November 19, 2018 • DefenseWinning Hoops

A half-court transition press that sends offenses ‘scrambling’

by Joseph Kubacki, contributing writer

The Scramble is primarily a 1-2-2 half-court transition press, but it can be used to create confusion in opposing offense virtually every time down the floor. It forces offenses to become reactive instead of proactive. It also pushes offenses to either slow down, potentially taking them off of their game, or speed up, forcing ill-advised shots. Hopefully, it helps defenses create turnovers.

In short, the Scramble disrupts the rhythm of the offense. It accomplishes this in a variety of ways.

Scramble breakdown

Photo: Russ Alman, Flickr

The Scramble has four components.

1. Jam the rebounder in transition for a one or two count, allowing the defense to set up.

2. A 1-2-2 half-court traps the offensive player just over half court in one of the corner “trap boxes.” The up-man in the zone can either pick up the ball-handler 10 to 15 feet before half court, or setup behind the half-court line and blitz the ball handler to push them to the sideline.

3. If the trap is unsuccessful and the ball is advanced to the sideline below the foul-line extended, the regular defensive slides for a 1-2-2 half-court defense occur. Emphasis is on keeping the ball out of the middle and trapping the ball-side baseline corner.

4. The front begins as a 1-2, continuing what’s used in the half-court trap, and it only changes if a “key” is triggered when the ball is passed or dribbled to the sideline below the foul-line extended and comes back above the line. The sideline is considered any area outside the lane channel of the court.

  » MORE: Learn two drills to teach the Scramble press

A “key” could be any action the coach puts into play for the ball going below the foul-line extended sideline and coming back above it. It could be a pass to the post, or a sideline trap. Once the “key” is triggered and the ball is above the foul-line extended, the front shifts to a 2-1-2 zone and remains in that set throughout the possession.

If a “key” is triggered, the Scramble does not have to switch to a 2-1-2. It could become a man defense, and I would sometimes even make it a box-and-one or triangle-two for defensive possessions before halftime or the end of the game.

An easier way to communicate Scramble changes to your players would be to use your defensive codes and the word “scramble.” For instance, the call for our 2-1-2 zone was “Scramble 21.” When we called “Scramble five,” it signaled a change to man-to-man defense.

The Scramble effect

What allows the Scramble to take place in a reasonably orderly fashion is that sideline defensive slides for all zones are basically the same. If a ball goes sideline on any zone defense, the slides dictate someone pressuring the ball and having the block and elbow/ gap area protected. It usually looks like a 1-2 or 2-2 formation, unless all out pressure is being applied because of time and score, in which case it looks like a 3-2. Changing the front of the zone isn’t as confusing as one might think.

The first time our team used the Scramble, we forced 41 turnovers in a single game. Beforehand, we were winning games, but we would sometimes get beat badly. After the Scramble was installed, we were beating teams on rematches by much wider margins. And, if we had lost big to teams beforehand, we were now making it a much more competitive game. Creating confusion allowed us to match up with stronger opponents. We constantly drilled players on trapping techniques, trapping rotations and moving to the ball a split-second after the ball was in the air. That meant immediate pressure was applied on the catch.

Scramble can give your players that edge to help them play with more confidence. Your athletes will truly feel like they have a secret weapon — a defensive “Kryptonite” to confuse offenses. That led to indecision among our opponents, which produced more turnovers by the other team and more points for ours.

Scramble in action

Click to enlarge

DIAGRAM 1: The 1-2-2 Scramble press sets up at half court. 1 dribbles the ball up the floor with 2 on the opposite side. 3 is on the ball-side deep sideline, 5 is in the middle, and 4 is on the weak-side wing. X1 picks up the ball hander about 15 to 20 feet before half court and forces them to the sideline. X2 and X3 position to spring a trap just over half court. X4 plays above and in between 3 and 5, while X5 is between 4 and 5.

DIAGRAM 2: 1 dribbles over the midline, and the defenders trap. X3 defends 2, while X4 defends 3 and 5. X5 defends the middle and the deep diagonal pass. The defense wants to deny any middle passes.

DIAGRAM 3: 1 passes to 3 above the foul-line extended. The defense reacts accordingly, giving a 1-2-1-1 look while continuing to deny any passes away from the sideline.

  » ALSO SEE: 18 characteristics of a good defensive team

DIAGRAM 4: 3 passes to 4, who had cut to the ball-side corner. X5 and X4 close out on 4 to set a trap in the corner. X3 plays 5 in the post, and X2 cheats down in the lane to help X5 if the pass is made inside. X1 plays the passing lanes to 3 and 1, giving a 2-2-1 look.

DIAGRAM 5: 4 passes back to 3 above the foul-line extended, and the defense flexes into a 2-1-2 or a 1-1-3. X1 closes out on the ball handler, and X2 is at the foul-line extended. X4 plays low to deny the post pass, and X5 plays in the post gap. X3 plays the weak-side lane line, looking to steal a skip pass to 2.

DIAGRAM 6: 3 dribbles out toward the point, and 1 spaces accordingly. The defense is in a 2-1-2 set, with X4 and X3 protecting the low paint.

DIAGRAM 7: 3 passes to 2 (shooter), who has popped out to the lane-line extended. X1 drops to the foul-line middle, X5 moves near 5, and X3 and X4 protect the low paint, giving a 1-1-3 look.

Click to enlarge

Joseph Kubacki has coached high school and grade school basketball since 1976, mostly in Springfield, Massachusetts.