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One of the greatest innovations of the coaching career of the legendary Dean Smith was his famed Scramble Defense.  This defense resulted from a trap within the framework of a man-to-man defense that then turned into a trapping defense with zone principles.  Many teams have attempted to replicate what Coach Smith pioneered at North Carolina and many have had great success with the Scramble Defense.

The defense was a result of what Dean Smith learned from Phog Allen at Kansas the year after Allen won his only NCAA Championship.  The 1952-53 Kansas Jayhawks were picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 7, but they made it all the way to the national championship game for the second straight season thanks to a defense that trapped certain ball-handlers.  This aggressiveness combined with the element of surprise gave Kansas a competitive advantage, one that Coach Smith would take with him to the Air Force Academy as an assistant to Bob Speer and later at North Carolina as the head coach.

Advantages of the Scramble Defense

Later in the article, I will discuss the goals of any pressure defense.  When a pressure defense like the scramble defense is implemented, the goals will become more easily attainable.  Like I said, I will save this for later.

However, there are two other big advantages that should also be taken into consideration.  The first of these is that the Scramble Defense is a great change-up from man-to-man defense.  Think of it this way: a dominant baseball pitcher can throw a fastball in the mid- to upper-90's but still has the devastating change-up that he throws in the low 80's that makes the hitters swing off of their front foot.  The Scramble Defense is a great change-up to your man-to-man defense and gives the other team's offense something to think about.

The other advantage is that the Scramble Defense is a great way to build team chemistry.  Because the defense allows any of the five players on defense can come up with steals, this defense is a great way to get everyone to play harder on the defensive end of the floor.  When this happens, players get excited, big plays happen, and the transition offense allows for easier scores on the other end.

Disadvantages of the Scramble Defense

Because the Scramble Defense is a gambling-type defense, there is the possibility of easy scores by the offense if the defense breaks down.  When this happens, the defense loses its potency and the other team's offense is able to score.  Sometimes, because of the nature of the Scramble Defense, this can be a two-on-one situation, but rarely does this happen.

Another disadvantage of the Scramble Defense is that if all five of the players do not play the defense the way it needs to be played, it can become disastrous.  You must have disciplined basketball players who understand their talents and their limitations.  If they do not, they can ruin the defense for everybody else.

Goals of Any Pressure Defense

If your team runs a pressure defense, there are three goals that should be established for any given possession.  During the course of the game, it will be to your advantage to determine the success rate of your defense based on whether or not the defense was successful in accomplishing these aims:

1) Steal the basketball.  If you steal the basketball you can start your transition offense and score easily.  Generate enough steals and you can win the game with your transition offense and your pressure defense.

2) Force a deadball turnover.  This is somewhat similar to #1 in that the other team's offense turns the basketball over thanks to the pressure.  However, this goes into a separate category considering that you cannot fast break off of a deadball turnover.  Instead, this is a time to take advantage of the other team losing an offensive scoring opportunity and you getting one as a result.

3) Rebound the first missed shot.  Teams that are able to get second-chance shots are more likely to win games.  If you are playing a pressure-type defense, you will be forcing contested shots.  Contested shots are more likely to be missed which means that you will need to get the rebound.  Also, if your team allows second-chance shots, you are giving the other team more scoring opportunities.

The bottom line is that every pressure defense should be designed in such a way to create more scoring chances for your team and fewer for your opponents.  Keep this in mind as we go through the intricacies of the Scramble Defense.

Types of Scramble Defense

In the Scramble Defense, there are two types of Scramble Defenses.  The first is the dribble trap and the second is the pass trap.  They are distinguished based on the action that takes place once the ball crosses a particular pick-up point.  For example, a half court dribble trap is what takes place when the point guard dribbles the ball across the half court line as he does in Diagram 1.  When this happens, the trap is sprung with the two nearest defenders to the trap acting as interceptors and the furthest defender from the ball becoming the goaltender.

Diagram 1

If the point guard attempts a reverse dribble, the Scramble Defense can still be sprung after the point guard sees the trap coming and reverses his field.  Diagram 2 shows the point guard being turned by X1 and seeing X2 coming for the trap.  X1 and X2 stay with the play and ultimately force the trap.

Diagram 2

The traps in the Scramble Defense off of the dribble can come from either in front or from behind.  Diagram 3 shows how the defense rotates when the trap is from in front of the dribbler while Diagram 4 shows what happens when the trap comes from behind.  When selecting a way to trap off of the dribble, it is best to pick one way and stay with it through the season.

Diagram 3

Diagram 4

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