“While the determination to play defense combined with the willingness to give up one’s body physically are more important than technique, to be truly outstanding on defense an individual and team must combine intelligent technique with great desire.”

Key Takeaways
  • Backscreens
  • Cross-screens
  • Downscreens

Defending the off-ball screens starts with on-the-ball pressure. Our terminology is to “heat them up” taking up as much space as possible between the offensive player with the ball and the defender. We want to have a hand up mirroring the ball or disrupting the vision of the offensive player with the ball while also keeping a hand out for any possible deflections. By applying pressure on-the-ball it can allow the weakside defenders time to get through any off-ball action occurring.

From on-the-ball pressure to help side communication.

“We could mention talking on every page of this book and it would not be wasted space.”

Coach Del Harris recognizes that talking on defense is invaluable to getting consistent stops. By giving an alert to a teammate about to be screened it allows them the ability to engage the offensive player about to cut, in addition to making the on-ball-defender aware to apply ball pressure (if not already).

Following the conversation amongst teammates; off-ball defenders have to eat space as quickly as possible to eliminate straight line passes for scoring opportunities. There are a variety of ways to fight through screens, but physicality is often essential to ensure there is not enough space between the cutter and the ball that looks inviting. In any off-ball screen these three things have to occur to be successful:

  1. Ball-Pressure
  2. Talk to Team
  3. Physicality to Eat Space


Often utilized in UCLA and Shuffle actions – back screens are difficult to defend because they tend to occur on the perimeter where there is the more space available to cut towards the rim.

This drill gives a glimpse of a screen-the-screener involving a shuffle cut and pin-down on the reversal.

  1. First thing to notice is the communication: purposeful and audible
  2. On the reversals all on-ball defenders are actively mirroring the ball to disrupt the vision & timing
  3. Coach Chris Mack (now at Lousiville) teaches backline principles emphasizing “Jump to the Ball.” After a pass off-ball defenders are to jump to the ball, then attempt to beat the cutter to the spot by eating as much space as possible after the screen.
  4. The helpside defender in the middle of the lane is there to bump or emergency switch, then immediately has to chase through a down screen recovering to defend on the ball.


Often seen from Flex, Swing, or Block-to-Block actions (Motion Weak) to get a cut from the weak-side available at the rim.

Coach Del Harris references four different ways to defend cross-screens:

  1. High-high and switch
  2. High-high and stay
  3. High-low and switch
  4. High-low and stay

The point Coach is intending to get across is the cutter can’t be left unattended in front of the rim without someone on the high side preventing a straight-line pass. In the clip from above, two things come to mind blow it up where the timing is completely off and the defender on the screener is positioned at the high side to bump the cutter if free to the rim.


The down screen (a.k.a. pin down) is a two-man action that typically involves a guard cutting off a screen towards the perimeter. Depending on the defense, an offensive player can utilize the screen to curl, cut to a spot, or fade (step-behind) to the corner for a scoring opportunity.

Defensively the same three principles apply – ball pressure, talk, and physical – with the additional scheme to execute.

“While the most important determining factor in having successfuldefense for any player or coach will be the measure of his (her) pure desire to get the job done, the knowledge of the various elements set forth in this book will be of great help.”

Brief Summary

This has been a book I have wanted to finish for quite some time now covering defensive principles from a long-time well respected coach from the NBA, author Del Harris. It is written exactly how I would imagine a coach to put together content entirely dedicated to defensive philosophy in basketball. There are a ton of diagrams, which at times can be hard to follow with the text because they are not always directly aligned, however are helpful in illustrating talking points. The entire book is predominantly written with a preferential philosophy towards side-line baseline style of play, so if there are staunch packline coaches out there this will not cater to you. Nonetheless, when addressing certain situations defensively Coach Harris recognizes all the possibilities that could exist with the end goal in mind to prevent points. At the end of the book there are a couple of pages with diagrammed drills, keep in mind this book was originally written in 1993 so don’t expect QR codes or links to websites for complementing videos.

All in all, I appreciated the transparency of the book. Like I said, it felt like a coach was writing it for another coach not to make sales to the general public. A few more anecdotes could make the book a little more entertaining, but if you are looking for a pure talk on defensive philosophy this gives great depth of situations, technique, and terminology.


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