A Summary: How to Build a Basketball Defensive System

Coach Jim Boylen talks about his basketball defensive system and how to recreate an NBA defense. This defense is what they did at Michigan State and in the NBA. He hopes that after today you’ll be able to take something back to your team and teach your players how to play better defense.

As NBA coach, we’re always trying to find ways to become better defensively. This is because defense and rebounding wins championships.

  • It is proven.
  • Very important.
  • And he is very passionate about it.

Proof comes in the NBA almost every season. Three of the four conference finalist (Indiana, San Antonio and Memphis) were in the top three in defense (2012-13).

Whatever way you push the ball is how you have to set your defense:

Three Options to Force the Ball in Your Basketball Defensive System

  1. Push the ball sideline.
  2. Push the ball middle.
  3. Or play the ball chest to chest (square).

For example, whatever way you force the ball determines how you play pick and roll.

  • If you play pick-and-roll and you force the ball down, you need to drop your big and force the ball baseline.
  • If you play pick-and-roll and you blitz then you need to force the ball to the middle.

So before you determine your defensive philosophy you need to determine what way you want to force the ball. Some of the decision-making is personnel driven.

  • If you have posts that don’t move very well, you’re probably better off forcing the ball down to the sideline. This allows the post to stay closer to the basket and the pick-and-roll will be pushed down.
  • If your posts are active, athletic and can get out and blitz the ball then you can push the ball middle. This allows the post to get out away from the basket to put more pressure on their check and the dribbler on pick-and-roll.

What’s the most important thing about defense?  Stop the ball. The biggest problem stopping the ball defensively is players don’t move their feet or understand how to slide their feet.

Stance Position = One Hand Up (Shot Challenge Hand), One Hand Out (Pass Deflection Hand)

He says a player should always have the hand out to the side you are influencing the ball too because it makes it easier to move in that direction. The defender’s head should stay on the same plane. This means that the head should stay at the same level in the stance and not move up and down as a defender moves.

What is a Negative Step (5:11)? It is when your high foot moves before your lead foot on a slide. So the first goal in containing the ball is to be able to move your lead foot first in a slide. He demonstrates a sideline push stance – Inside foot to the midpoint is up, inside head shot challenge, outside hand to the ball, influencing the ball sideline. The sideline is your 6th defender and the baseline is your 7th defender.

The Mirror Drill (07:15)

  • The drill builds the defensive muscles and posture.
  • There is a leader and a follower.
  • Look each other in the eye.
  • The leader will step slide and the follower stays square and in the same plane.
  • A key teaching point is to point your toe in the direction you are going and to avoid negative steps.

“Defense is about a mindset, but it’s also a skill. What we need to improve is our skill level.”

Shrinking the Floor Basketball Defensive System Concept

  • A good player to player defense at the NBA level is really a zone.
  • The most important person on the floor is the player with the ball.
  • All five players have to be locked into the ball.
  • The shrink starts with your gaps. He wants to shrink the gaps so there are no holes or seams to get in.
  • In the middle of the floor (dead middle) he wants to play the ball chest-to-chest. On the angle he wants to force middle.

Coach Boylen is a big believer in visual demonstration for your team. He suggest today’s young kids learn in three ways and you must incorporate them every practice.

  1. Total – Talk.
  2. Kinesthetic – Touch.
  3. Visual – Sight.

Establishing the Gap in Your Basketball Defensive System

  • If want to play in the gap defensively be one step off the line and two steps from your check (Communicates this as, “One, One-Two.”)
  • If you want to deny defensively, be two steps from your check on the line.
  • Move as the ball is released from the passer’s finger tips. Jump to the ball.
  • Communications are ball, ball, ball and help, help, help.

He argues that in the NBA players are too good to deny so he wants to keep people in front. Players shoot 60 percent at the rim and from the corner while outside the paint players shoot only 38 percent.

Check out more basketball defensive System concepts and ideas here:

2-on-2 Shrink the Gap Drill (19:18)

  • Can do it from top to wing, top top or in different gaps.

Negaunee Drill (26:25)

  • 3-on-3 six eye gap defense to work on the build your shrink concept.
  • He is building left and right help understanding.
  • Three defender start in the lane holding hands and move out to defensive positions on the coach’s pass. He calls this, “Spraying Out.”
  • He restricts offensive movements and attack opportunities.
  • On a skip move on the pass not when the ball is over your head.
  • Good ball pressure creates a “hump” on the ball (We call this no straight line skips – Force an Arc).

In My Opinion…

He asks the players to compete (27:05). Of course we all want this as a coach. The challenge in getting players to compete is creating conditions for them to compete.

With this being a shell drill with no live attack opportunities I feel like it would be impossible to get players to compete. Although we might spend on rotations in a shell situation when we first teach a drill, we would then make the drill live. If we put restrictions in, it would be on which offensive player can attack, or where they can attack from. After the attack, in all our drills, everything is 100% live. This is a condition for getting players to compete.

“The number one condition for getting players to compete is allowing them to.”

Negaunee Drill with a Cutter (35:32)

  • Add a cutter who cuts through and goes opposite.
  • This works on recovery as the helpside is constantly moving.

4-on-4 Shell Drill (38:30)

  • 4-on-4 pass and skip the ball.
  • If your check is farther from the rim, you can help more.
  • Recover to help, not to your check, so that you can support the on ball defender on a drive.
  • He emphasizes inside foot to the mid-point. Why does he want a help defender’s inside foot up? If the helpside defender’s inside foot is up they are closer and quicker to support.
  • Add one dribble towards the next man and then pass the ball to work help and recover concept (40:46)
  • Add an exchange on the weakside the make it more realistic.
  • On a baseline drive, the low player helps, the high player drops to the level of the ball (48:10)
  • On the second side, the top of the “I” takes first pass on a pass out of the baseline drive rotation.
  • The goal is to take away plays at the rim and make the offense kickout.

The development of your defense will take time initially to put in. As the season goes on you will clean up your defense and you will improve.

Learn more about basketball defensive systems from these The Basketball Podcasts and Blog:

The Basketball Podcast: EP146 Will Jones on Multiple Defenses

The Basketball Defensive X-Out: A Sure Fire Fundamental Guaranteed to Improve your Team Defense

The Basketball Podcast: EP144 Jay Larranaga on Transition Offense and Defense


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