If we think about the Pack Line Defense, we are going to see a variation, a modification, more aggressive mode of man-to-man defense. The main difference between these defensive sets is the off-ball focus. In man to man defensive set, our off-ball help defenders are taking care of the passing lanes while on the Pack Line, off-ball defenders are focused on protecting the dribble penetration corridors while everyone is in this imaginary field that is 16 feet far from the basket.
Man to Man Defense
Pack Line Defense
Notice that in Pack Line Defense all players are not further then 16 feet from the rim positioned to prevent the drive. In traditional man-to-man defense, the players are denying the pass.
When in Pack Line defense all players are inside the shaded yellow area protecting against penetration. In traditional man-to-man defense, the players are denying the pass one pass away.
The main principle in conducting the Pack Line Defense is that we have one player who is making pressure on the ball and four defenders who are ready to swoop the ball handler if he gets by the on-ball defender. The only time that is not forbidden to go and protect the passing lane and to try and deny the assist is when the dribbling is stopped as a result of a high-intensity defense.
The other two situations where the Pack Line Defense needs to be defined in a specific way is when an offensive player becomes a cutter or a screener. Those situations are going to be elaborated separately.
The plan behind this kind of defense is to deny the ball handler to take a dribble penetration but to think about shooting the ball. If the offense has the feel that 5 players are ready to jump on the ball, then they become a bit discouraged and are looking for other options.
If the offense is a good passing team that likes to swing the ball a lot, the next defender has to be good closing out, with his hands swarming high in the air to prevent those rhythm shots. As we all know, bad closeouts are where the good offense starts, you will have to work on those as much as you can. If the closeout is good, then the defender is going to be able to provide good on-ball pressure.
If you need some help with practicing Close-Outs, you can always read our Close Outs Article.
Again, we need to emphasize the most important thing about the Pack Line Defense… We have an aggressive on-ball defense and we have other 4 players positioned in a manner that they are ready to flank the ball handler.
The only good way to play the pack-line defense is to be patient, to be smart, to be focused because what we really want with this defensive setup is to deny dribble penetration, to put ball handler under pressure so he makes a bad pass, to double on the post and to contest shots as much as possible.
In order for the pack line defense to be effective, all of the 5 players have to work together in order to succeed. If we have one player lurking around and making mistakes, the whole system is going to collapse.
Advantages of Pack Line Defense
1. Denies Dribble Penetration – Because the setup demands 4 players to be near the basket (16 feet or less away from the rim), and at the same time oriented toward the ball, driving the lanes is going to be denied for most of the offensive players.
2. Discludes Back-Door Cutting – The geometry of the Pack Line Defense is constructed in a way that there is really no way for the cutters to be open. If Both when the ball is on the wing or the corner, pack line positioning demands two players inside the paint. As the cutters need open post positions with their direct defenders protecting the passing lane, getting the ball near the basket with the pass is not probable.
3. Field Goal Percentage Of The Opponent is Lowered – Tough, highly contested jump shots at the end of the clock are heading your way if your team is patient and if they are not gambling on defense in terms of necessary double teams and steal attempts.
4. Better Rebounding – Sagging off their players are going to put your players in a good position to secure the rebounding domination… as long as your players tend to box out.
5. No Easy Points Allowed – This advantage is a direct result of the denial of the dribble penetration. The most desirable spot in the basketball is a layup, and in the Pack Line Defense, layups are off limits. While everybody on the defense is inside the paint, the things that are left are long twos and three-point shots.
6. In a Help Position, all the Time – The default setup in this type of defense is really a help position all the time
Weaknesses of Pack Line Defense
1. Three-Point Shots are a Threat – As the geometry of the defense is like we described, with focus on the ball and off the shooters, a team that moves the ball very good and has good shooters can really present a number of troubles for this kind of defense.
2. No Shot Clock Leagues – If you ask me this rule should be banned forever in any leagues on any levels of basketball. If there is no shot clock offense can swing the ball around until there is a bad closeout or an open shot.
3. Patience is the key – The problem with this defense is that it provides many opportunities for the double teams which lead to stealing opportunities. If your players fall for those chances and they start to chase for steals, the defense can collapse very fast.
The 8 Areas of Pack Line Defense
1. Transition Defense in the Pack Line
Transition defense is where it all starts. How you run, how you defend early is going to set the tone for the rest of the play. There are two basic principles in defending transition:
1. No easy points in transition.
2. “Always take a guy out if he loafs back during a game” – Dick Bennett
Before anything, there must be a plan if we want to play a good defense overall, and it all starts from the offense in terms who is going for an offensive rebound and who is running back. There are two options:
1. Light Version: This is the safe version because just your big guys are flanking the glass while all of the guards are sprinting back. Three players back, who are trained properly are more than enough to stop almost any transition offense.
2. Intense Version: Send 3 or 4 players for the ball and a player who is nearest to the half court to run back on defense (or if you send two back then the nearest and the shooter).
I personally use Light Version with my youth teams and when I play seniors I like to send 3 players to crash the boards. And even if they do not catch the ball, they can put pressure on to opposing players early so there is really no harm done.
Younger players are not as disciplined as the seniors so they tend to overdo things, so it is safer to send 3 players back and let the other 2 to do their things and even make a mistake without consequences.
2. Defense on the ball handler in the Pack Line
Do not listen to the opinions that there should be no on-ball pressure. Think for yourself...If there is no ball pressure, the offense can get out of stance and scan the floor and look for an easy pass, and your players are positioned to deny the drives and not passes. If there is no pressure the pass is going to be easy, and if the passes are easy your team is going to run a lot.
You need to pressure the ball a LOT. The idea of the Pack Line defense is to make ball handlers drive so the second player on defense can put him in a difficult position to pass under pressure.
So, the ball should be attacked and not contained. We want the offense to make bad decisions by putting them in a position to drive and to get caught and to make bad decisions out of those positions.
The reason why we can allow so much pressure on the ball is that the opposite players know that there is so much help on the driving lanes that usually players will quit and give the ball to the next guy. This benefit of the pack-line defense is usually underrated. If you have done your scouting, and you know who is the best ball handler on the opposing team and who is not so good making some plays on the drives, then you can target those good ones with extream pressure, while you can go a bit easy at first with the bad dribblers and at some point try to overrun them with aggression.
One more thought about the hard pressure on the ball. It has to be trained a lot. Implementing hard defense on the ball has to be supported by rigorous training sessions.
3. Off Ball Defense in the Pack Line Defense
Help defenders need to be inside the pack line and ready to do their job anytime anywhere. Concentration plays a big part and also there has to be a big amount of understanding of the spacing and tendencies of the offense.
Another important thing is the stance and readiness to react. No, help defenders should not be in a basketball defensive stance, but in a sports stance ready to run. We can call it half of the full basketball stance, or a posture between the defensive stance and the normal standing position. Why? From the sport stance, your player can both go into defensive stance or into the sprint if the situation requires him to something of the two. It is much slower to go into the sprint from the defensive stance, so if the players are late, the closeout is not going to be as good as it should be.
This is the only time when your players should run toward their men and be persistent to deny any pass opportunities.
Players on defense have to be able to constantly readjust their position to the correct gap as the ball is swung around from player to player on offense.
4. Close Outs in the Pack Line Defense
Closeouts are essential if we want our Pack Line defense to work. As all the off-ball defenders are always in a help position, that means the number of closeouts will be big and frequent.
As much as it is important how do they recover, maybe the crucial part is when the movement should begin. And it really should start at the moment the ball handler starts the passing motion. The moment ball leaves the hands is the moment the defense should start flying towards the pass target.
Half Way sprint Half Way small steps – Small steps are going to give a defender possibility to react if there is a dribble penetration going on.
- High Hands – It is always good to emphasize the offense that you are going to contest every shot they take.
- No Baseline – This area is off limits because it is very hard to cover some passing angles without leaving somebody alone on the shot.
5. Don’t Give Up Baseline in the Pack Line Defense
Giving up baseline is not good because of the coverage under the basket. No matter how you rotate after losing baseline, there is not going to be possible to cover open shot opportunities...as far as the Pack Line is Concerned. With the pack line, we want to force our players in the middle of the court where our help defenders are.
6. Guarding the Post in the Pack Line Defense
There are two ways to guard the post:
1. Before the post gets the ball
In this segment, you can deny the entry pass to the post. You can either 3/4 front the post from the high side and try to confuse the passer, or you can front the post in a situation when the ball is under the level of the free throw line. Either way, you will need another player to guard that lob pass which is easy buckets for the offense.
3/4 High Deny
2. When the ball is in the post
First thing every low post defender needs to do is to slip behind his player and establish a firm stance. Sometimes, if the offensive post feels the strong resistance immediately, his mindset can change from trying to score to trying to find an open shooter.
In the early Pack Line Defense days, there was the rule to double the post every time the ball comes to him. The faster it goes out of the paint the better. This can be very useful against the teams that have dominant bigs and bad shooters.
So the first thing you need to do is decide whether you’re going to double the post or not. Traditional pack line defense doubles anyone in the post. The great thing about this strategy is that the players don’t have to decide whether to quickly go and double or not. They KNOW they have to straight away. So there is no confusion.
And, there are no exceptions to the post defense. No matter if the one post players are dominant and the other one is not, every time we want to send cavalry to help. Why? Because it is a plan with no exceptions..we do not want to confuse our players or to change our habits.
1. Choke the Post – This involves bringing the closest perimeter player down looking for a deflection if the post puts the ball on the ground and to force the big to pass the ball back out.
2. Big to Big – Many coaches like doubling big-to-big because they’re close and usually are the taller and longer defenders on the court. The guards are also quicker to rotate.
It is very important to prevent High Low passes. This is one of the main things defending the post. If the Big receives the ball underneath the basket, it is most likely that he is going to score because he can go either way.
7. Defending Screens in the Pack Line Defense
This is the most individual decision that a coach has to make but without switching. If the players with then they lose their usual position and easily loose composure. There has to be a lot of fighting on the screens, a lot of getting skinny by the on-ball defenders and a lot of good positioning. If you want to keep that aggressive edge and identity, then Hard Hedge is the thing for you.
8. Rebounding in the Pack Line Defense
Boxing out is a must. No matter how small the defender is, if he knows how to box out, he is going to get the ball first. If you take a look at some of the best rebounders in the history of the game, all of them positioned themselves flawlessly and all of them boxed out.
And yes, boxing out starts with the shot motion and not after the ball has missed the basket. If everything is done well, the ball is going to fall in the paint area and a player that guarded the shooter can just run underneath the basket and start the offense.
The best rebounders often do not need to jump.
Pack Line defense is a team effort driven towards the denial of the drive penetration from the offense. This kind of defense can be played on any level of basketball, and the proof of this is the NCAA and the March Madness. This defense can be highly effective with the youth basketball because there are really no establish shooters yet and here and there somebody can have a tall kid that is dominating just because of his hight. The other good thing about the Pack Line Defense is the development of a good attitude. It is teaching kids to be aggressive, and it is teaching them to help each other.
We all know that the defense is one man guarding the ball and other for helping him.
If you want to expand your basic knowledge about the Pack Line Defense, go rent a DVD by clicking on the link below. We at Hoopsking have some of the best video collection of explanations, drills, concepts and ideas about how should the Pack Line Defense should be played.