In such a high scoring game as basketball, training defense is all too often overlooked for offence. Yes, you want to learn how to dunk, improve your footwork and glide your way through heavy traffic right to that perfect lay-up, but you don’t want the opposition constantly doing the same to you. There is a saying in basketball – offence wins games, defense wins leagues.
Let’s take a look at the meaning of good defensive play in basketball with a run-down of the key areas you need to work on to help you improve on this area of your game.
How to make an excellent basketball defense
As soon as the other team has the ball, you are in defense and it is your job to hamper all efforts they make to get it near the basket. The player with the basketball has a limited range of options open to him – he can pass, dribble the ball or attempt to shoot. You have to use the options available to you to shut down his possibilities. On a personal level there are several key points that you have to bear in mind and train, so that when you hit the court in a real game these things come as second nature and you do not have to think about doing them:
Get close and stay close. Ideally you should be close enough to swat the basketball (slap up) out of his hands if he holds it in front of him for even an instant. However you should not be so close that he can make it past you with a single stride. Unless you get this distancing correct, all the other points listed below are useless. You have to be a constant irritation, an obstruction and you have to bring the defense to your opponent. That way, when he tries to make a move you are able to shadow him.
Position your head correctly.
Your head should always be lower than that of your opponent. In basketball games, fouls are most often awarded for blocking when the defensive player’s head was higher than the offense. Having your head lower than his means you are ready to move faster. This is crucial, as you will be following his lead. If he lowers his head, you need to lower yours even more!
Positioning your body weight.
Put your weight back by leaning back slightly. Think about it in terms of a race – at the starting line you have your weight forward, leaning in the direction of the finish line. That player with the basketball has his weight forwards, the finish line is the basket and if you want to be able to catch him as he tries to slip past you, then you will need be leaning towards the basket too.
All players have a preferred hand for dribbling, passing and shooting, therefore you should guard them from the front but slanting across their good side. This way you will force them to dribble and pass with their weaker hand and raise the chances of an error. If a player does manage to dribble past you, you must react immediately. Turn on the spot, keeping your body really low, as if you are going to bite his behind. If you have been covering his good side you may get a chance to make an easy steal as he switches the ball to his better hand.
Your hands need to be in the correct position depending on the location and actions of the player you are guarding:
- If he is dribbling, your hand can be down by your sides at waist level, to help you shift your balance and fake at the ball.
- If the player has not yet dribbled and he is out of shooting range then your hands should be down. One hand stretched out to the side and the other stretched towards his navel so you can easily slap the basketball up should he hold it out front.
- If a stationary player is within shooting range, your hands must be up. Keep one hand up around shoulder height with your arm in front of his face to distract him. You are sending a clear message that you are ready to block any attempted shot and you are severely distracting him. Remember, keep your head low so as not to get fouled if he runs into you.
This is the last point but it is the most important! You must really want to be seen as a good defensive player, to build a reputation on this within your team (and hopefully afterwards in the mind of the opposition). Pay no regard to the status of the player you are facing. Why would you attempt better defense against a worse player and worse defense against a stronger player? It doesn’t make sense! You must be committed in all situations.
Points to remember
Remember, by doing all these things, you are making it hard for the opposition to make a good play and you are making it easier for your team mates. When they can see you have your man covered, they can get into advantageous positions as you shut the opposition down. Don’t be tempted to leave defense until the opposition are in your end of the court – take it to them! The danger is not when an opposition player is near the basket, it is when he is near (or accessible) to the basketball.
Use common sense in the aggressiveness of your defense. If you are in the lead then there is no need to be penalised for silly fouls. If you are behind though, then you must not prevent just shooting, it is imperative you prevent passes and make any steal possible. By keeping your morale up, regardless of the state of the scoreboard, you always have a chance of reversing a bad situation.