“Double From the Bottom”


Term: Double From the Bottom

Definition: a double team in which the “low man” (the defender near the weakside corner or dunker spot) traps a post-up

See Also: other entries on trapping (coming soon)

  • Double From the Top: the double team comes from the defender one pass away (1’s defender in the diagram above), often near the strongside wing
  • Double From Two Passes Away: the double team comes from the second-closest off-ball defender, usually near the weakside Elbow (2’s defender in the diagram above)
  • Double From the High I Defender: the High I Defender (“high opposite”) near the weakside Elbow traps the post
  • Double From the Weakest Offensive Player: whoever is guarding the opponent’s weakest offensive player (and/or a nonshooting perimeter player) traps the post. For example, post traps often came from whoever guarded Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, who made four All-Star Games but only 75 3-pointers during his first seven season

How It Works:

In the diagram above, x4 — aka the “low man”—comes over to trap 5, preventing 5 from spinning baseline.

Doubling from the bottom is consistent with the standard “no middle” defensive philosophy: x5 prevents 5 from attacking towards the middle, which would give him multiple passing options, but that risks opening up a baseline spin and dunk before help defense can rotate over and protect the rim. Posting up a smaller defender, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spins baseline for a dunk before the help has time to arrive:

But a defense that doubles from the bottom wants the ballhandler to spin baseline. The on-ball defender denies middle by placing his bottom (i.e., closest to baseline) forearm on the ballhandler and using his top hand to poke at the ball. When that happens, a well-timed double from the bottom can stop a baseline spin, as OKC’s Jalen Williams does here:

Notice that JDub’s double coincides with his teammate Cason Wallace (x3 in the diagram below) “helping the helper”: i.e., preventing a pass to JDub’s original matchup (4 in the diagram) cutting to the weakside box:

It’s imperative for the on-ball and help defender to form an upper-case L (some coaches prefer using the letter “T”): x5 blocks the middle, x4 blocks a baseline spin, and they are close enough together so that 5 can’t split their double team.

N.B. If every defense operated identically, basketball would be boring (although writing these entries would be easier). This entry discusses post doubles in which the on-ball defender denies middle and the second defender denies baseline, but some teams do the opposite: the post defender plays straight up and denies baseline while low man traps by taking away the middle. Whichever strategy is used, the two trapping defenders must be on the same page.

In the past decade or two, doubling from the bottom became increasingly popular (uncoincidentally, so did no-middle defensive schemes). But offenses also became better at countering doubling from the bottom. Through innoventive scheme and Serbian wizardry, Denver’s Nikola Jokic is infamous for using lobs and other passes to punish doubling from the bottom — as his no-look assist to Aaron Gordon does here after Gordon’s original defender, New York’s Julius Randle, traps from the baseline:

(Basketball Action Dictionary completionists may like to know that Jokic’s post-up was directly preceded by a wedge screen and that Reggie Jackson follows his pass to Jokic with a high Laker cut — which would have given Jackson an open layup if his defender trapped Jokic, a type of double team that will be discussed in a future post.)

Doubling from the bottom works primarily when the post player has his back to the basket—and, as a result, his back to the help defender. In those instances, the post player is both surprised by the trap and a step slower at finding the open teammate.

Conversely, doubling from the bottom rarely works against a face-up. Because Philly’s Joel Embiid turns to face the basket as he receives the ball, he can easily spot the bottom double—and, thus, his open teammate, Jaden Springer, cutting to the basket:

Timing of the Trap

The help defender must time his trap carefully. But there are different strategies. Various factors (the defense’s philosophy, the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, etc.) determine whether the double team arrives (among other options)…

  1. on the pass (the trapping defender flies to the post as soon as the pass is in the air)
  2. on the dribble (the trapping defender waits until the post player starts dribbling)
  3. late (the trapping defender traps after realizing the post player has created an advantage over his on-ball defender

When doubling on the pass, the second defender should start sprinting to the post player when the ball is still in the air—ideally, both the double team and the pass arrive at the same time. In this situation, the trap begins too early for the post player to see which teammate is open on the weakside of the floor.

In this next example, Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren doubles from the bottom as soon as Embiid catches the ball. As he should, Embiid’s primary defender, Jaylin Williams, has his bottom (right) forearm on Embiid and uses his left hand to swat at the ball. The timing of Holmgren’s trap and the combined pressure of both J-Will and Holmgren prevent Embiid from surveying the floor carefully.

Furthermore, Holmgren’s original matchup, Nic Batum, isn’t open because the Thunder’s rotations “help the helper,” and the result is a turnover:

3/4 Front, Full Front, or Behind the Post Player: The Options for the Post Defender (*x5)

(*Strictly speaking, “x5” should refer to the center on defense, whether or not he’s defending the post-up; for the sake of clarity, this entry will keep using “x5” to refer to the post player’s defender, irrespective of his actual position.)

Doubling from the bottom is often accompanied with the on-ball defender (x5, OKC’s Lu Dort in the image below) using a “3/4 front” on the post player (Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns). A 3/4 front pushes the post-entry pass away from the hoop and towards the baseline, which synergizes well with x4’s doubling from the bottom:

Contrast a 3/4 front with a full front, in which the post defender is squarely between the post player and the passer, which can be beaten with a pass over the top (in these scenarios, x5—who is often not a 5/center at all, but instead a mismatched/smaller defender—should try to drive the post player towards the basket, and a help defender, usually the low man, needs to rotate if a lobbed pass is attempted):

The post defender can also play “straight up” or behind the post player, as x5 does here to Flint Tropics’ Jackie Moon. This defense is more often paired with “trapping from the top” than from the low man:

Doubling — Where Does It End?

Once again, defensive philosophy and the opponent’s scouting report help determine when the help defender stops doubling the post player. Most defenses stop the trap in one of two situations:

  1. When the post player passes
  2. When the post player starts dribbling away from the basket to evade the double and survey passing options (N.B., some defenses continue doubling because the ballhandler has dribbled himself into the corner)

In this example, Kansas’s Joel Embiid gets doubled from the bottom. The second defender, Duke’s Jabari Parker, leaves as Embiid retreat dribbles towards the corner, which helps him evade the trap and find Andrew Wiggins open on his 45 Cut: