Beating the Half-Court and Three-Quarter-Court Press/Trap

Summary: Beat the trap by attacking the weakness of the trappers themselves – their need for ease of movement.

If you review the suggestions on the web for beating a ½ or ¾ -court press or trap (I’ll just call it a trap going forward), the suggestions always involve an elaborate series of moves and passes.  The best defensive teams make their living by baiting the offense and then stealing the resulting pass for an easy and demoralizing lay-up.

Here’s a revolutionary idea: beat a trapping defense by striking where they are weakest – restrict their freedom of movement!

Let’s take a look at the business-end of a typical trap.  It involves three members of the defense, one positioned along the midline of the court and the other two arranged on either side between the midline and the sideline.  In the case of a ¾-court trap they will be arranged along the near free throw line with the middle defender a little further forward.  In the case of a ½-court trap, they will be arrayed between the 3-point and half-court lines.


The goal of the trap is literally to trap the offensive player against the sideline (in the case of a ½-court trap, the ½-court line as well), force that player to pick up their dribble, and under the pressure of a 10-second violation or 5-second violation, make a bad pass or produce a held ball.

To trap the dribbler, the middle defender directs the dribbler toward one sideline or the other.  Their teammate on that side prevents forward progress and the weak-side defender looks for a bad pass over the top or to the side of the trap.

 In order for the trap to be successful it’s critical that the trappers be able to move easily and redirect the dribbler.

The technique I propose is to prevent the trap from directing traffic and turn them into to a set of stationary pillars – like toll booths.  The offense simply drives around or between the pillars – no passing necessary and, of course, no tolls.

toll booth lanes

When looking at the three trappers (D3, D1, D2), think of them as defining four lanes – two inside lanes (marked “A”) and two outside lanes (marked “B”).

available lanes

Three members of the offense (O3, O4, O2), set up behind the trappers.  They will key on the movement of the three trappers.

As the ball is brought up the middle of the court, O4 watches the direction that D1 moves and then screens to the opposite side.  The dribbler can influence the direction of D1 by cheating to one side of the middle.

middle screen

O2 screens to the same side as O4 and O3 screens in the opposite direction of O4.

remaining screens

This creates a safe inner lane between O4 and O3.  A simple cross-over and explosive dribble takes O1 up this lane.  O3, O4, and O2 then roll after O1.

drive and roll

The immediate result is a 5-on-2 advantage for the offensive team.

numbers advantage

If D3 responds the next time by cheating toward the middle of the court, O3 responds by simply screening to the outside of D3.  This opens up a safe outer lane between O3 and the sideline.  As earlier, O3, O4, and O2 roll with the dribbler and create a 5-on-2 advantage for the offense.

outside lane step 1outside lane step 2

Since the outside lanes are further away, they take longer to get to and get through.  As a result, the defender should be cheating in fairly far before choosing to screen them on the outside.  Note that the dribbler’s path is decided by his teammates who are screening the trappers, not by the dribbler himself.

The dribbler needs to ensure that the team has sufficient time to set up and read the movement of the trappers.  So the dribbler should take his time coming up the court.

At no point did anyone try to force a pass over or through the trap.  The entire time the ball stayed in the hands of your best dribbler.   Before long, the trappers will be paying more attention to where the screen is coming from and less to the dribbler.

The concept works exactly the same way at ¾-court as it does at ½-court.