What do you emphasize when it comes to transition defense? It’s something we have struggled with this year, so we’ve really had to think about the best way to teach it. What are the clear points of emphasis? I feel like I can fall into the trap of just telling guys to “sprint back” and “communicate” without really teaching our team the best way to figure out transition defense. Some of the things that we need to focus on.
As soon as they get the ball, we sprint back – I’m not a big believer in jamming the rebounder or crowding the outlet pass to slow your opponent down. It’s too easy for the offense to show a little composure and hit ahead and create an advantage situation. So as soon as the other team gets the ball, we have to start sprinting back. The time wasted by looking for a steal on the outlet is the difference between a stop and an easy basket. Jumping passing lanes or crowding the rebounder are examples of fake hustle – “Look at me, I’m trying to help the team,” – when really you are just taking the easy way out and getting beat. Once possession is taken by the other team, you need to change ends.
Get ahead of the ball – It’s not your job to beat your man up the floor in transition. Your job is to get ahead of the basketball and help your team get set in your team defense. You do not have a man in transition, you have to find someone to match up with, and it might not be your man. Everyone needs to get ahead of the ball.
Communication/Declare the ball – Like in every aspect of the game, communication is crucial in transition. It starts with one person declaring he’s guarding the basketball, and everyone else matching up from there. You will be able to tell how much urgency your team has in transition by how loud it is in your gym. Talking on the run is hard, and it needs to be demanded daily for your team to do it.
Match-up when you cross half-court – Once we cross half-court we are starting to match-up. We are not sprinting back to the paint or to the top of the key and then trying to figure out who we are guarding. If you get back to the paint and then turn around to try and figure out who to guard, it’s too late. You are giving up an open shot. You must start to match-up when you get over half- court, find the ball and get into your team defense. So many open shots are given up because guys get back to the paint and settle in, thinking they have done their job.
Fix it on the run – This is a phrase Shaka Smart uses with his pressure defense at VCU, and it fits all scramble situations. The difference between winning and losing is as simple as the time you take to stop, assess the situations, and then try and figure out what to do. In transition defense situations your feet should not stop moving. You sprint back, match-up and get where you should be for your team defense, and then you are actively playing that defense. When I am yelling “Fix it” your feet should be moving. There is no time to settle in.
It doesn’t matter who we guard – Bad match-ups won’t beat us, but open shots will. It’s important our guys realize it doesn’t matter who they guard in transition, it’s important that everyone is matched-up. We give up a lot of easy shots because one guy runs back to his man when that man is already guarded by someone else who had to match-up in transition. It doesn’t matter who you are guarding, just make sure you are guarding someone. This is where urgency and communication are most important.
Urgency – In any scramble or man-down situation, there has to be a sense of urgency. You need to be close to perfect as a team not to give up an open shot in transition, and everyone has to get on the same page quickly. Those situations really have to matter to your team, so understanding the importance and sense of urgency necessary is crucial.
If you are emphasizing a certain aspect of the game to your team every day and they are still not getting it, then it pays to look at what you are teaching them. How are you saying it? If you are just telling your team they have to sprint back and do a better job in transition defense, you aren’t really teaching them how to do it. Think about the points of emphasis that will make you better as a team in transition defense, and make those points clearly. Hopefully it will clear up the message in what is a naturally scrambled situation.