And it’s a great question.
First let me say that I think it is important that you do have a system of play defensively. You need to have a philosophy that says "this is how we are going to defend." It needs to be surrounded by rules, principles and teaching but you must have a system as a centerpiece.
Let me state that I firmly believe that are a lot of different ways to play the game successfully — especially on the defensive side. If you look at the men’s game, you can look at three of the best teams in the nation and see three different systems of play.
Syracuse - great zone team
Duke - primary man to man team
Florida - excellent pressing team
During my younger days, two of the best teams in the country were Indiana and North Carolina. It was Bob Knight who played exclusively man to man defense, and Dean Smith who utilized a multiple defensive system. Coach Knight would say that it was “simplicity and execution” vs. “surprise and change,” though I believe execution is a big part of both.
So while it is important to know that the game can be played in a variety of ways, there are still some considerations I think coaches should give thought to.
Here are a few things that I think any good defensive systems would have:
1. A good defensive system needs a consistent set of guidelines and principles that govern it and certainly some set rules. I believe that defense is more “rule” oriented than offense.
2. A good defensive system needs to fit the players you have available. If you are on the high school level, you inherit the players that play for you. If you are on the collegiate level, you sometimes have a certainly type of player that you can recruit. Does your defensive system fit those players? Too often, coaches see a particular coach be successful and want to adapt his/her system of play and this can often time be a mistake. Do you have the make-up of a team that can play the way you want to play? If not, you must adjust your system. On the collegiate level you can attempted to adjust your recruiting.
3. A good defensive systems needs to be flexible. I believe this even if you primarily play one set defense. The programs I have been involved with have been man-to-man defensive teams. Yet I think it is imperative that you can defend ball screens more than one way. I think it makes a major difference if you can defend the low post more than one way. I really believe that good defenses have a Plan A and a Plan B.
4. A good defensive system needs allow you to beat/compete with the best teams in your league. I see teams that play a certain way (offensively and defensively) and they are successful to an extend but are unable to beat the best in their league or advance in the post-season. Give thought to what it takes to compete with those elite schools in your conference and make sure you defense gives you a chance to do just that.
5. A good defensive system needs to have a means in which it can allow a team to comeback from a deficit. All teams fall behind and must play catch-up at some point and it is even more critical in the post-season. What can your system of play do to get you back in a game?
6. A good defensive system should have a transition defense philosophy. Again, it doesn’t matter if you are man-to-man, zone or multiple, what are the guidelines for your team getting back and being ready to defend?
7. A good defensive system is backed up by good, formulated practice plans on a daily basis. Regardless of what defense you play, it is the teaching that allows it to be successful.
8. A good defensive system is given the amount of importance and relevance from the coaching staff that helps a team understand why it is necessary for success. As Don Meyer would say, “It’s not what you teach, it’s what you emphasize.”
9. A good defensive system should have a system of communication. Regardless of the type of defense you play, all good defenses communicate. Coach Krzyzewski has three phases of basketball: offense, defense, and communication. It much more than just “talking.” You communicate with your voice, your ears, your eyes, and your body.
A couple of quick thoughts in regard to a good defensive system of play, especially as it relates to man to man defense in the half-court is that I think in todays game you have to have a plan that:
...has a strategy to defend the low post
...has a strategy to defend dribble penetration
...has a strategy to defend ball screens
Now certainly there are other things involved in good defense, but these three areas to me seem like where offensive teams are scoring from the most.
Within our defense, we have our “daily to-do list” of areas we want to cover in some form — whether it be in a part-method drill or through the emphasis of a whole-method drill. For us, things that our important daily include:
1. Transition Defense
2. Defending the Dribble
3. Post Defense
5. Contesting Shots
6. Help and Recover
I could include communication in this list but it is a part of each one. But the point is, communication is taught and stressed each day.
Again, regardless of your style or system of play, you should have a list of daily things to cover in order to build or grow your defense. They don’t have to be the things I listed above but there should be a list of your systems defensive priorities.