Summary: Denial Defense is just in a state of denial. A disruptive defense takes an active role in shutting down the offense.
I had an epiphany a couple of years ago. I was sitting in the stands during a high school girl’s game at the End of Trail basketball tournament in Oregon. I was absently watching the game prior to my daughter’s game. The team on offense was running a motion offense and the girl at the top of the key had just passed the ball to her teammate. She turned to run and screen for a different teammate and then something amazing happened… Her defender stepped into her path and blocked her movement. I don’t mean that she stuck out her hip and was charged with a blocking foul. I mean that she stepped into her path and screened her. When the offensive player moved sideways to go around the screen, the defender moved with her and screened her again.
The offensive player eventually got around the defender but it took time; and by the time she got over to her teammate, her teammate had already left. The teammate was still guarded; no switch had taken place.
I was awestruck! What a simple concept? Why had it never occurred to me before? How often had I watched defenders follow their opponent around the court like shadows, trying to deny a pass, sometimes right across the paint? Where is it written that the offense has the right to go where ever they want, whenever they want? Is it written in the rules? No. In fact the rules specifically say that “Every player is entitled to a spot on the playing court provided such player gets there first without illegally contacting an opponent.” (Rule 4, Section 23, Article 1).
That was my first epiphany. How do you defeat a motion-based offense? You simply impede the motion. Kids who’ve practiced a motion offense are drilled on the movement: from here you go there and receive a pass, you then turn and pass down to there and go over there where you pick. Don’t be late! Your teammates are waiting on you!… The first time the offense runs into obstacles they are at a complete loss as to what to do. I’ve seen players pick the air because a pick was the next thing that they were told to be doing as part of the motion.
My second epiphany came while I was again, in the stands, watching a high school girl’s basketball game. This time it was Holy Family High School in Broomfield, Colorado. The school is in division 3A and at the time was in pursuit of their fourth-straight state championship. From the moment the opposing team brought the ball into the court, the Holy Family team had one and only one focus – steal the ball. They performed the usual three-quarter court trap and put extreme pressure on the person with the ball. But the focus was different. When pressuring the ball, their eyes were always focused “on the ball”. Every pass was challenged twice. First, the initiator of the pass was challenged and, second, the receiver of the pass was challenged. Each end of the pass was overplayed in an attempt to deflect the pass initially or steal it at the far end. If they couldn’t steal the ball they would deflect it, even kick it – anything to prevent the offense from building momentum – and they often stole the pass. It wasn’t unusual to see them steal the ball and take it the other way for a fast break and points five or six times in succession. It’s quite demoralizing to an offense to one minute be in a close game and the next minute be 10 or 15 points behind.
Of course all that overplaying meant that they had to be able to recover quickly and count on good help-side support. They were also in great shape.
They didn’t assume a pass denial position: on the line, up the line, hand in the passing lane, thumb down… Instead they stood back, slightly off their defender and between the defender and the basket, encouraging their opponents to try to pass and discouraging any attempt to backdoor cut to the basket.
By the way, Holy Family is now in pursuit of their fifth-straight 3A state championship.
So what does a disruptive defense look like? Every player impedes the movement of their opponent. The offense is never allowed to simply cut across the paint. They can struggle across the paint but the old sprint-from-the-wing-to-the-opposite-corner days are over! Every pass is challenged twice. Defenders are encouraged to focus on the ball and take chances stealing it. Help side defense is critical and if you overplay the ball and miss, you have to be able to recover quickly. Everyone on the team has to be in great shape and be obsessed with stealing the ball.