What’s the 1-3-1 Basketball Press Strategy?

15th November 2019
Basketball is one of the sports that requires the most team strategy. In fact, coaches from other sports often look to borrow ideas for their own sports. One of these strategies is the 1-3-1 press.

In basketball, one of the defense strategies that work to stifle the opponent is the 1-3-1 press strategy. This strategy slows the other team’s attack, prevents them from recovering the ball in their court and helps your team score more easily. This article explains how it works.

This is a useful strategy that is even more efficient when paired with half-court defense and gives an opportunity to catch the opponent unaware. This is an alternative to the “press forward to score and fall back to defend if we don’t score,” strategy.

Constantly using a mundane type of play allows your opponent to anticipate your next play, and this will easily break your defense.

Different types of press strategies

Before deciding which press strategy to use, we should perform a brief analysis of the situation and of the opponent. You would ask yourself the following questions about what you want:

  • Do you want to slow the other team’s attack?
  • Do you want the opposite team to have downtime?
  • What are the opposite team’s strengths?

Once you do this, there are many types of press strategies that you can use depending on what you want. Among them is the 1-3-1 press strategy.

What is the 1-3-1 press strategy?

The first goal of this defense strategy is to apply pressure on the other teams serve. You could get a five-second violation in order to recover possession. However, the main goal of this press strategy is preventing the ball reaching half court and in the opponent’s possession.

First, give the opponent access to the laterals when defending. Each player must know the two different divisions of the defense court.

  • Transversally: the horizontal imaginary line at free throw line.
  • Longitudinally: the imaginary line connecting both baskets.

These two determine what right-side and left-side are.

Basic 1-3-1 press strategy concepts

There are two basic concepts for this press strategy.

  • 2 to 1 on the corners: this is obvious because the opponent will have one less direction in which to stop you.
  • Prevent the central attacking player from getting the ball.
There are many press strategies to choose from

Considering these principles, the most advanced player in the press formation must defend, with their feet perpendicular, and not in the direction of the ball.

Pressure distribution

The player from your team that is most forward should stay at the free throw line. He should have his feet in the direction of the end of the court. Thus, he will be able to reposition them in the direction of the ball or to the side you prefer to have the attack.

The next player should be near the three-point line, and there you will stagger your following players in position. The central player is a little forward from half court to protect potential long passes or breaks in the defense.

The pressure

There is more than one way to use this press strategy since it depends on the opponent’s reactions. If the opponent passes the ball to the side where your most advanced player is, this player must fall back slightly to stop them. Meanwhile, the base player protects against passes towards the center.

However, if on the contrary, the opponents pass the ball to the center, we must assess which side they choose to attack. Furthermore, remember to never give them, under any circumstance, the opportunity to have the center.

At the same time, our fourth player should stay at the same level as our second player. Meanwhile, our third player must fall back to half court. Here our defense turns more into a 1-2-1-1.

When the rival chooses a side

When our opponent finally chooses their side of attack, we execute the play similarly. Our player, located on the three-point line, will advance to the player with the ball and close the lateral. There, the lateral player will stop them.

Both players now have to advance in the direction that the point player left open. Once they are there, they have to pay close attention to potential passes that may break the press strategy.

The lateral and central player block any passes that may break the press strategy.

Additionally, the player that closes the pressure must look to intercept long passes.

If our three-point line is breached we must remain calm and avoid frantically running toward the ball. In these cases, we must fall back to anticipate the ball and recuperate the defensive position.

We can then combine this emergency solution with a zone press. If we see that one of our zones falls, it’s good to press one on one.

And so, on paper, this press strategy may seem easy to execute, but in practice, it may be a little tougher. Here is a video to help you visually understand the concept of this press strategy.

  • Fewell, J. H., Armbruster, D., Ingraham, J., Petersen, A., & Waters, J. S. (2012). Basketball teams as strategic networks. PloS One7(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047445
  • Ben Abdelkrim, N., Castagna, C., El Fazaa, S., & El Ati, J. (2010). The effect of players’ standard and tactical strategy on game demands in men’s basketball. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research24(10), 2652–2662. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e2e0a3