Press Break Explained: Basics of the Offensive Basketball Play

2022 WNBA Finals - Game Four

Basketball teams use various types of defensive schemes designed to create turnovers and easy baskets throughout the course of a basketball game. One common type of defensive scheme is the press, and the press can be broken down into several categories:

  • Zone press
  • Diamond press
  • Man-to-man press
  • Full-court press: full court man, full court zone
  • Half-court press

One common defensive alignment that is seen in several of those categories is a 1-2-2 zone press. In a 1-2-2 set, one defender starts the play defending the point guard up top, two defenders start in the middle, and another two defenders start down towards the baseline. This 1-2-2 press defense alignment can be used in both half-court and full court pressure, and often involves several attempts to trap the ball handler as soon as the ball inbounds off of the inbounds pass.

By understanding how the 1-2-2 and other types of presses work and where their weaknesses are, teams can exploit the trap and aggressively attack the defense to score fast break layups and discourage the opponent from pressuring. Several press break designs can help a team just do that.

Using a two-guard front press break

Against any kind of pressure defense, a fundamental rule that basketball coaches generally live by is that whatever the defense does, you do the opposite. In the case that a defense is lined up in a 1-2-2 with one defender at the head of the zone, a two-man front should be used to break the press. If the defense presented a two-man front, like a 2-3 zone, press break plays would call for a one-man front press break offense.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

How to Beat a Press: Getting Lined Up

  • Against a 1-2-2 press, position your two offensive guards slightly farther away from the basket than the farthest defender or the top man in the 1-2-2, but in a position where the passer can still get the ball in

In a full court 1-2-2, the top defensive man will usually be even with the basketball, while the middle defensive players will be positioned around their own free throw line and the back two defenders will stand near midcourt. In a half-court 1-2-2 trap, the top defender will be near midcourt, the middle two defenders will be be about 10 feet from midcourt on each side of the floor, just outside lane width while the back two defenders will be on each side of the lane about 10 feet from the basket.

  • Regardless of what kind of defensive press a team plays, position one player in the middle of the floor at all times

This forces the defense to defend the middle, which is one of the most vulnerable areas of the 1-2-2. The middle player should be stationed about 15 feet from the two high guards in a full-court situation or around the free throw to three-point line in a half-court set, and make themselves as a passing option throughout the entirety of the press break.

  • Regardless of what kind of defensive press a team plays, position one player deep so the defense has to respect and cover him, forcing their defense to spread further into the backcourt and create more openings

Your last player should work the sideline or wing area on the opposite side of the court from the deep man. This ensures that one defender cannot guard both of those players.

Keys to a Successful Press Breaker

  1. Pass the ball against the press instead of trying to dribble against it
  2. Presses or traps involve double-teaming the dribbler or the ball to create turnovers. By passing ahead, your team gains an advantage because you have extra players because of the double-team
  3. Pass the ball to the middle when it is open but do not force your passes. Getting the ball to the middle will break the trap and probably create an easy basket, but if the defense is doing a good job of covering it up, other options will be open
  4. Look for good shots and do not play into the defense's hands by taking quick or rushed shots. One of the goals of a press or trap is to speed up play -- it is important to take your time and find a good open shot
  5. When breaking any kind of basketball press, one critical thing for the offensive team to remember is the use of pass fakes to avoid quick, full or half-court traps

High school and youth basketball coaches often incorporate basketball drills to work on pump fakes at practice, mostly for this reason or other times that the team has to prepare for a tough man-to-man defense or aggressive zone defense.