Breakdown With Tom Izzo: Techniques and Drills for On-Ball and Help-Side Defense

This week’s player development feature breaks down proper technique and strategies for on-ball and help-side defense. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo walks you through a series of drills aimed at developing the appropriate spacing, footwork, movements and communication needed on defense so athletes can benefit at every level and the actions become second nature.

Breakdown of Drills

Start with two lines out at the top of the key. The following drills will feature two offensive players and two defensive players going 2 v 2. One player will start with possession of the ball and the other offensive player will be off to the wing a bit. Meanwhile, one defender will play on the ball at first while the other is in help defense.

Drill 1

Begin with the two offensive players going back and forth passing the ball while in place. At the same time, have the defensive players keep switching from on-ball to help-side defense. The defense should always be working at a very fast pace with frequent arm movements.

Keys to remember on defense:
-The “line of the ball” is the direction that the ball can go. A help defender should always be one “big step” off the line of the ball.
-Keep your body between the ball and the basket. Coach Izzo prefers that players go chest-to-chest and shoulder-to-shoulder on defense so they don’t open up their feet up and funnel their man to the sideline.
-Be in a help position versus a deny position.
-Pressure the ball with one hand. One hand should be up in the face of the man with the ball and one hand be down to defend, always switching depending on which side the ball is on.


Drill 2

Next, integrate pivoting and arm gestures with the ball for the offensive players in order to simulate typical game action and quick movements.

Keys to remember:
-Defenders should always move on the pass, not on the catch. When a pass is made, the defensive man is already moving from on-ball to help-side.
-Move with the outside foot to the direction of the ball. After two steps, a player should be in proper position.
-Never get the outside foot “up.” Players will have a harder time getting back into a play for on-ball defense and will be a step behind.
-Always keep down low and take one step before pushing off.

Drill 3

Now have the offensive players take one dribble in either direction before passing. This puts additional pressure on the defense and forces them to keep proper positioning and techniques.
Keys to remember:
-Your goal is to beat the ball into the offensive guy’s hands.
-With a dribble, the defense now must really anticipate. The minute a help-side defender picks up the man, he releases. He steps in but never changes the line of the ball and is still parallel to the line. The help defender shouldn’t jump to the ball.
-Move to where the ball is thrown and then look. Don’t look and then move.
-Always have four or six “defensive eyes” on the ball at all times.


The drills and techniques covered in this feature can be found in Championship Productions’ DVD “Tom Izzo’s Basketball Smorgasbord of Drills and Basketball Wisdom.” To check out additional videos in our exclusive Tom Izzo collection, click here.

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