Why You Need To Focus More On Transition Defense - CoachMattDennis.com

Why You Need To Focus More On Transition Defense

The Why Behind Transition Defense

Teams miss over half of their field goal attempts each game. This makes transition defense after a missed shot an important part of the game and one area I think is under coached. If you're looking to give your team an edge this is where you'll find it.

Most coaches focus on their team's half court defense. The piece they miss is that half-court defense starts with transition defense. The better transition defense your team has the better half-court defense they'll have too. If you're thinking my team gets back then you need to keep reading, there is more to effective transition defense than just getting back.

Let look at why transition defense is so important.

I coached a team that went 19-2 and won several games by a significant margin. Over the course of those 21 games we shot a field goal percentage of 45.3% (which is pretty good). This means that 54.7% of our shots missed and there was a chance for us to play transition defense. This means that over half of our field goal attempts may result in us having to play transition defense.

If we dive a little deeper and take into account out of bounds plays, timeouts, quarters, half time, and free throws I think the 54.7% grows to a larger percentage. Looking specifically at free throws, we were a pretty good free throw shooting team at 71.6%. We still had 28.4% of our free throws miss and that means there was a high possibility we were going to play transition defense, especially since the defense has such a big advantage when lining up for the free throw attempt.

All of this leads me (and hopefully you) to believe transition defense is a huge part of a teams ability to compete and offer them a chance at winning games, especially big games.

Designing Your Transition Defense

The end goal of all transition defense is to stop the other team from scoring easily. How to go about accomplishing this varies from team to team. Let's look at the four main types of transition defense:

1. Get Back

The Get Back transition defense is what most teams do, run back and get ready for the offensive attack to come at you. In my opinion this is the least effective because it allows the offense to set-up, get organized, and have a plan of attack as you sit back and wait.

2. Pick-Up-The-Ball

Pick Up The Ball transition defense is effective in slowing down the offense. Some teams designate a player to pick up the ball no matter who brings the ball up the floor, while others tell the person who was matched up defensively with the ball handler to pick the ball up right away. No matter who defends the ball the offense now has to worry about a defender and can't strole down the floor and set-up an offense as easily as they can in the Get Back approach.

3. Match-Up

The Match-Up transition defense is basically smashing the first two options together into one. Your team would match-up with the person they are guarding right away after the opponent secured the ball. This may be off a missed shot or a made basket that is being taken out of bounds. The pressure is typically a token pressure that isn't made to get the offense to turn the ball over, but it causes a disruption when trying to bring the ball up the floor quickly and makes the point guard work overtime while making decisions and trying to set an offense up.

4. Press

Using a press in transition defense is more common on a made basket but there are teams that press after missed field goals attempts, too. Unlike the Match-Up transition defense that was just covered, the Press transition defense has the goal of getting the offense to turn the ball over or take a quick, poor shot. This style of transition defense requires the most time and practice to truly be effective, but once a team learns how to get pressure on the offense they can create a lot of turnovers and scoring opportunities.

Choosing A Defensive Transition Approach

In choosing which approach you want to use in your team's transition defense you need to ask yourself three important questions and fourth if you really want to dive deeper into things. After you determine the answer to the first threes questions you'll be able to match up the goals you have to the right transition defense and then be able to communicate to your team what they need to do on the court.

1. What do I want my transition to do?

  • Slow the ball down
  • Disrupt the flow of a fast break or early offense
  • Get the ball out of the primary ball handlers possession
  • Take away a lay-up and to shoot outside
  • Take away a quick 3 point shot and drive to the basket (maybe you have a 6'9 big)
  • Get the half-court defense set and ready


2. When does defensive transition begin?

  • Once a shot is put up
  • Once the other team has the ball
  • Once the ball crosses half-court or volleyball line
  • Once the other team is a scoring threat


3. When should defensive pressure begin?

  • On the rebound
  • On the outlet pass
  • At the half-court line, volleyball line, first pass in the offense


4. Additional Questions To Further Develop You Transition Defense

  • Do you pick up the ball full court?
  • Should you pressure or trap the rebounder?
  • How many players should get back and where should they get back to?
  • How many rebounders should you send to the offensive boards?
  • Should you match-up once back or take a person in an area?


There is no way I can answer all of these questions for your team. All I want you to do is reflect on how you’re teaching transition defense along with how often you’re reteaching it. If your players don’t understand the importance of transition defense you are at a big disadvantage in most games, but certainly when you come up against a team who limits your offense to one shot and wants to push the ball fast.

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Transition Defense Drills

Drill #1 - 4 v 5 Get Back Drill

transition defense drill 1

In 4 v 5 Get Back your players will have to communicate as the defense is short handed. A good measure as to how well your team is doing in transition defense is how long it takes the offense to score. If they offense doesn't score in the first 5-7 seconds your transition defense is doing well, if they get a stop they're doing great.

Drill #2 - Line Across

transition defense drill 2

Line Across is a staple drill in many programs, especially if your team is a Get Back team that just wants to set up the half-court defense. The nice thing about his drill is you can use any of the transition defense coverages listed above with it. The bad thing is the drill isn't game like, at no point do all of the players line up this way. You could vary the drill by lining the players up for a free throw attemp to make the drill more game like.

Drill #2 - Change Drill

transition defense drill 3

The Change Drill takes a minute or two for your players to get used to it, but once the do it is a great drill. At any point during the game a turnover can happen and your transition defense has to be ready to perform. This drill may be the most game like and truly tell you how your transition defense is performing.

One last thought on transition defense. Coaches drill, drill, and drill half court defense. What would happen if your transition defense didn’t allow the other team to come down and set-up their half court offense so easily. Would it be worth the time in practice to learn how to disrupt the offense before it ever gets set up? Just a thought.

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