The shot clock and defense in high school basketball

During the high-school playoffs, after watching games played with and without a shot clock, I wrote about the need for a shot clock in high-school basketball. I previously wrote about the effect that a shot clock has on skill development because of an increased number of repetitions, with an emphasis on offensive skills, but defense is impacted by the shot clock as well. 

When I wrote earlier this month about the shot clock, several coaches from non-shot clock states suggested that the lack of a shot clock was superior because teams had to come and get the ball if they wanted it. I lamented that it was basketball, not keep away, but it is an interesting point.

When I think about coaching in a non-shot clock state, I immediately gravitate to riskier defenses. When I coached freshmen in Utah, we pressed even though we were not very good at it because I tired of watching teams hold the basketball. I tried to play 15 players in every half of every game, whereas other coaches used 6 or 7-men rotations. When a team held the ball for a minute or more on a possession, it made it that much harder to substitute. Players would play for three minutes, but maybe only touch the ball 2-3 times!

Do riskier defenses teach defensive fundamentals? Possibly, but not definitely. As I officiated basketball in a state without a shot clock this season, I noticed team after team that employed terrible presses. They put three players in the front court to trap and force a turnover, and the other two players in the key protecting their basket. Long passes over the front three players were widely available, and many teams had no problem breaking the press.

At the time, I thought these were terrible presses. In retrospect, I think it was more about pace and the shot clock. Sure, they risked a 3v2 on almost every possession, but they protected the basket and forced quick jump shots. They increased the pace. The offense did not slow down because they thought they were shooting good, open shots, but they were not shooting layups. They may have been good shots, but the coaches appeared willing to allow players to shoot 15-foot jump shots in an effort to increase the pace of the game.

Almost no defense was played unless the offense inbounded the ball short and the defense trapped. The front defenders spent most of the game trailing the play, looking to tip balls, and the bigger players stood under the basket waiting to rebound.

What does that teach defensively?

Would these coaches change their presses or their defense with a shot clock? I don’t know. Personally, I know that a shot clock would change my coaching. I rarely press with a shot clock unless the personnel fits with a press. I focus more on solid man-to-man defensive principles, such as forcing contested jump shots. Without a shot clock, however, I would employ riskier defenses.

This is a forgotten argument with regards to the shot clock. Without a shot clock, teams have to gamble more. In terms of developing players for the next level, the gambling defenses often develop bad habits. Is this a positive outcome from not using a shot clock?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

1 thought on “The shot clock and defense in high school basketball

  • I had a friend who coached in a state (NH) with no shot clock. He did not like it because he felt extending the defense put them at a disadvantage because many teams would look to break the press and not score and if they didn’t force a turnover his team could expend a ton of energy on a long possession and end up spending 70% of the game on defense because the other team was content to break the press and then run their offense looking for a lay up.

    Obviously, not every team would employ that strategy but it is something that coaches in non shot clock states have to think about. I coached at the freshman level in a different state with a :30 second shot clock and felt it had a positive effect on the game. It forced teams to look to score but if they wanted to run a continuity offense they had time to do so. As far as any complaints that it would force kids to rush or hurry and take bad shots, I didn’t see any evidence of that, or at least no more than normal at the freshman level.

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