recognize the defense and are not afraid of shocked by it they learn patience and how to move the ball. They play better team ball. Out of 12 kids I only have 3 that haven't scored in a game yet every kid is contributing and having fun and that is the most important thing I wanted from them. Also I am not going to lie I want them to win. I want them to learn that working hard not just for themselves but for each other, helping each other obtain victory feels good and gives them confidence.

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Joe Haefner says:
2/7/2018 at 10:59:51 AM

Larry, the way that you're focusing on getting everybody involved is awesome!

I've also used zone defense in a similar situation with middle school kids for similar reasons.

However, I did regret it because it wasn't best for their long-term development. They won like 1 or 2 games over 2 seasons at the varsity level and we won 50% of their games at the youth level by using zones. Of course, there are other factors that led to those poor seasons down the road, but I know that I didn't help.

Here's an article that really delves into why man to man defense is the best for youth players over the long run:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html

Second, if you teach patience and to focus on the process, I know that you can succeed by teaching man to man. I've personally done it and here's a fun story that a subscriber shared with us where he started 0-12 in 6th grade, but finished the 8th grade season as 15-3 and conference champs.
https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/youthdefensestory.html

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blaine says:
11/17/2016 at 2:45:47 PM

I teach man everyday to my junior high group but if I did want to play a box and 1 how long would that take to teach 15 minutes? Not much time especially if your kids can already play man. A def like box and 1 is a breeze.

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Jeff Neely says:
1/26/2016 at 10:51:31 AM

Some of the best advice I have received in my 36 years in the business - 27 as a Varsity Head coach. When players panic, it is one thing, but when the coach panics, it is over. Stay calm, run your stuff and you will ruin all of their preparation time by exploiting what they are trying to do. In most every situation, the team running the junk is the weaker team. Make sure your players understand that.

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jomari says:
4/2/2015 at 11:10:26 AM

that basketball game is very good game

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John says:
2/3/2015 at 10:08:51 AM

All of these high school coaches who are ripping rec coaches because they aren't teaching the fundamentals are not recognizing the reality. A rec coach has maybe 4-8 hours before his first game and then maybe 1 1/2 hours a week during the season. That adds up to a grand total of about 20 hours of practice time a season. Throw in the fact that over half your team will have never played before and have very little natural ability. Do you expect miracle work to be done here? Maybe the HS coaches should step up and run some clinics or donate their time and effort to get the talent ready for the next level. Rec coaches are trying to make the best of what time and resources they have. Also, zones and trapping are some the go to tactic at every level of basketball up through college. You need to coach your team based on the kids you have and often times that means running zones and traps...

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Jeff says:
2/3/2015 at 11:04:18 AM

No it's not easy. There needs to be some education in the youth world about proper teaching progressions. Having a bunch of 3rd graders sitting in a zone while these young kids hork up three point shots using bad shooting technique is not helping anyone.

Ideally leagues and tournaments apply age appropriate rules. All we can do is try to spread the word and get as many people on board with better concepts in regards to youth development.

Check out this article with thoughts about this.
https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html

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Ken Sartini says:
3/10/2014 at 10:55:37 AM

Brian - First of all, bless you for working with this age group, it cant be easy.

Jeff has pretty much nailed this.... so I will just add a few things. Somewhere along the line, they will have to be able to cover someone, m2m.

Just remember.... There is always a diamond in the rough if you are willing to take the time to polish it.

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Jeff says:
3/10/2014 at 6:11:31 AM

Brian - I totally agree with this 100%... "Teach the kids about teamwork, sportsmanship,work ethic and give them a chance to succeed"

But I can tell you by personal experience that you can get the best of both worlds.... you can teach all those things you mentioned and develop them for the long term.

I know numerous new coaches that volunteer, put in the effort to learn M2M by studying DVDs or books, and have a lot of success. I'm not saying kids shouldn't learn a little zone and what not. But it all starts with M2M fundamentals. Why cut the kids that do want to play in high school short? I assure you that you can get the best of both worlds. Maybe some coaches don't want to put in the effort. but I know plenty of new coaches that do.

Also, if a rec program is playing a bunch of zone defense and junk... that is non sense. I'd find a different rec league. How is that helping a beginner improve at basketball? Makes no sense at all.

If you haven't already be sure to read this article:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html

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Brian says:
3/10/2014 at 2:34:38 AM

This M2M defense stuff is so unrealistic at the rec level. If you are a new coach do not buy into this nonsense! Teach the kids about teamwork, sportsmanship,work ethic and give them a chance to succeed. Loosing by 20 points a game is not fun and having some poor kid get embarrassed on the court is even worse. I teach only M2M until the 5th grade then I play what works. Kids really start to understand at this age and coaches will take advantage of your M2M defense.
Just remember most of these kids will never play High School Basketball but the memories will last a lifetime.

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Joe Haefner says:
1/27/2014 at 2:34:30 PM

Jason, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

For the man vs. zone for youth and middle school players discussion, this is a better thread.

http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/defense/age.html

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