February 18, 2019 • DefenseWinning Hoops

The Front and the Pack

by Brian Kissinger, Ferris High School, Washington

How to gain an edge defending the post player from the front

valders kettle moraine rebound
Photo: Kevin Hoffman

The way you defend the post dictates how you play everywhere else. This is one of the core covenants of the Pack defense.

In the traditional Pack system, the low post offensive player is not allowed to be fed from up top and is fronted when the ball is on the wing. When the ball is entered to the low post, their defender is expected to jump behind while the ball is in the air and receive double-team help from either the other post defender (double) or from the passer’s defender (choke).

But what about playing the Pack and fronting the low post?

Here are seven reasons for fronting in the Pack defense along with four drills to teach it and some thoughts on when you should, or have to, play behind the post.

1. Consistency. Fronting the low post is consistent with the Pack philosophy of “no paint,” “no face cuts” and “no feeds from the top.” Staying between your man and the basketball when he or she doesn’t have the ball is a simple principle for players to grasp. Plus, too many times the low post defender gets buried in the paint after they jump behind the offensive post player.

2. Weak-side help positioning is unchanged. The positioning of players for weak-side help in the Pack that supports the double and the choke also puts them in great position to discourage, deflect or intercept any attempted lob pass.

3. Not every team can double effectively. This is a time-consuming concept to teach and requires a higher degree of athleticism and basketball IQ than is typically found. In addition, certain opponent sets make it very difficult for the double defender to arrive on time.

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4. Kick out 3s from the choke are too easy. The easiest 3-pointer to make is the inside-out pass coming right to a shooter who is already squared up to the hoop. Also, the closeout from the choke is very long.

5. Jamming the baseline drive is easier. We don’t ever want baseline penetration, but it does happen. When playing properly, the fronting post defender can at any moment slide over to the baseline and stop the penetration faster than the weak-side Pack defender. Versus baseline penetration from the corner, the low post defender should already be 3/4 fronting on the baseline side. Weak-side Pack defenders must rotate over and deny the post or drop from the top if the post escapes up the lane.

6. Pouncing on a weak post entry pass. Good ball pressure from the Pack can yield weak entry passes into the post and disrupt lob attempts. But if the low post defender’s first instinct is to jump behind the offensive post player rather than to pounce on that entry pass, it’s a lost opportunity to turn over the opponent.

7. Rebounding. It’s true that you don’t want to make a bad post player a good player by allowing offensive rebounds. However, proper block out technique from the front (See Diagram 3) eliminates any advantage the offensive low post player gains from being fronted. Also, if the other four defenders are doing their part in the Pack, there should be more long rebounds from contested mid-range jump shots than rebounds right under the basket.

Teaching the Pack

basketball pack defense 1DIAGRAM 1: Partners post defense. For the first drill, set up three cones at foul-line extended sideline, halfway between foul-line extended sideline and the elbow, and at the elbow. Set up three more cones at the corresponding spots on the other side of the court. Each cone represents the low block.

Players pair up at a cone: one on offense and one on defense. Coach is facing the basket at that end and takes players through the three fronting positions: above, high side and low side. Offensive players will stay on top of their cone (block). Coach determines which sideline they face (if they are pretending to be on the left block, they face the left sideline, etc.). Defensive players start as shown in the diagram.

Coach walks defenders through the correct footwork for all three positions. Proper above positioning prevents flash cuts to the middle of the lane and prevents the dreaded post feed from up top. High ball-side hand and arm-bar positioning are explained.

Key teaching points are that the defender cannot be level with the offensive player or he or she is essentially beat already, and the defensive player must be within arm’s length of the offensive player to prevent a lob over or losing vision on the player.

basketball pack defense 2Proper high-side positioning is a 3/4 front on the topside with an arm bar used to prevent the low post player from sealing. Proper low-side positioning is a 3/4 front on the baseline side with, again, an arm-bar to prevent the seal. The defender’s back foot should be closer to the middle of the floor than the low post player’s feet. The defense must keep their belly to the defender at all times but also keep vision on the ball. Attempting an “X-step” is too slow and more sealable by the offensive post player.

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On the coach’s command, defenders move between the above, high-side and low-side positions. Players will then trade places with their partners. When both partners have played defense on the left block, they switch to the right block.

DIAGRAM 2: 1-on-1 low-post defense. For this second drill, place your passers at the point, wing and corner, with an offensive and defensive player at the block. The ball starts with the passer at the point and post defender as shown in the diagram (X4).

basketball pack defense 3

On the coach’s command, the ball is passed between the point, wing and corner and the post defender reacts accordingly while the ball is in the air. To begin with, no skip passes are allowed.

The coach calls “rotate” when they’re satisfied with the defender’s effort and execution. Rotation is from point, to wing, to corner, to post offense and then to defense before heading to the end of the line. Players not in the drill line up at the point. The drill can be done on both sides at one end of one court or at opposite ends.

DIAGRAM 3: 1-on-1 low-post defense with block out. This has the same set-up as the previous drill but with the additional requirement that when the coach yells “shot,” whichever player has the ball pretends to shoot and the defensive player, whichever position he or she may be in, must execute a proper block out. Each block out involves a reverse pivot, arms up at shoulder height with hands above arms and an aggressive move to push the offensive player out of the lane. This maneuver is very similar to the “spin and seal” technique used by offensive post players.

basketball pack defense 4DIAGRAM 4: 4-on-4 shell with 1-on-1 in the post. In the final drill, all perimeter defensive concepts are tied together with proper low post defensive techniques. That includes positioning, lob reaction, blocking out, jamming and sinking. As with the basic 4-on-4 Shell Drill, keep things simple and stationary at the beginning before adding movement, complexity and going live.

Behind the post

We still play behind an opposing post player on occasion. It works best if that player is a weak offensive player or to simply change up our look. Other times, we are caught behind due to poor effort or just the flow of play. In these instances, we will do one of the following:

  • Let our post defender handle the offensive player without any help.
  • Choke the post on the catch.
  • Drop and dig at the post on the catch.
  • Drop and dig at the post when he or she dribbles.
  • Hedge (bluffing, playing “cat and mouse,” etc.).

If the passer is a good perimeter shooter, the post defender must “wall up” with high hands, bent knees and active feet to contest any shot without fouling before blocking out.