Triangle Defense: The Basis For Teaching Team Defense

Triangle defense describes the floor position of each defensive player in relationship with the player they are defending, with the ball, and with the basket.

The defender on the ball has only one rule and that is to maintain a body position that will block a direct path to the basket by the dribbler.  I call this “Ball-Me-Basket”.

The other four defenders’ floor positions can be described by two triangles.  These are:  “Ball-Me-Man” and “Man-Me-Basket”.

The triangles of each of these players are constantly changing shape as the ball and offensive players move about.  The closer one’s man comes to the ball, the tighter the defender is to their man, and the flatter the triangle becomes, until we are in over-play, one pass away from the ball.  The farther one’s man is off the ball, the farther off that man the defender can play.  This will make the triangle wider and provide the defender in this position better vision on both the man and the ball.  This also puts this defender in a position closer to the ball to be able to react if help should be needed to stop the dribbler from penetrating. Also, by being off the offensive player, this defender can better react to counter any move their man may make. This position also puts the defender closer to the basket than the man being guarded, giving an edge for rebounding. 

7 Points Why Triangle Defense Works

      1.   It puts pressure on the ball and the offensive players closest to the ball.

2.   It allows defensive players off the ball to play in “help”.

3.      No defender is blind to the ball.  All defenders know where the ball is and their man at the same time.

      4.      It teaches principles for both man and zone defenses.

      5.      It provides built-in automatics for stopping all kinds of cuts, flashes and dribble penetration.

      6.      It provides a true team, “selfless”, defensive style of play.

      7.   It gives confidence to the player defending the ball knowing that “help” will be there if it’s needed.


We need to understand the rules regarding the relationship between the defensive player, the ball and the basket, and teach these by constantly drilling and evaluating their enforcement.  The closer the ball is to the player you are guarding, the closer you are to that player, and the tighter the triangle.  The farther away the ball is, the farther off your man you can play, in ”help” defense.  The triangle is looser as the ball goes away. For every pass the ball is away from your position, you are one step off your man, toward the ball and toward the basket. 

If you are guarding the wing or a post player on the ball side, you’re right there in overplay on your man, up against the offensive player’s body.  However, the wing defender on the other side of the floor is 2 to 3 passes away (wing to guard, guard to guard, guard to your wing) so that defender will be approximately three steps off the man toward the ball and the basket.  Off the ball defenders will draw two triangles: “Ball-Me-Man” and “Man-Me-Basket”.  Weak-side defenders, on the side of the floor away from the ball, will not cross the imaginary mid-line of the court (that line would be drawn from basket to basket).  Doing so would unbalance the defense and the defender would be too far away from their man to be able to get back.  The only exception would be if a defender were near this line and was needed to help another defender who was being beat off a drive to the basket.