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How to Attack a Switching Man-to-Man Defense

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It's been a long standing defensive adage that the best zone defenses are essentially man-to-man and the best man-to-man defenses play essentially a zone.

One of the easiest, yet still very effective ways for a man-to-man defense to take advantage of zone principles is to simply have all defenders switch each and every screen. This strategy eliminates many wide open jump shots, keeps the guards on the perimeter and the post players inside and all but guarantees there is adequate weak side help.

Since it is not a true zone defense there are no gaps to attack and each defender is crystal clear about his box out responsibilities. Because many "habit" passes are consistently shut down by defenders that switch, offensive players often find themselves in unfamiliar and stressful territory.

Add all these factors together and it shouldn't be any surprise why there seems to be a noticeable increase in the number of teams that are using a switching man-to-man defense as their primary method of stopping offensive attacks.

With that in mind the question now becomes "What is the best way to offensively attack and score on a defense that constantly switches?"

While the answer to this question often depends on your team's personnel, here are several strategies to consider:

1. Pass and Cut

Since any switching normally takes place when screen occur, one obvious suggestion is to simply not screen! Many defenders neglect to jump towards the pass which gives the offensive passer the opportunity to execute a quick basket cut and receive a return pass for a layup. With the players spaced wide and constantly cutting to the basket it also becomes relatively easy to isolate an effective post player down on the low block or a quick driver at the elbow or out on the wing. If are fortunate enough to have several good drivers and /or shooters on your team you might also want to consider running a version of the dribble drive motion that has become so popular in recent years.

2. Pick & Roll or Pick & Pop

When San Antonio played a switching man-to-man defense against Miami in the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat countered by setting on ball screens. However, instead of using the typical 5 screens for 1 alignment, the Heat use a guard (Mario Chalmers or Ray Allen) to set an on ball screen for LeBron James. When the Spurs switched, LeBron was then guarded by a smaller, weaker defender that he could physically manhandle. At the same time, Chalmers or Allen popped to the 3 point line ready to shoot if their new, bigger defender was hesitant to go that far away from the basket.

3. Screen to Exploit

If defenses are going to switch then the offense can keep using all kinds of screens until they get a favorable mismatch such as a big guarding a small. Once that happens the screening stops and the mismatch can then be isolated and exploited. Of course the same thing can occur once you get a small defending a big or a defender in foul trouble matched up with your best offensive attacker.

4. Use Set Plays & Quick Hitters

Plays that utilize screen the screener actions, misdirection, and slip screens are just a few of the many options that create problems for defenses that switch everything. Add a few new plays to your playbook or be creative and tweak your current ones. Something as simple as starting your guards inside and your post player outside when running your quick hitters can cause nightmares for teams that switch. The important thing when facing teams that switch everything is to be prepared and to remember one critical thing: Against switching defenses you the offensive coach gets to determine who ends up guarding who and that can be a tremendous advantage if used properly.

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