“Peel Switch” (aka “Go Switch” or “Fly Switch”)


Term: Peel Switch (aka “Go Switch” or “Fly Switch”)

Definition: a defensive tactic in which a help defender switches onto a ballhandler (or cutter) who has beaten his original defender, and then that original defender “peels off” his mark and rotates to whoever is left open

How It Works:

In the diagram above, 1 beats x1 off the dribble, so x4 leaves 4 to switch onto 1 and stop his dribble penetration. Then x1 “peels off” 1 and replaces x4 on the perimeter, guarding 4.

In this example, Dallas’s Luka Doncic closes out on Phoenix’s Jae Crowder at the top of the key. Crowder easily gets past Doncic, so Spencer Dinwiddie leaves Chris Paul to switch onto Crowder and stop his drive. Luka then “peels off” Crowder and switches onto Chris Paul:

Notice that Spencer Dinwiddie (light blue) is already in the gaps — far from Chris Paul on the wing. Dinwiddie says a predetermined term to let Luka know where he is/where Luka should funnel Crowder. Peel switching can only happen if the help defender is comfortable sagging off his man one pass away:

When Dinwiddie is in position to take Crowder, he yells another term, similar to “go” in scram switches, to tell Luka peel off Crowder and close out to Chris Paul:

Whether or not Dinwiddie sags off Chris Paul for a potential peel switch is based on the scouting report; Dinwiddie probably wouldn’t help that far off Steph Curry in a similar circumstance.

The difference between peel switches and regular rotations is that peel switching happens much earlier on the drive. In the gif above, Luka Doncic peels off Crowder above the FT line. Traditional rotations have the help come from the low man in the far corner: Reggie Bullock (light blue) would then leave the man he’s guarding, 7-footer Deandre Ayton, for a potential lob. Luka (violet) would nearly meet Crowder and Bullock under the hoop, and then switch off Crowder (either to Ayton or to Booker if his defender, Dorian Finney-Smith, “helps the helper” and takes Ayton):

The reason traditional rotations exist is that the player they leave open is the player who is most difficult for the ballhandler to pass to. The ballhandler (1) can kick out to 4 more easily than he can throw a crosscourt skip pass to 2. As NBA playmakers have become better (and taller, thus able to see and pass over help defenders)—and, perhaps more importantly, as NBA offenses shift to 5-out alignments that extend closeouts and help rotations—the ability to avoid difficult closeouts is more appealing.

Another appealing aspect of peel switches is that they provide an alternative to “trapping the box.” All traps involve two defenders guarding one player, which forces a different defender to zone up and guard two players at once. As x5 and x1 trap the box to stop 1’s penetration, x3 “helps the helper” to prevent a dump off lob to 5, which leaves x4, the high I defender, to zone up 3 and 4:

As mentioned above, the kickout pass to 3 or 4 is inherently difficult; however, younger and younger playmakers are learning to make that pass routinely.

Instead of x1 and x5 trapping 1, x1 can peel off the ballhandler and close out to the open player (4), which requires no double-teaming or zoning up:

Another difference between peels and traditional help rotations is that peel switching often occurs on the strong side, which means the closeouts are shorter and therefore easier. Doing so leaves defenses vulnerable to kick-out 3s, however; there’s a reason defenses don’t traditionally help from one pass away — especially if you’re in the strongside corner. In this example of a Spain Pick-and-Roll, Atlanta’s Trae Young has beaten his defender (both green) is driving to his right. Instead of the help coming from Detroit’s Kelly Olynyk (violet) in the weakside corner, the defender in the strongside corner leaves Kevin Huerter (light blue) to stop Trae:

Of course, it’s easier for Trae to both see and pass to Huerter than it would have been to pass to John Collins in the far corner if Olynyk had helped:

Because offenses know that defenses won’t help off the strongside corner, some teams strategically put the opponent’s best rim protector in that spot. For example, the Dallas Mavericks did that to Utah’s Rudy Gobert (green), who is guarding the strongside corner as Jalen Brunson (blue) has the ball on the wing:

Following tradition, Gobert doesn’t help off the strongside corner as Brunson drives, and he easily picks apart the weakside rotations:

And when Gobert (blue) did leave the strongside corner to protect the rim, the Jazz gave up the predictable result of a kick-out 3:

Peel switching, if done correctly, can enable teams to help off the strongside corner; the on-ball defender peels off and closes out to the open player in the corner.

For example, Golden State’s Klay Thompson (light blue) is driving to his right. Boston’s Robert Williams III (green) is guarding Andrew Wiggins in the strongside corner, but he still rotates to stop Klay:

Boston avoids the predictable kick-out 3 by having Klay’s defender, Marcus Smart (violet), peel off Klay and guard Wiggins:

However, the risk of getting burned by the kick-out 3 is why some teams will peel switch with the strongside corner only if the offensive player there isn’t a good shooter.

Why It Works:

Simplistically, peel switching works because it prevents an open layup at the hoop, but it also can be an easier rotation than “trapping the box,” which is when the defensive center (who is usually guarding a big in the weakside dunker spot) rotates over to trap the ball/stop dribble penetration:

Diagram from Dylan Murphy’s Basketball Dictionary, the inspiration for this site

A problem with trapping the box is that it opens up lob opportunities. Ideally, the perimeter defender in the weakside corner (x2 in this diagram) is supposed to “sink” down and get in between 5 and the basket to prevent that lob:

Diagram from “Sink and Fill” from The Basketball Dictionary

In this example, Cleveland’s Darius Garland drives while his teammate Evan Mobley is in the weakside dunker spot. Mobley’s defender, Atlanta’s Danilo Gallinari, rotates over to trap the box, and De’Andre Hunter sinks down to stop the lob. Even though Hunter is a good and big wing defender and rotates on time, he can’t stop the lob to Mobley:

Or if the sink man is face-guarding his matchup, as Memphis’s De’Anthony Melton is to Golden State’s Jordan Poole in the left corner of this play, there’s no chance to stop that lob once the defensive big traps the box:

Peel switching avoids giving up a lob by having the help defender come from the perimeter, not the low block. Of course, the offense might get a kick-out 3 from the player left open…

…but the plus side is that peel switching can work better against 5-out offenses, which leave no defender near the hoop to protect the rim and stop dribble penetration.

Ideally, the help defender in a peel switch comes from the strongside wing; a rule of thumb in the NBA is never help off the strongside corner (unless that player is a weak 3-point shooter). In this play, Golden State’s Gary Payton II (green) sets a ballscreen for Steph Curry:

Curry’s defender, Dillon Brooks, gets over the ballscreen, but doing so has put himself a little behind Curry. As a result, Xavier Tillman (green) leaves Draymond Green (violet) to switch onto Curry and stop his dribble penetration:

And then Dillon Brooks (violet) “peels off” Curry to guard Draymond on the wing:

Because it’s the Golden State Warriors, the switch prompts Curry to give up the ball and run off a screen for a 3, which he misses:

Although the term “peel switch” is typically used with dribble penetration, it is also used when an off-ball defender switches onto an open cutter or roller; this variation is sometimes known as a “tag switch” because the tagger switches onto the cutter/roller, whose original defender peels off him to guard the open player. In this example, Dallas’s Jalen Brunson (green) sets a ballscreen for Luka Doncic; Brunson’s defender, Steph Curry, soft hedges (to avoid switching onto Luka):

Luka “drags it out” to increase the distance between Curry and Brunson, who’s now rolling to the hoop, so Draymond Green (violet) switches onto Brunson:

And Curry (light blue) peels off Brunson and guards Draymond’s original assignment, Keith Bullock:

Curry closes out to Bullock before Brunson on the short roll can pass to him, and Klay Thompson blocks Spencer Dinwiddie’s 3 as the shot clock expires:

In this example of a tag switch, Atlanta’s Onyeka Okongwu guards Toronto’s Chris Boucher, who sets the second screen of a double drag. Okongwu hedges the ballhandler and recovers to Boucher rolling to the hoop, but the Gallinari tags and switches onto Boucher, so Okongwu replaces Gallinari in the far corner:

The concept of a “peel switch” is also used when an off-ball offensive player has beaten his defender, especially off some type of backscreen. The cutter’s defender and the tagger switch roles, effectively executing a peel switch.

In this example, 2 beats x2 as he cuts off 5’s chin screen, so x3 (the tagger) switches onto 2 and x2 peels off onto 3:

Orlando’s RJ Hampton gets a chin screen (green), but the tagger (light blue) switches onto Hampton:

So Hampton’s original defender (violet) peels off Hampton and switches onto the tagger’s matchup:

Peel Switch vs Veerback Switch:

A peel switch is similar to but different from a veerback switch, which is when the screener’s defender switches onto the ballhandler (and the ballhandler’s defender onto the screener) after a pick-and-roll. In that case, the original on-ball defender must immediately get low and stop the roller from getting to the hoop. Peel switches, on the other hand, ask the original on-ball defender to peel off and guard a new player on the perimeter, not a screener rolling to the hoop.

Diagram of a veerback switch, in which the screener’s defender (x5) switches onto the ballhandler, and the ballhandler’s defender (x1) switches onto the screener

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