Note: For those who consider themselves students of the game, this entry breaks down what it means to help the helper on defense.
“Help” or “weak side” defense is the foundation of team defense. The best defenses have five guys that understand how to help each other at all times and in every instance. It’s meant to be a cohesive chain reaction. Good offenses know how to break that chain, but when you understand rotations, you can at least be in the right place to force the more difficult outcome for the offense.
I was taught under something called a ‘midline’ defense, with the idea being to split the floor in half. The traditional ball-you-man principles applied (keeping yourself between the ball and the person you’re guarding) but the main objective of the defense is to wedge the ball towards help on the sideline or base line. I won’t be laying out the ‘midline’ defense here, but it is how I learned the rotational necessity of helping the helper on defense.
This is your typical shell drill set up with four offensive players in the perimeter slots. 2’s defender is at the free throw line in help position and 4’s defender is in position from the weak side as the initial helper.
In this case, 3’s drive will make 2’s defender the helper of the helper — it’s their responsibility to drop to the level of the ball and compensate for the initial helper. 1’s defender also drops to discourage cuts from “1” or “2” at the top.
As the helper of the helper, 2’s defender has the role I always love to play in a scramble situation on defense. You essentially have to guard two players — in this case “2” and “4”. This is why you drop to the level of the ball (and keep your back to the base line) so that you can see/feel both offensive players as they react to the action. This is where you learn that great defense is only achieved through communication.
If 3 is a mindful enough passer to make a skip pass to 4, I now take great pleasure in quarterbacking our rotations by acting and communicating.
In the event of a skip pass, it would be my job to close-out on “4” because I’m closer to the ball. As the ball is in flight I would start my (full sprint) close-out and yell for my teammate (most likely 1’s defender) to start making that next rotation to 2 in the event of a quick ball reversal.
3’s initial defender would slide up and match with 1.
4’s defender, the initial help, can stick with 3.
We’re matched up after a series of rotations that came from helping the helper on an initial drive.
This is just a quick draw-up of what helping the helper looks like out of your basic shell drill. There are so many ways to teach defense and rotations, but no matter the formation, this concept is practiced and understood by every great defense.