Regardless of what pattern or scheme you use to break a full court zone press, here are some concepts to consider applying to what you do to make it more effective. I hope that it gives you some inspiration to put your beliefs about press offense in writing to bring improved clarity to what you believe and what you want to accomplish.
I like to call it Press Offense rather than Press Break because I want the objective to be to score against the press.
There are links to more articles about press attack listed at the bottom of this post.
1. Have a designated inbounder. If you can’t inbound the ball against a press, then there is no need for a press breaker. Inbounding the ball is too important to leave to the chance of whichever of your players is closest to the ball after it goes through the basket or is close by when the official is ready to put the ball in play.
We like to have the same player inbound the ball every time because that player has practiced and has experience inbounding the ball in tough situations.
A consistent inbounder will develop a good feel for the five second count. Just like any other position, you need a “depth chart” so that you know who will inbound the ball if your primary inbounder is out of the game. Everyone on the team should know the game rules and our rules for inbounding the ball such as when it is a spot and when he can run, never inbound the ball underneath the backboard, don’t inbound the ball to a player in a trap zone, and whatever rules you have for inbounding the ball, but the designated inbounder must be able to apply them under pressure.
2. We like to have four players (including the inbounder) in the backcourt to bring the ball up. We like this for two reasons. One, it allows us to have a finisher to be able to score at the basket when we beat the press. Two, since we do have someone at the basket, it forces the opponent to put a player back to cover that and we can play four on four in the backcourt for better spacing than five on five in the backcourt.
3. We make sure that all three players who are inbounds are available as direct receivers of the inbounds pas. We want to get the ball to the first open receiver who is not in a trap zone. We teach our inbounds receivers to go no deeper in the corner than the corner of the volleyball court to keep them out of trap zones.
4. We position the finisher at our basket and above the opposite block from where the ball is at all times. That will require him to change sides of the floor as the ball changes sides. The finisher must have good hands to catch a bounce pass in traffic, must be able to score with contact for a three point play, and must be a good free throw shooter. We work on all of those skills with the finisher every day in individual development.
5. We like to get our best perimeter player in the middle of the press to work to get the ball to him and then let him make a play off the dribble or the pass to beat the press. If that player is also our inbounder, we find a way to get him to the middle as quickly as possible after the ball is inbounded.
6. We believe that you must have an option to throw long and over the first wave of the defense if they are denying the inbounds pass to all three of your inbounds receivers. We send two players long (one on each side of the court) if they do not get the ball by the time they get to the corner of the volleyball court and keep one player for a short pass if his man leaves to play like a football safety on the long pass.
7. Once the ball is inbounded we want to establish three receivers available to the ball and with 15 foot spacing from each other and from the ball. Since we have an offensive player positioned at the block at our basket, a player with the ball occupying two defenders who are trapping him, then they only have two defenders left to cover our three available receivers. If they are spaced at 15 feet apart, that makes the job of those two defenders a very difficult one.
8. We use pass fakes against a press with two purposes in mind, one being to put the trappers’ hands where want them to be able to pass by them. The second is to move the two defenders who are guarding our three available receivers in order to open up one of those receivers. We feel it is important to sell our players on these two faking concepts (against all defenses, not just a press) because players usually think that they must fake to one of their teammates. It is often helpful to fake to air with one of these two purposes in mind. The defenders don’t know if there is or isn’t a receive where the ball is being faked to, so they are going to react to the fake.
9. A cardinal rule of our press offense is that we do not pass the ball across our basket in the backcourt. When we want to reverse the ball from the right side of the floor to the left side, we put the reversal man on the ball side of the basket. We certainly don’t want to turn the ball over but if we do turn the ball over on the reversal pass, then we have a player between their defender who stole the ball and our basket to be able to keep them from getting an immediate layup off the steal. When the ball is reversed to this player who is behind the ball and on the ball side of the basket, we have them take one dribble toward the other side of the court when they catch the ball in order to shorten the reversal pass and make sure that it is not thrown across the basket. As we are working on reversing the ball, we have a rule of a maximum of two reversals and then we take the ball across the line in order to avoid a ten second violation.
10. We have a couple of special plays to inbound the ball late in the game if there is a time out or a dead ball on the baseline and we are anticipating being pressed. We adjust the plays each year to our personnel. We often use special plays to get the ball in bounds when we have to inbound against a press from odd spots on the floor such as the corner or the sideline and feel that we must practice getting the ball in from those odd spots so that we are prepared when it happens to us in games.
11. We teach to pass the ball across the ten second line when possible rather than dribbling it so that the player who has the ball across the line has a live dribble. If we dribble the ball across the ten second line and then are forced to pick it up, then we are playing into the hands of the press and giving them one more opportunity to trap us. If we have beaten the press, such as when we throw the ball over it, and are in a transition situation, then we will turn our break into a two on one or three on two scenario.
12. We coach the mindset in the players to attack the press to score not just to break the press to set up our offense. That is why we call our system “Press Offense” rather than a “Press Breaker.” That does not mean that we want to take bad shots or make risky decisions with the basketball. A bad shot is a bad shot regardless of what defense the opponent is in, just like there is no such thing as a good turnover no matter what the defense is doing. But, we feel that being both aggressive and smart to score off the press and/or get fouled, will get them to call off the press, or will increase our score.