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How the Wizards' pressing defense works

Examining the positives and negatives of Randy Wittman's attempt to install a pressing defense.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards unleashed a three-quarter court press against the Pistons to help bring them back from a 20-point deficit. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad of that pressing defense.

Randy Wittman’s press was reminiscent of Gary Williams’ pressing defense at Maryland. It’s not always designed to force turnovers, but at the very least, this press can slow down an opposing offense. By making them walk the ball up the court, making cross-court passes, the Pistons should begin their offense with about half the shot clock gone. There shouldn’t be enough time to run something too elaborate, and if the first option fails, there won’t be time for a second option.

This press can also force turnovers by trapping the ball-handler as soon as he crosses the half court line. The relaxed defense in the backcourt invites the offense to bring it up along the sidelines, while the off-ball defender denies a pass to the middle of the floor. When the ball-handler comes across halfcourt, a second defender comes to trap him, using the sideline and the half court line as extra defenders.

Of course, all of this requires good defensive communication. When the Wizards broke out the press in the third quarter, it looked like they weren’t all on the same page. On the first two pressing possessions, the Pistons were able to cross halfcourt, and trapping defenders were slow to react. Watch Martell Webster and Nene on these two possessions, as they don’t commit to the trap quickly enough. In fact, Nene gets completely strung along and he attempts to trap Rodney Stuckey at the top of the key, something that no coach would recommend.


On their third pressing possession, the team got on the same page for the most part. Nene commits to the trap as soon as the ball gets to halfcourt. The rotations leave the Wizards vulnerable to a mismatch in the post or an open shooter outside. However, things work out nicely, as the Pistons start their offense with 10 seconds left on the clock.


The Wizards changed it up on the next possession, and tricked the Pistons into slowing down their own offense. They set up their defense to look just like the usual press, but they never trap at half court. The Pistons have their offense ready for the trap that never comes, and the shot clock is again running low when they start their real offense.


Washington put together a nice string of pressing possessions that stunted the Pistons’ offense. However, all of that pressing can wear out a defense, as well. The press begins to fall apart when the players can’t scramble for the ball. In this case, Bradley Beal really shows his fatigue, and it costs the Wizards. Check out how winded Beal looks in these next two clips as he jogs around the floor, as opposed to the quick rotations that were made on the previous plays.


Once the Wizards got on the same page, the press worked nicely. But it’s doubtful that we will see this for more than a few possessions per game. Beyond the fact that it’s really hard to press NBA guards, you also need to make shots in order to set up your press, and the Wizards don’t make many shots. Regardless, it was nice to see Randy Wittman spice things up a little with the press.