The 9 Personal Passing Gaps to Exploit

A pass defender has nine passing gaps they must cover to keep a pass from getting beyond them. If they cover these nine gaps well, they steal a pass. If they don’t...

The good news for the passer is that, unless the defender plans to use their face to swat a pass down, they only have four limbs with which to cover all nine gaps. In fact, they really only have two limbs that can legally cover all nine gaps.

That’s pretty good odds for the passer, but you still have to know how to exploit those holes.

The Chinks in a Defender’s Armor

When you’re standing face-to-face with a defender, the passing gaps are as follows:

  • There’s a gap by each of the two feet
  • In the zone between the defender’s knee and elbow on either side
  • Past each hand when the defender is spread-eagle
  • Above each shoulder, past either ear
  • Over the top of the head

If a defender is spread-eagle, their hands are covering the gaps by their hands and the ones by each foot. The other gaps are open to pass through.

Of course, the problem is, sometimes you want to pass through a covered gap. Plus, the defender is in constant motion varying the gaps their covering, in an effort to cover the gaps you want to pass through. Because of this, we need to teach our players to set up the gap they want to throw to.

Setting Up a Defender

A ball fake is the primary tool used to create the right gaps. Of course, if the defender is watching eyes too closely, a look in one direction can open up passing gaps nicely.

Timing is critical in setting up basketball passing gaps. The defender will react quickly, so the fake needs to open the passing gap the moment the passer’s teammate is ready for the pass.

For instance, if the passer sees a teammate cutting off a low post to slash up the lane, they might fake a bounce pass low right as the screen is being set. That forces the defender to pull a hand down and opens the gap by their ear just as the player comes off the screen.

Back door plays are great for opening gaps. Back door plays are like the audible on a football team. It’s an instant decision on the part of the passer. A pump-fake is the cue for the teammate to go back door. A good, crisp pump-fake just out of reach of the defender’s hand pulls both defenders toward the sideline and opens the gap under the arm for a nice back door bounce pass.

When you’re learning how to throw fundamentally sound, well-placed passes, don’t neglect to learn how to open the gaps in the defender right in front of them.

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