How important is basketball defense to you?
If you go to the park or the gym, most of the time all you’ll see is players working on their offensive game. Rarely do you see players down in defensive stance entire possessions anticipating passes and offensive movement.
You see, basketball offense is fun. It’s ‘cool’.
It’s the crossovers and dunks that make spectators stand up from their seats and cheer and get players excited.
But it’s defense that will have a bigger impact on the amount of success you have individually and as a team.
I challenge all coaches and players to place more importance on the defensive end of the floor in games and practices.
Below I’m going to provide you with 47 basketball defense tips that all players must know.
Let’s get started…
General Basketball Defense Tips
1. Focus on Forcing Tough Shots
The most important thing for a player to remember about defense is that the goal is to force the opposition to attempt a difficult shot.
Whether the shot they attempt is made or missed is irrelevant.
There will be times when you play fantastic basketball defense for an entire possession and your opponent hits a tough fadeaway jump shot.
There will be other times when you play terrible defense for an entire possession and your opponent misses a shot or turns the basketball over.
For those reasons, it’s important to focus on the process of playing great defense and forcing the opposition team into a low-percentage shot instead of judging your defense on whether the shot they attempted was successful or not.
2. Commit to Becoming a Great Defender
You’ll never become a great defender without consciously deciding that becoming a great defender is important to you.
It takes a tremendous amount of toughness and heart to commit to the defensive end of the floor.
Most players would prefer to take the easiest matchup possible so that they don’t have to work hard on the defensive end of the floor. The fans want to see the ankle-breaking crossovers and the thunderous dunks.
It’s only the hardcore basketball fans who appreciate and understand how important the defensive end of the floor is.
Becoming a great defender starts with embracing and loving the challenge.
So, before anything else, you must start with a change in mindset.
Make the decision that from this day forward you’re committed to becoming a great defensive player.
3. Always Defend the Opposition’s Best Player
By far the best way to become a great basketball defender is to play against highly skilled offensive players.
This goes for practice, pick-up games, regular games, 1-on-1 games, everything.
Constantly seek out the best offensive players and challenge yourself to play great defense against them.
If you keep competing against players who are bigger, stronger, and more skilled than you are, I promise that you’ll walk away from the game a better defender every single time.
4. Keep Your Balance at All Times
Balance is one of those areas that coaches constantly emphasize the importance of but players often consider unimportant.
Let me make this perfectly clear…
Balance is everything on defense.
Staying on balance allows defenders to quickly react to movements and actions from the offensive team.
When you’re not on balance, it’s impossible to be a great defender.
For example: Think about all the fakes that players use on offense… Shot fakes, pass fakes, jab steps, etc.
Some players might not realize it, but these are all weapons used to get the defensive player off-balance making it easier to attack and score.
Once you lose your balance, it’s game-over for the defense.
A smart offensive player will instantly attack an off-balance defender and either create a shot for themselves or a teammate.
5. Stay in Defensive Stance the Entire Possession
Most players are in the bad habit of only being in defensive stance when they’re playing on-ball basketball defense. When they’re playing off-ball defense, they’re out of stance and ‘resting’.
Great defenders don’t do this.
Great defenders stay in defensive stance for the entire defensive possession.
Staying in defensive stance allows players to react quickly when needed.
This could be to rotate across to play help defense on an opponent driving to the rim or to intercept a skip pass.
You must understand that basketball is a game of inches and if you’re not in defensive stance, the extra split-seconds of time that it takes to react can be the difference between blocking a shot or allowing a layup.
Tip – If you’re having trouble staying down in stance for a long period of time, try doing ‘wall sits’ (video) multiple times per week. This involves resting your back against a wall and sliding down until your knees form a 90-degree angle. Aim to stay in this position for as long as possible and gradually build up the length of time.
6. Prepare Physically and Mentally to Play Great Defense
Your preparation refers to your pre-game routine, keeping your body in top physical condition, what kind of food you’re eating, the amount of sleep you’re getting each night, studying your opponents and the teams you’re competing against, your water intake levels, etc.
If you’re not focusing on these things before the game even starts, then you’ll never live up to your defensive potential when you take the court.
Players must start taking preparation more seriously.
Do you think a player joking around before the game when they should be mentally preparing and warming up can step on the court and be a great defender?
Do you think a player who takes no time to think about their upcoming opponent (their tendencies, strengths, weaknesses) and the team their playing against can step on the court and be a great defender?
Preparation is crucial to your success on the basketball court. Take it seriously.
7. Never Allow Easy Transition Scores
Unless your role is to crash the offensive boards after a teammate shoots the basketball, you must sprint back on defense immediately after the shot is taken.
By doing so, you’ll be in position to stop the opponent’s fast break and to then pick up your player as they make their way down the court.
The worst possible thing a player can do is neither transition back on defense or sprint in for the offensive rebound.
Instead, they wait for the shot to be rebounded by either team and then react.
This allows the opposition to pass forward and score uncontested layups which will often be the difference between winning and losing games.
8. Always Give Multiple Efforts
Every great defender is willing to give multiple efforts on defense.
I see too many players who will get beat off the dribble and will then consider themselves out of the play so they jog back to pick up their player crossing their fingers that they don’t score.
This can’t happen.
You must give 100% effort on defense until your team has secured possession of the basketball.
These multiple effort situations can occur when the basketball is being juggled on a rebound and you have to jump 3 – 4 times to secure the basketball or when a player gets beat playing full-court on-ball defense and instead of giving up they turn and sprint back into the play and attempt to get a back tip steal to one of their teammates.
“I put players in and take them out based on effort and defense, not making or missing shots” – Doc Rivers
Great defenders never give up.
9. Constantly Talk to Your Teammates
You can never be a great defender if you’re not communicating with your teammates when play basketball defense.
“There has never been a great ‘silent’ defense” – Del Harris
Throughout the entire defensive possession, you should be letting your teammates know where you are and what’s happening on the floor that they might not be able to see.
If all 5 players on the court are doing this everyone stays on the same page and it will prevent many defensive breakdowns.
Here are 5 of the most common phrases players should communicate on basketball defense:
1. “Ball, ball ball” – Used by the defender guarding the basketball.
2. “Deny, deny, deny” – Use by the defender one-pass away denying their opponent.
3. “Help, help, help” – Used by a player two passes away to let others know that they’re in position to help on a drive.
4. “Screen right” or “Screen left” – To let your teammate know there’s a screen coming and which side it will be set on.
5. “Cutters coming through” – If an opposition player is cutting through the lane.
If you’re one of the leaders on the team, it’s even more important that you’re talking to the less experienced players on your team about where they should be on the floor.
“Mike come low.”
“Mike get up and deny the pass.”
“Mike force him to the left.”
All talking must be loud and clear to be effective communication.
This kind of communication can go a long way to improving the team’s defense and also giving each player added confidence.
10. Always Listen to Your Teammates
Just as you must constantly talk to your teammates, you must always listen to them too.
Having teammates who are great at communicating will instantly make you a better defensive player because you’ll be more aware of what’s going on around you.
This is why you must be constantly emphasizing to the other players on your team the importance of communication.
It will by most evident when you’re playing on-ball defense. Listen out for teammates calling screens and then adjust your positioning so that you’re able to evade the screen and establish defensive position back in front of your opponent.
11. Accept That You’ll Get Crossed Up and Dunked On
This is an odd defensive tip, isn’t it?
But it’s an important view of tough defense that you must understand.
The players who never get crossed up are the players that are hanging back off their player and not giving the best for their team when they’re playing defense.
The players that never get dunked on are the players who don’t rotate to help or who would rather not contest a shot that they’re unlikely to block.
If you’re going to be a great defender, you need to accept that these things can (and probably will) happen to you.
Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself by putting pressure on the basketball and playing tight defense. When you get caught out once or twice, brush it off and continue to work hard.
12. Stay Out of Foul Trouble
Being able to consistently stay out of foul trouble is one of the keys to being a great defender.
After all, you can’t be a great defender if you’re on the bench, right?
Staying out of foul trouble comes down to two things…
a. Your defensive knowledge
As you improve more and more as a defender, you’ll learn when the best opportunities are to attempt a steal or get a deflection.
b. Your discipline
Once players know what opportunities they should and shouldn’t be taking on defense, they must have the discipline to play the percentages and stick to only the plays that are low risk and high reward.
This involves staying down on shot fakes, not lunging for a basketball that you’re unlikely to steal or deflect, and staying straight up when you’re defending inside the key.
Also, if you’re one of the better players on the team, it’s often a better option to allow your opponent to score than it is to draw a foul that’s going to sit you for the rest of the game.
“If one of our players gets his second foul in the first half, then he must come out of the game and not re-enter until the second half. To play defense and not foul is an art that must be mastered if you are going to be successful” – Chuck Daly
13. Use Your Time on the Bench Wisely
When you do get subbed out of the game, don’t waste the opportunity you have to study the opposition team while you recover.
I’ll elaborate on the specific questions to think about later in the article…
But for now, here’s a brief summary…
• What are the tendencies of the player you’ll be defending?
• What are their strengths?
• What are their weaknesses?
• What offense is the opponent running?
• Who are the best shooters on the team?
• How do their set plays work?
14. Gain Possession of Every Loose Basketball
What coaches often refer to as 50/50 balls are when the basketball has been knocked away or deflected and both teams have an even chance of taking possession.
A player’s job is to turn the basketball from a 50/50 ball to an 80/20 ball. Meaning that when there’s a basketball loose on the floor, you’ll be the one who secures it 8 times out of 10.
In order to do this, players must be down in defensive stance ready to react at any moment and must also be willing to put their body on the line for the benefit of the team by diving on the basketball if the opportunity to do so arises.
Every single possession counts and these are the plays that will determine which team has had more scoring opportunities at the end of the game.
15. Learn How to Use Your Body to Your Advantage
Fact: Basketball is a contact sport.
If you want to excel as a defender, you need to learn how to use your body to your advantage.
By allowing the offensive player to get anywhere they want on the court, you’re not doing a good job on defense.
Use your arm bar and lower body to move players away from where they want to catch the basketball. This goes for the low post and on the perimeter.
Cut off an opponent’s cutting lane by stepping in front and bumping them while making sure to keep your hands out to show you’re not pushing.
Players will learn to use legal physicality as they gain more experience and gradually face smarter and stronger competition.
16. Be Willing to Take a Charge
The other unselfish act a player can make on defense is being willing to put their body on the line and draw a charge.
Taking a charge is often a huge momentum changer and will make the opposition hesitate next time they’re around you.
If a player is dribbling or running in your direction, hold your position and when they make contact allow your body to fall straight backward while simultaneously forcefully blowing out air.
Is this flopping? Maybe.
Will they call the charge if you hold your ground and don’t allow your body to fall over? In 99% of the cases, no they won’t.
Whether we like it or not, being able to exaggerate a charge has turned into a skill in today’s basketball.
It will get your team extra possessions every game!
17. Improve Your Athletic Ability
While a lot of it is innate, you can definitely improve your athletic ability if you’re working on the right things.
Remember how I talked about basketball being a game of inches earlier in the article?
Then it should be obvious that improving your athletic ability even slightly can often help you make up these inches and more.
I highly recommend players complete a vertical jump program during their basketball off-season.
Here is a link to an equipment-free 12-week vertical jump program that I created that can help any player gain a few extra inches on their vertical leap.
The other exercises I recommend are the use of ladders to improve foot quickness and even cone drills to improve explosiveness and acceleration.
18. Be a Student of the Game
All players who aspire to be great defenders need to be constantly improving their knowledge on the subject.
The best way to do this is by talking to great defenders about their thoughts on defense and also by watching great defenders.
In this day and age, one of the best ways to do that is by watching YouTube video breakdowns.
Here are a couple of my favorites…
Never stop improving your defensive knowledge.
19. Stop Complaining About Missed Calls
One of the most detrimental decisions a player can make for their individual defense and also for the team’s defense is to complain about missed calls.
Instead of sprinting back on defense, a player stops and complains to the referee about a call they believe should have been made but wasn’t.
When a player does this, it often leads to a 5 on 4 fast break resulting in an easy score for the opposition if they spaced the floor correctly.
A player who has ambitions to be a great defensive player can’t ever allow this to happen.
More than anything, a player must understand that referees are going to miss calls from time to time.
You must get back on defense immediately and if the lack of foul call does need to be brought up with the official, leave it for a stoppage in play or for the coach to do the talking.
20. Establish Post Position as Early as Possible
One of the keys to great post defense is not allowing the opposition to establish early position.
Players competing in the post must beat their man down the court and then make contact early to keep them as far out as possible.
By doing so, there’s less chance that they’ll receive the basketball and have the opportunity to score from close range.
This isn’t specific to the initial sprint down the floor either.
Post defenders should be legally physical with their opponent the entire possession to keep them as far away from the rim as possible.
21. Make Contact and Secure the Rebound
Too many players will play hard defense and force a contested shot, but once the shot has left the opponents hands, they act like their job is finished.
A defensive possession isn’t over until your team has rebounded and secured the basketball.
I hesitate to write the traditional ‘box out on every shot’ because I feel too many players get so focused on boxing out their opponent that they forget to rebound the basketball.
If you’re close to the basket, box out.
If you’re away from the basket, make contact with your opponent and then pursue the basketball.
Understand Your Team’s Defensive System
22. What Defense is Your Team Running?
An obvious but important question.
A lot of times a youth basketball coach will install a defense by explaining how it works, but never directly telling the players what it is.
Make sure you find out what the coach is running so that you can go home and learn more about the defense you’re going to be playing.
Study it until you understand it completely. You never want to get lost when you’re playing defense.
Once you’ve gained deep knowledge of what to do on the defensive end of the floor, the coach will be able to trust you to make the right decisions and that will usually lead to an increase in court time.
23. How Does Your Team Defend the Pick and Roll?
The pick and roll is arguably the most effective action in basketball.
In order to be a great defender, you must know how your team’s defense is designed to defend it.
Depending on the age and skill level of your opponents, some coaches will choose to go under the screen, over the screen, or even switch the screen.
Some teams will have different defensive actions depending on where the basketball is on the court or even depending on which offensive players are involved in the screen.
Failure to defend the pick and roll correctly will almost always lead to an open shot from the offensive team.
If this is something you need to ask and clarify with your coach, do it.
24. What Are the Defensive Rotations?
“Defense is all about helping. No one can guard a good dribbler, you have to walk kids through how to help and then how to help the helper” – Bob Knight
Being able to rotate correctly and immediately on defense is by far the hardest part of defense for most players.
Players get stuck in the ‘this is my man and I have to stop them from scoring’ mentality and forget that basketball isn’t played individually. It’s played as a team.
There are going to be breakdowns in the defense from time to time and players must be ready and willing to rotate off their player and help out their teammates.
Therefore, having complete understanding of the defensive rotations is incredibly important for a great defender.
The most common rotations that are when there’s a baseline drive.
The help defender on split-line needs to rotate across to prevent the layup and then the high defender needs to rotate down to stop the pass to the helper’s defender.
25. How Are You Defending the Post?
Every single player on the team must understand the rules on defending players in the post.
This includes the guards on the team.
Whenever I help out coaches with tall and strong guards on their team, I always recommend they use them in the post. The opposition guards never know what to do because they’ve never been taught post defense!
Specifically, all players must understand how to front the post, 1/2 front from either side, and how to play behind.
How your team uses these tactics in games is up to the coach and the defensive system used by the team.
Ensure that all players know exactly what to do if they get stuck in a post defense situation.
Understand Your Opponent
26. Are They a Great Outside Shooter?
The number one factor that determines how you should play against your opponent on defense is whether they can shoot the basketball from the outside at a high percentage.
If you’re guarding a poor shooter, then you can assist your teammates with more help off the basketball and you know that when playing on-ball defense you can take an extra step back to defend the drive without fear that they’ll make the shot.
If you’re guarding a great shooter, you won’t be able to help as much and you must be more mindful of your rotations on defense.
Instead, you should close the space between you and the defender and force them to dribble inside and take a lower percentage shot.
This is why smart basketball coaches put great off-ball defenders on poor shooters.
27. Where/How Do They Score Most of Their Points?
Whether they’re a great outside shooter or not, most players will have certain areas of the floor or certain ways that they score the majority of their points.
To be a great basketball defender, you must work out where and how your opponent does most of their scoring.
Do they get most of their points running off screens and getting midrange shots?
Do they score most of their points driving to the rim and finishing with their right hand?
Do they have a deadly midrange pull-up game?
Are they a low-post specialist?
These are questions you must figure out the answer to for every offensive player that you play against.
28. Do They Prefer Dribbling With Their Right or Left Hand?
Figuring out whether to influence your opponent’s dribbling to the right or left is one of the most important and easiest things you can do to improve your defense.
How you’ll implement this knowledge during the game might vary due to team defensive rules, but understanding their preference is crucial.
More often than not, the player you’re competing against will prefer to drive to their right hand.
To force them to their opposite hand, position yourself so that you’re slightly overplaying their preferred side and then establish a higher lead foot on this side too.
From this stance, the only way they can drive on their preferred side is to dribble through your chest and receive an offensive foul or to retreat dribble around you which will provide enough time to establish position again.
If they were to drive on their opposite hand, you’re still in position so that you can contain them and cut off the driving lane.
29. What Are Their Weaknesses?
As well as figuring out their strengths, it’s important to know what an opponent’s weaknesses are.
This knowledge will assist you to put them in uncomfortable situations by forcing them into performing what they’re not good at.
This will require watching tape of your opponent, watching them play live, or simply working it out as the game progresses.
Every single player on the planet has weaknesses. It’s your job to find out what they are and exploit them.
30. How Do They Respond to Pressure?
One of the most surprising differences between great offensive players is their ability to handle pressure being put on them.
I’ve seen many players who regularly average 25 points per game but when you put a high amount of pressure on them, their point totals automatically take a significant drop.
These are often the player who can’t mentally handle pressure from great defense. They get frustrated, start yelling at their teammates, and throw up shots from all over the court trying to reach their regular scoring numbers.
Conversely, there are many great offensive players who stay calm and will have the same impact as usual regardless of the defensive pressure.
For that reason, it’s important to know which category your opponent falls under and then use that knowledge to improve your defense against them.
31. Do They Crash the Offensive Glass?
There are many players who do a fantastic job of sprinting in for offensive rebounds and then either scoring or passing out to a teammate for an open shot.
Shots after offensive rebounds always seem to be great shots.
As a defender, you must be aware whether the player that you’re guarding has a tendency to sprint in for offensive rebounds or to run back on defense after each shot.
If they are a great offensive rebounder, you must ensure to make contact with them after every shot and put a high importance on keeping them off the glass.
Understand the Opposition’s Offense
32. What Offense Are They Running?
One of the first questions that smart defenders will ask themselves when determining how to defend their opponent is “What offense does the opposition run?”
Once you figure this out, the next step is to determine the best way to defend against it.
Here are a few of the question you should think about…
How do they initiate the offense?
What’s the regular passing sequence of their offense?
Where do they take most of their shots from?
For example: If an opponent’s offense always starts with a pass from the top to one of the players on the wing, you then know that if you completely deny this pass then you’ve effectively taken them out of their offense.
33. What Are Their Most Common Set Plays
Often you’ll come across teams that don’t have an offense at all and will rely solely on set plays to score the basketball.
Since most youth and high school teams only have 2 – 3 set plays that they run a majority of the time, it can be relatively simple to figure out the name of the set play and what their actions are.
Just like the previous tip, your goal is to figure out what the opposition are trying to do and then take those options away from them.
The best time to do this is before the game. Watch video of the opposition’s offense or to watch them in-person and focus on figuring out what they do offensively.
If you don’t have that opportunity, with focus you can figure it out throughout the game as you’re competing against them.
On-Ball Basketball Defense Tips
34. Put Constant Pressure on the Basketball
While the main goal is containment, we don’t want players to do this by standing 2 meters off their opponent and giving them wide open shots.
Players must learn how to contain their player while also putting constant pressure on them when they have the basketball.
The purpose of putting pressure on the basketball is to make the offensive player uncomfortable which will often lead to deflections and turnovers.
When a player is uncomfortable from on-ball pressure, they don’t want to dribble the basketball, they’re scared that one of their passes will get deflected, and they don’t even think about shooting.
As long as your teammates are playing great help defense, you shouldn’t hesitate to apply on-ball pressure because if the offensive player does happen to beat you off the dribble, your teammates are ready to rotate and stop the basketball.
“My philosophy of defense is to keep the pressure on an opponent until you get to his emotions” – John Wooden
35. Stay Lower Than Your Opponent at All Times
When you’re playing on-ball defense, you should always be lower than your opponent.
If you’re roughly the same height, your eye level should be at approximately their shoulder level.
Being lower gives you better balance and allows you to react quickly once the offensive player makes their move.
As always, the quicker you can react, the better.
36. Don’t Lunge for the Basketball
This tip goes back to the importance of balance that I talked about in the first section of this article on basketball defense.
When you lunge for the basketball, you’re often putting yourself off-balance and out of correct defensive position.
If the basketball comes within your reach, by all means, attempt to tip it and secure the steal, but never lunge out of position unless you’re over 75% sure you’re going to steal the basketball.
Always remember that containing your opponent is your number one priority when playing on-ball defense.
37. Stay an Arm’s Length Distance From Your Opponent
One of the most common questions I get asked by players is how close they should be to their opponent when playing defense.
On average, a player should be approximately one arm’s length away from their opponent. This means that if you stick your hand out straight, you should just be able to touch the offensive player with your fingertips.
As players improve to higher and more skilled levels of basketball, the distance will start to vary depending on the tendencies and abilities of the player they’re guarding against. But for the youth and high school level, this is often the most appropriate distance.
Being an arm’s length apart is the perfect length because it’s close enough that the defender can get a hand on the basketball for a steal and also prevent the shot, but far enough away that if the player attempts to drive there’s enough to react and adjust defensive position.
38. Watch Your Opponent’s Chest or Waist
This tactic will make an immediate impact on your defensive ability.
When players are still learning the game, the natural tendency is to look at the basketball or the eyes when playing on-ball defense.
The problem with doing this, however, is that it’s easy for the offensive player to fake with their eyes or the basketball and get the defense off-balance.
So, what should players be looking at while playing on-ball defense?
The mid-section of their opponent. This being anywhere from their chest to their waist.
Unlike the other parts of their body, it’s incredibly difficult for the offensive player to fake with their mid-section which is why that’s where I recommend players focus on.
39. Always Keep Your Hands Active
While you’re playing on-ball defense, you should be tracing the basketball with one of your hands at all times.
Doing so will allow you to deflect the basketball if the offensive player makes a quick pass inside and also simply discourages passes as your opponent knows you may get a hand to it.
Your other hand should be below the basketball looking to tap the basketball out of their hands or to poke it loose if the decide to dribble.
By leaving your hands down at your sides (which a lot of players do), you’re not achieving anything defensively.
Keep your hands active.
40. Swipe Up at the Basketball
Most players have formed a bad habit of swatting down on the basketball when attempting to reach in for a steal.
The problem with doing this is that the referee will often call the defender for a foul. It looks aggressive and there will often be contact made with the arm.
The better way to steal while playing on-ball defense is to swipe up at the basketball. This means keeping one of your hand’s lower than the basketball with your palm facing up.
Since the defender should be playing lower than the offensive player, this is a far more successful method and will result in fewer foul calls.
41. Contest Shots by Blocking the Shooter’s Vision
A cardinal on-ball defensive sin is jumping up and swatting at the basketball attempting to block an opposition player’s shot.
Although this can sometimes work, there are two main reasons why this isn’t always a terrific idea…
1. You might foul the shooter
It’s incredibly difficult to block an outside shot without fouling. The shooting motion of most players will often bring their arms directly into yours on the shot resulting in a foul.
2. They might fake the shot
If you jump on a shot fake, it’s game over. They’re going to have an open drive to the rim and if they don’t score themselves, they’ll often be able to pass to an open player for the shot or layup.
Instead, the best option you have when defending an outside shooter is to get your hand up to their face and take away their vision of the rim.
A missed shot is just as good as a blocked shot. Often better since most blocks are out of bounds or straight back to the opposition team.
This tactic allows you to stay on the ground and react quickly to whatever happens next.
42. Always Jump to the Basketball After a Pass
One of the primary rules of defense is to never allow your opponent to cut ball-side of you after making a pass.
This most commonly occurs on a pass-and-cut when the opposition is swinging the basketball around the perimeter.
After making the pass, they will immediately look to cut ball-side for the for the give-and-go pass leading to an open layup.
Great defenders never allow this to happen.
Any time you’re guarding a player and they pass to a teammate, you must immediately jump towards the basketball on the flight of the pass.
This removes your opponent’s opportunity to cut ball-side and forces them to cut behind which is a much more difficult pass to make and puts you in prime position to intercept the pass if it’s attempted.
Even if they choose not to cut, you’re immediately denying the return pass to the player you’re guarding.
Off-Ball Basketball Defense Tips
43. One-Pass Away – Deny or Help?
One of the most important principles of your team’s defensive system you must understand is whether to deny when one-pass away or whether to be in help position.
This is the main difference between the two most popular defensive systems: The man-to-man defense (deny) and the Pack Line defense (help).
If you’re denying the pass, you should always have one arm and one foot in the passing lane, your chest should be facing your opponent, and you should see the basketball by looking over your ball-side shoulder.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the defensive system may not have a universal rule on this. The rule may change depending on where the basketball is on the court.
For example, some coaches prefer to allow the initial pass to the wing and then deny after that pass has been made.
Others might allow passes to the corner by playing in help position but deny any reversal pass back to the top of the key.
Make sure you understand your team’s defensive strategy when defending one-pass away from the basketball.
44. Learn How to Close Out Correctly
Close outs are one of the most difficult skills to master on defense.
In fact, there any many offenses and set plays designed specifically to create defensive closeouts as that’s often where a lot of defenses break down.
There’s no avoiding them. If your team is in help position (which they should be), then there will be close outs no matter what.
So how do you perform them effectively?
The key to closing out is to sprint approximately two-thirds of the way to the defender and then use short, choppy steps to finish the close out.
As a player gets close, they should be low with their weight back to absorb the drive and also have one hand up to deter or contest the shot.
45. Never Help Off Ball-Side Corner
The corner three-point shot is arguably the most efficient shot in the game of basketball. You should never leave this shot open.
A player will most commonly make this mistake when an opponent drives to the rim from the wing and they’re defending a player in the corner one-pass away.
Instead of staying on their opponent, this corner defender will drop down to help stop the drive to the rim leaving their player open for the simple pass and wide open jump shot.
Every player must understand that help comes from the middle. That’s why you must always have a defender on the split-line.
Help never comes from ball-side corner.
They can quickly plug and recover to their player, but they should never completely commit to helping on the baseline wing drive and leave open their opponent in the corner.
46. Always See Your Opponent and the Basketball
Whenever you’re on defense and you’re not defending the basketball or one-pass away, you should be in a ‘defensive triangle’.
The defensive triangle (or ball-you-man) refers to positioning yourself between the basketball and your opponent so that you can see both with your peripheral vision.
You should have one hand pointing towards the basketball, one hand pointing towards your opponent, and your vision should be in-between the two.
If a direct chest pass was made between the player with the basketball and your opponent, the help defender should be able to intercept it.
A defender should be as close to the basketball as possible but still close enough to their player that if a skip pass to them was made, the defender would have time to close out and establish defensive position without allowing an open shot.
The reason for this is that the closer a help defender is to the basketball, the quicker they can be to play help defense.
47. Constantly Adjust Your Positioning
A great basketball defender never stands still while they’re on defense. They’re constantly adjusting their positioning the entire possession.
Whenever the basketball or your opponent moves, you should be moving as well to make sure you’re always in the best defensive position.
This requires players to understand the defense to know where they should be, stay in a defensive stance to react quickly, and use the defensive triangle to keep vision of the player they’re guarding and the basketball.
If you’re not constantly adjusting your position, it won’t be long before you get caught out and your opponent gets a quick backdoor layup or a wide open jump shot.
Even if being caught out of position doesn’t lead to a direct score by your opponent, it will lead to a breakdown in the defense and the need for your teammates to rotate and help. This puts them out of position and usually leads to an high-quality shot from one of the opponents.
Your teammates need to trust that you’ll be in the correct position to help them just as they need to be in the correct position to help you.
Don’t let each other down with lazy defense.
Becoming a great basketball defender is one of the most important areas a player can focus on.
Since few players put a focus on defense, doing so is one of the best opportunities a player has of separating themselves from the crowd and advancing from a mediocre player to a great player.
If you implement the above tips into your game, very quickly you’ll see the impact that they can have on your game.