I’ve always been a man-to-man guy and I’ve never liked switching. I think it’s taking the easy way out, and I want our defense to be ready to beat screens. It doesn’t seem like a lot of teams try and beat screens these days. But my teams never switched.
When I first became a head coach we used to change our defense late in games with a lead to switch everything. We had a call for it, usually if we were up late with the clock running out and we wanted to keep a man on the ball without worrying about screens. If we were up 4-6 points in the last minute and we didn’t want to give up 3s we’d go to our switch everything defense.
I did that until we gave up a couple of 3s late and lost a game when I was at Rhode Island College. We had some young guys out on the floor and they were late on switches, and we gave up 3s and lost the game. After that game, I changed my approach. When I thought about it, why would I want our team to play a different defense, one we weren’t used to playing, on the most important possessions of the game? So I stopped switching.
A couple of different things can happen when you decide to switch that likely don’t happen when you are playing your regular defense – Confusion or uncertainty, which then leads to hesitation. Switching forces your guys to think about something – is that a screen? With all of the ghost screens, slips and fly-bys you see in offensive action today, it’s pretty easy for the offense to create some confusion. Are you switching on a fly-by or a ghost screen? What constitutes and actual screen? The offense can create hesitation in your defense if they run good action.
It’s also easy to get lazy on switches. As soon as you see some action coming and two offensive players coming together, you just hold your ground and point to your teammate. You wait for an offensive player to come into your area.
If I’m in my regular defense, I know my job is to beat the screen. There is no confusion, and no hesitation. And there is no time to get lazy. If someone gets beat and we need to help, we help. Just like we do every day. But there isn’t much to think about. We are doing what we do every day.
Watch the video of the last possession of the Celtics and the Raptors. Stan Van Gundy points out that Boston is “going to zone up” on the side out, meaning they are going to switch everything. OG Anunoby starts in the ball side corner with Jayson Tatum guarding him. When he cuts to the middle of the floor, Tatum hardly moves and just points to Jaylen Brown. Maybe he says something. But now Jaylen Brown is involved in some other screening action that grabs his attention. I’m not sure he every realizes that OG Anunoby is actually his man.
That split-second of hesitation probably cost the Celtics the game. And that’s the danger of switching everything late in a game. You create a scenario where the offense can cause some confusion. I just don’t like doing something different on the most important possession of the game.