Their Lead Is Never Safe”–Defending the 4-Corners Delay Offense

By Coach John Kimble

The “4-Corners Delay Offense” is a valuable and very well known “man-to-man delay offense.”   There is probably not a high school or college coach that has not observed, studied, or utilized this offense.  Therefore, it stands to good reason that a defensive coach very likely would have to face this offense in late period situations or during games when their team is losing.

A general philosophy that can be applied to the “4 Corners Offense” is a philosophy that could (or should) be integrated into a coaching staff’s overall defensive philosophy. That philosophy can be simply stated in this manner.  Defensive teams have traditionally been cast as the “reacting team” to the opposition’s offensive team that is the “acting team.”  There are no rules in the game that requires the offensive team to be the “actor” and the defense to be the “reactor.”

If the defensive team studies the offense, it can generally uncover the offense’s objectives, its methodology, its strengths and its weaknesses. Understanding the opposition’s offense can then help the defensive team take the initiate and become the “actor”—forcing the offense to take the unaccustomed role as the “reactor.”  When the defense becomes the aggressor with a solid defensive plan of action, it can capitalize on the opposition’s weaknesses and neutralize the offense’s strengths.

The following is a defensive plan to counter the popular “4 Corners Offense” with the basic defensive concepts that must be utilized for the defense to be successful. This defensive plan must have defensive TIPS to be successful. TIPS represents (proper) Technique, (proper) Intensity, (proper) Positioning and (proper) Stance.

Part of the defensive plan is knowing the degree of restrictions of the type and number of shots the offensive team is supposed to take. This knowledge can become a huge advantage for the defense.  The more restrictive the opposition’s offense is because of various time and score situations, the greater degree of pressure the defensive team can afford to place on the offense.

If a defensive team knows that for no uncertain reasons, the offensive team will take any type of shot, the defensive team can place more pressure on the ball and gamble more without the risk of getting scored on. The more restrictive the delay offense is in regards to shots taken in that offense allows the defensive team to have more (calculated) pressure and gambling without having more risk of getting scored upon.

Knowing when, how and whom to substitute for defensive specialty players and re-sub offensive specialty players can pay huge dividends to the defensive team.

Knowing when, how and whom to foul on the opposing team can also increase the chances for the defensive team. Knowing how many timeouts are available and how they are to be used when a defender is falling out of bounds with the ball or during a loose ball “tie up” could be a deciding factor in determining the outcome of the game.

Even though defensive boxouts after opponents’ missed free throws are always important, these types of boxouts are even more crucial when the opposition is executing a delay game and is fouled.

Diagram 01 illustrates the typical offensive set for the 4 Corners Delay Game along with the placement of the defensive personnel. The defensive terminology is that the Defensive Guard (DG1) should defend 01.  Defensive Wings (DG2 and DG3) are assigned to defend 02 and 03 respectively.  Defensive Corners (DC4 and DC5) defend the opposition’s poorer ballhandlers (04 and 05).


The Defensive Guard should always be in a defensive stance that will provide maximum efficiency against dribble penetration. He/she should be only close enough for the officials to claim that the opposition’s dribbler is in a “closely guarded” situation and therefore subject to the five second count.  The Defensive Guard can also be in an overplay stance/position for any of five various reasons or a combination of any or all five reasons.

The first general reason to overplay the dribbler is to try to push/influence the ball out of the center of the court, so that the defender has a smaller amount of floor space to defend and ideally to create a defensive ballside and a defensive helpside.

The second reason for an overplay coincides with the first general purpose in that defensively we would like to force the ball closer to the sideline. This allows the defense to utilize the sideline as extra defender.  “Fanning” the dribbler towards one of the two sidelines can greatly benefit the defense.

The third reason for the overplay is strongly integrated with the first two reasons. Overplaying the ballhandler should allows the ball defender to be able to put more pressure on the ball and possibly push the dribbler out further away from the scoring lane and the basket.  This also pushes the ball out towards the ten second time line, so that this line also could be used as an extra defender.

The fourth reason for the overplay is to hopefully force the ballhandler to use the weaker dribbling hand—thus deteriorating the overall offense.

The fifth reason for the defensive overplay is to hopefully help keep the ball out of specific opponents’ hands who may be strong ballhandlers or good foul shooters (02 possibly) or possibly away from more effective offensive inside scorers (such as 04).

Diagram 01 also illustrates DG1 forcing 01 to his/her left hand-the weaker hand quite often. For sake of argument, we will hypothetically have determined that 02 is both a better ballhandler and foul shooter than 03.  We will also hypothesize that 04 is a better overall offensive player than 05 is.  These reasons would dictate that DG1 force 01 towards his/her left (with his/her weaker hand and away from both 02 as well as 04).


The two Defensive Wings (DW2 and DW3) must fight the natural inclination to sag off their opponent to be in more of “help-n-recover” locations to help stop the ballhandlers’ dribble penetration from the middle.  Stepping in to help the sole defender from middle dribble penetration simply “plays into the hands of the 4 Corner Offense—for the dribbler to dribble, stop and have an easy and safe outlet passes to designated “strong ballhandlers” to receive the ball out on top and to be able to then easily move the ball back to the center of the floor to restart the standard offensive techniques that make this offensive effective and dangerous.

Using a complete denial stance on the two wings encourages the ballhandler to pass less and dribble more instead of the (somewhat) normal and safe short pass to either wing to continue the delay offense. This must be a fully committed all-out denial by both wing defenders (regardless of which of the five defenders are in those two wing areas).

It must be emphasized by the coaching staff that it is fully aware that the Defensive Guard will very likely require defensive helps often and the help will be provided for them; but it cannot come from either Defensive Wing.


The defensive help that the ball defender frequently will need to stop full dribble penetration to the basket must come from electing one designated player from the pair of Defensive Corners (05 and 04).  This designated defender breaks up to attack the dribbler at a pre-set level on the court-most likely the free throw line or just slightly inside the line.  He/she becomes what is called the “Ball Man,” while the remaining Defensive Corner would be designated as the “Basket Man.”  As the ball is about to penetrate the lane and the “Ball Man” attacks the dribbler, the “Basket Man” breaks to the center of the lane to a symmetrical and balanced tandem.  As the two names accurately state, the first Corner Defender stops the dribble penetration while the second Corner Defender protects the basket.

A full court multi-purpose drill called the “3 on 2 to 2 on 1 Transition Drill,” (published in the December-2005 issue of Scholastic Coach and Athletic Director) will provide players with many offensive and defensive techniques as well as the specific techniques and skills for these two defenders to be successful.

It should be noted that even though the coaching staff demands hard pressure on the original ballhandler and also expects frequent dribble penetration by the dribbler, the original ball defender should remain aggressive on the dribbler and continue to hound the ball from behind or ideally one side of the dribbler or the other.

During this entire dribble penetration, both Wing Defenders (DW3 and DW2) continue to completely deny their men any form of a pitch-out pass. Diagram 02 illustrates DW3 and DW2 executing successful pass denial defense with DG1 forcing 01 to dribble penetrate to the basket (but with his/her weak hand).  The designated “Basket Man” hypothetically could be the defender on the weaker (of the two offensive corner) opponents (05).  Therefore, DC4 becomes the new “Basket Man.”  DG1 remains on 01 and almost forms a double-team (with DC5) on the ball.  Without safe wing passes, DG1 has influenced 01 to attempt to beat him/her off of the dribble with a maximum effort.  This effort by the dribbler should be with a very accelerated and ideally somewhat of an “out-of-control dribble—the kind of dribble that often times could lead to offensive turnovers.

When the new “Ball Man” (DC5) and the original Defensive Guard (DG1) stop the penetration, lay-ups are denied and many pull up jump shots are discouraged because of several reasons. One reason is the pressure that DG1 should still by applying from behind or from the side of the dribbler/shooter.  The second reason is that the “Ball Man,” who has arrived on time and in good defensive position and stance, should be a taller obstacle for 01 to have to shoot over.  The third reason is that most offensive teams do not want that type of shot to be taken in this particular offensive scheme.


Sometimes the defensive team may either be forced or elect to step up the defensive pressure by double-teaming particular ballhandlers in specific areas of the court. If traps are utilized, there are certain trapping techniques that must be applied in order  for the traps to be successful.  Successful traps must have the following requirements:

  • Traps must take place near the sidelines, baselines or timelines, so that those lines could serve as an extra defender (or two.)
  • The actual trapping defenders should form an “L” with the two pairs of feet.
  • Trappers should “cross-face with their hands” and “trace the ball” to force slow and soft lob passes.
  • Each trapper should take the proper half of the assignment—“no lines, no splits!”
  • Trappers should be closes to enough to the ballhandler to pressure him/her without committing cheap fouls that would “let the trapped ballhandler off of the hook.”
  • There should be one defender that protects the basket and two other defenders to be “floating” as potential interceptors.
  • All five defenders must not watch the escape pass or escape dribble, but rotate to the anticipated new location of the basketball.
  • The different times to trap the ball that are actually utilized could vary when and if they are utilized. If the ball is ever passed into the deep corner, that could be an ideal time for the defensive team to become the “actor” (and therefore force the offensive team to be the “reactor”). This defensive attack could prove fruitful for a multitude of reasons:
  • The ball is being trapped in the corner, which can be a very dangerous location for an offensive team because of the sideline and the baseline restricting the movement of the ball.
  • The ball is located on one side of the floor, clearly defining a ballside and a helpside for the defense.
  • The ball is also in the hands of most likely a poorer and/or less experienced ballhandler and passer.
  • This particular ballhandler in the corner might very well be a poorer free throw shooter also.  The trapping of the ball in the corner could take place as shown in Diagram 03. More of a surprise trap could happen whenever the following takes place on a dribble out on top of the offense. If 01 makes a shallow dribble towards 03 (or 02) and 03 cuts behind the ball (on the side of the timeline), it could be said that DW3 has a free trap of the ball for several reasons. One of because of his/her close proximity to the ball and the long distance that his/her original man is from the basket. If 03 or 02 set ballscreens for 01 or there is two or three man weave action, traps are not only possible, but encouraged because of the low defensive risks and high investments to the defense. See Diagram 04.Usually when an offensive player from the baseline corner flashes towards the ball, it is to relieve pressure for the offensive team to make a pass (and not to dribble). If 01 kills his/her dribble, both DW3 and DW2 should “lock in on their man” even more so for even more of a denial situation. DG1 should apply “smart,” but more extreme pressure on the “killed dribbler.” Both DC5 and DC4 should move up the passing lines of the very flat “ball-you-man flat triangles” and anticipate their opponents’ flashing to the ball.If the pass is made to an offensive player flashing to the center of the court (04 in this case), the Defensive Wing (DW2) should immediately jump to the ball and anticipate his/her opponent making a backdoor cut to the basket. The two remaining defenders on top (DW3 and DG1) should stay in denial stances to prevent the safety outlet pass to their respective men. The new offside defender along the baseline (DC5 in this case) should immediately jump to a position/location to become the new “Basket Man.” The Defensive Guard (DG1) could possibly jump-trap the 04 if and when 04 turns his/her back on him/her. If no turnovers take place and the ball is re-set, the Delay Defense should also re-set. See Diagram 05.This defense can actually turn the time-score deficit into a positive situation and should take advantage of various planned, calculated and (relatively) safe attacks on the offensive team (that can be restricted by the same time-score situations). The momentum can quickly change in a game because of an aggressive and smart defensive plan of action. The pressure can switch and fall on the offensive team’s shoulders. The defensive team must take advantage of the situation.

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