7 Shell Drill Variations: Defensive Basketball Drills


This article features 7 variations of the most common defensive drill: The shell drill. Each of these drills are found within my new 165-page drill book which features 79 drills, series, and small-sided games.

If you’re interested in receiving workouts and drills, you can do so here: https://bit.ly/2SE9Bhs

The shell drill, and its many variations, is the most common team defensive drill in basketball. And for good reason. Shell drill builds foundational defensive habits of positioning, timing (moving when the ball moves), communication, vision, and more.

What follows are 7 variations to the standard defensive shell drill that coaches might find useful for their teams. 

1) 3v3 Shell Stunt: The defensive skill of stunting

Shell stunt emphasizes and practices the skill of "stunting" as an off-ball defender. 


Purpose: This drill practices two types of stunts. The first stunt is a (1) Gap stunt and a (2) top of key reversal stunt. These are fancy words but at the end of the day it's just specific situations where defenders can stunt.

Setup/Instructions: Three offensive will players will be spaced along the perimeter. Each defender will match up with an offensive player. When a wing offensive player drives a into a gap, the middle defender is immediately stunting towards the ball and recovering to their man as they receive the pass. As soon as the middle offensive player catches the basketball, the next help defender (who was just the weakside defender) is stunting as well. The defenders repeat this stunting pattern for as long as the coach deems necessary.

Teaching Points: 

1) A stunt is a quick, short jab, not a full lunge. If the defender lunges they won't recover.

2) As the stunting defender is recovering towards their man, they must recover with high hands.

3) Active, long hands cause a lot of problems.

4) A bounce pass takes longer than a chest pass. Therefore, we have more time to recover on bounce passes. So force them.

5) If a defender is guarding a lights-out shooter, they may not want to stunt off them ever. Great shooters will take advantage of that.

# of Basketballs: 1

2) Turnaround Shell: The defensive skill of matching up and communicating

Turnaround shell positions defender with their eyes facing away from the defense.  When the possession begins, the defense must 1) Turnaround and identify where their matchup is and 2) Communicate loudly and clearly where they are positioning themselves (i.e. "I've got 22!" or "I got the top!")


Purpose: This drill challenges defenders to communicate and get matched up quickly before going into a shell sequence.

Setup/Instructions: Three defenders (or more) will begin facing the baseline. Their backs will be turned to the offensive players. The offensive players will all begin at the top of the key. They will space out to different spots before the defense turns around. When the coach yells, "Ball!!" the defense will turn around and sprint to their matchup or to help dependin g on where the ball goes. The coach will pass the ball to the offense. From there, standard shell drill will begin.

Teaching Points: 

1) When matching up, point and talk!

2) Go to the proper spot on the floor when the ball is entered; if your man catches the ball, guard them. If they don't receive the pass from the coach, get to help or gap positioning.

# of Basketballs: 1


3) Shell Coverdown: The defensive skill of covering down on a offensive post player when a post defender rotates

Shell coverdown gets weakside elbow defenders "covering down" on weakside post players. 

Purpose: This drill emphasizes covering down on the weakside block when the post defender slides across the lane for help or a charge. 

Setup/Instructions: The coach will begin with the basketball and pass the ball to either wing. The wing player will drive the basketball to the block. The defender at the weakside block will rotate over and either (A) stop the drive of the ballhandler or (B) take a charge. Meanwhile, the defender at the weakside elbow will cover down on the offensive player on the block. This prevents a "dump off" pass / easy two point basket. The ballhandler will maintain their dribble and pass it back out to the coach. Meanwhile, both the offensive and defensive post players rotate to the weakside block. The coach will then pass the ball to the other wing. The offensive wing player will drive the basketball. Again, the weakside defender at the block will rotate over. The weakside elbow defender will cover down. From there, a team can repeat this sequence as much as desired.

Teaching Points: 

1) The wing defender will "allow" a drive in order to allow rotations.

2) The rotating defender must rotate early, wall up, and/or contest vertically.

3) The weakside elbow defender will drop down on the block. This defender is looking to cause a steal.

# of Basketballs: 1


4) Shell 45: The defensive skill of defending an offense in a disadvantaged situation

Shell 45 is a 4 on 5 situation where the 4 defenders are scrambling, communicating, and displaying excellent effort.  

Purpose: This drill practices defensive positioning in a disadvantaged situation. The offense has 5 players while the defense has only 4.


Four offensive players will space out along the perimeter and one offensive player will setup on the block, the elbow, or the 5th player can position themselves on the perimeter creating a 5-out set.

The ball will be passed amongst the offense. The defense is responsible for communication and proper positioning. On each pass, 2 defenders will be responsible for defending 3 offensive players on the weakside. In other words, the defense is attempting to create a 2v2 situation on the strongside and a 2v3 on the weakside.

Teaching Points: 

1) Defense must communicate loud and early.

2) 2v2 on the strongside, 3v2 on the backside. Backside defenders must communicate on who defends the ball on a skip pass.

3) Pressure the ball to influence bounce passes or deflected passes.

# of Basketballs: 1

5) Flip Shell: Suddenly changing from offense to defense

Flip shell is effective to get quick, efficient reps of shell drill into a practice. 

Setup/Instructions: This version of shell drill features spontaneous switching of offense to defense. The defense will perform shell drill. When the coach blows a whistle or provides a verbal cue like, "Change!" the defense and offense will switch and immediately continue the drill.

Teaching Points: 

1) The normal shell defense teaching points of positioning, communication, etc.

# of Basketballs: 1


6) Full Court Shell 2v2: Practicing full court pressure and positioning

This version of shell drill includes the offense slowly advancing the ball while the defensive is retreating while still practicing their defensive fundamentals. 

Setup/Instructions: This is a full court 2 on 2 drill. While in the back court (frames 1-3), the two offensive players are advancing up the floor at half speed. Each offensive player will take 3-4 dribbles up the floor at half speed, then they will pass to their teammate who is also slowly progressing their way up the floor. Meanwhile, the defense is working on closeouts, jumping to the ball, stunting when the ballhandler drives to the middle of the floor, having hands in passing lanes on closeouts, communication, seeing both, and overall positioning.

Once the ball reaches the front court (frame 4) the drill now becomes 2on2 live play.

Teaching Points: 

1) Jump to the ball as the ball is in the air

2) Stunt when a ballhandler drives to the middle of the floor

3) Closeout with hands in a passing lane

Variations: You can make this a 3on3 drill as well. If you are a trapping team, you can also add a trap in the backcourt.

# of Basketballs: 1


7) Shell to Shoot: Practicing the skill of shooting and defense with 12-15 players

Shell to shoot practices team defensive shell as well as spot up/transition shooting.

Purpose: This drill works on shell defense and shooting while involving multiple teams.

Setup/Instructions: Divide your players up into different teams. In the diagram, there are 3 teams of 5. Two teams will begin in shell play. Once the series of shell defense is complete (the coach determines this with a whistle or whatever they please) the defense will sprint down the floor and receive passes from players on the baseline. The players who make the passes will then sprint down the floor and go into shell offense. One of the defenders or a coach will have a basketball to pass to them. Then the drill repeats itself.

# of Basketballs: 6+


These are only a few of many possible shell drill variations. Feel free to share what your team does in the comments below or on twitter (@masonwaters_). I'm curious what other variations team use.

The drills featured in this blog are from my new drill book where you can find more info HERE

Thank you for reading!


Other Resources by Coach Mason Waters

The First 5-15 Minutes of Practice (Blog)

Rebounding Study (Video)

Reading Tag Defenders (Video)



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