Defending great scorers

Regardless at whatever level basketball is played it always seems as though there is someone on the opposing team who is their prime “go to” player, the leading scorer, the “clutch” performer. Players and coaches spend endless time searching for the way in which they might subdue the opposition star and thus pave the way for victory.


© Sport the library/Chris Elfes/NBL Basketball-NBL/Sydney Kings 1990 Ian Davies 2001-0004-0627-109

One of the problems for the tacticians is the fact that quite often the talents of the star scorer and the team methods will vary significantly.

Eddie Palubinskas, one of Australia’s greatest ever scorers usually needed little help from his team-mates and could score equally effectively from close, or long range from the basket. Ian Davies was equally independent, but did most of his scoring from long range. Andrew Gaze has been the most prolific but, although he has great skill in creating his own scoring opportunities, depends more on team structure when racking up big numbers. Oscar Schmidt, the highest scorer ever in Olympic Games, also needed little help from his Brazilian team-mates and when the defence got tougher he just moved further away from the basket.

Perhaps, surprisingly, Australia had one of the best records of success over Brazil during the Oscar Schmidt era. This was mainly due to the emphasis that Australia placed on defending Schmidt. The theory being, if Schmidt is contained then there would not be enough score power from the rest of the team. No doubt other teams had similar intentions, but failed more often because of the spread of talent in the Brazilian line-up and the “conventional” way in which they would defend Schmidt. Oscar would just play further from the basket, receive the ball and blaze away from incredible range and still connect on a high percentage. Meanwhile his team-mates would reap the benefit of extra attention on Oscar and Brazil would be one of the highest scoring teams in international competition.


The Boomers solution to the problem of dealing with a great shooter was to oppose him with a player committed to the task and prepared to use unconventional methods. Mel Dalgleish and Larry Sengstock each had their own way of dealing with the problem. Mel was more physical and Larry was more “cerebral”, but both had a mission to prevent the great scorer from receiving the ball no matter where he was on the court. Other players on the Boomers squad, understanding the prime objective, concentrated on pressuring the ball handlers making any potential pass to Oscar very difficult. Quite often the offence broke down into a series of one on one plays with lower percentage shots, which, on most occasions, worked to the advantage of the Boomers.

The strategy of “starving” great shooters of the ball becomes more difficult when team structure is geared to help the shooter get free and team defence, as compared to individual defence, is vital. The Melbourne Tigers “Shuffle” offence is a typical example. The offence is designed to set up certain players in certain situations and unless the defence does something special players will get free in their preferred positions and it just becomes a matter of whether they can convert the opportunities. Andrew Gaze has been the main force for the Tigers for many years and has experienced just about every different tactic imaginable, but has still managed to average over 30 points per game.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (L) eyes the b

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (L) eyes the basket as he is guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers during their 01 February game in Los Angeles, CA. Jordan will appear in his 12th NBA All-Star game 08 February while Bryant will make his first All-Star appearance. The Lakers won the game 112-87. AFP PHOTO/Vince BUCCI (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)

Sometimes defenders choose to “concede” the points of a high scorer and concentrate harder on shutting down the others. An extra effort on players who may usually be the second leading scorer can prove successful. This usually means drawing the extra defensive help from another player who can be an acceptable risk. These tactics work best when teams have rigidly structured and predictable offences, thus allowing well prepared team defences to over play certain elements. The high scorer may still get his “quota” but without a balanced contribution from the others the team will fail.

When describing how to defend great scorers, John Wooden (UCLA) said, “High scorers usually like to get a good start in the game and if they don’t their anxiety can increase and lead to errors. Therefore it is often a good tactic to impose more pressure in the early stages of a game on the “shooter” and see if he has the patience to work through the pressure.” The great Larry Bird, while playing with Boston, was quite often subjected to this kind of pressure and in these circumstances would describe himself as a “decoy”.
It didn’t bother him to be subjected to extra pressure as he would welcome the attention and create more opportunities for his team-mates. His coach also acknowledged that you have to be a very good player to be a good decoy.


Throughout history there have been very few great shooters who could be described as “complete”, i.e. equally effective close the basket or on the perimeter, able to put the ball to the floor on hard drives, or receive on the perimeter and go straight up for the long range jumpers. Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and “Magic” Johnson are a few who could be mentioned. It was rare for them to be contained, no matter what tactics the defenders might use, they would still get their points and still be match winners.

There are others who have built reputations for being among the best, like Kareem Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Rick Barry, Shaquille O’Neil. All were, or are great scorers, but by comparison could almost be described as one dimensional. Kareem had his “sky hook” and during a time when the rules prevented zone defences, his hook shot became virtually indefensible. If the dunk had been barred Wilt Chamberlain would have struggled to earn half the number of points. Similarly “Shaq” has trouble scoring from anything except point blank range.

The mission for defending great scorers like those just mentioned is to force them to do something other than there preferred high percentage play. Of course achieving this is usually much easier said than done. Denying Kareem, or Shaq the ball close to the basket requires huge physical presence and team pressure on the passers. Denying Rick Barry his smooth perimeter jump shot required a similar team effort to that which was necessary for Oscar Schmidt. Teams in our NBL have been trying to stop Ricky Grace from driving left ever since he arrived in Australia a decade ago, but few have succeeded. Ricky goes to his right just enough to keep his opponent honest and unless there is a team defence approach the high scoring guard continues not only to score well himself but create high percentage opportunities for team mates.

The task of the defence to restrict great shooters has always, and probably will remain, very difficult. Players must recognise the special ways in which great shooters create their opportunities and then try to force them to their least preferred options. For players who have the benefit of well structured offences to help them get open the task for the defence is even greater. It requires determined individual pressure and skill and more importantly a coordinated team effort.



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Book now for Summer Break Timber Sports Flooring Maintenance

Times have changed. No longer do kids have to play the game on an uneven and risky asphalt court. The Government has constructed a purpose built, multi-discipline sports stadium at your school with a fabulous sprung timber sports floor. It ensures the very best surface for premium competition and is well used during school hours. After hours it is extremely popular with local basketball, netball and volleyball competitions. In essence it is a popular facility. Weekends see adult competitions and junior grades all enjoying the games of the hoop.


Nellakir constructed the Sports Flooring for the State Basketball Centre

Which all makes for real wear and tear – timber is a ‘living’ material. It requires regular treatment so ensure it maintains bounce and surface regularity. Line markings probably need re-doing on a busy court at least once a year. The surface of the court has a specialist coating of polyurethanes that enable the glide, the speed and reliability players depend upon in all levels of competition. On busy court surfaces this needs re-coating annually.

Nellakir has constructed and laid down many of the better known Basketball Stadium floors, including the State Basketball Centre in Knoxfield, the Casey Stadium in Dandenong, Eagle Stadium in Werribee and are currently completing works on the Bendigo Stadium. As well, Nellakir constructed the feature sprung timber courts at the State Netball Centre in Royal Park.


Sprung Timber Sports Floors at Eagle Stadium, constructed by Nellakir

Nellakir provides precision designed timber flooring and state of the art stadium seating. And it is for this reason that it’s the best decision to engage Nellakir for the precision upkeep and maintenance of your valued asset, on all your sprung timber floored competition courts and flooring.

Nellakir can revitalise your flooring with a full re-sanding, re-coating, linemarking and replacement of worn or damaged flooring. It requires real understanding and expertise to maintain a balance across the whole court area of the old and new when timber flooring is ever replaced. Alternatively it may now be time to consider a complete refurbishment of the existing flooring, through re-stumping and re-laying a new floor. Nellakir offer the very best options in Victoria and Tasmania.


State Netball Centre Sprung Timber Court Flooring by Nellakir

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Nellakir helps young athletes reach their goals by providing the highest quality Sprung Timber Sports Floor playing surfaces.

Continuing on Defence

Guarding the player with the ball

Good team defence starts with good individual defence, which is the ability of a player to contain his opponent or restrict him from influencing the game. In almost all situations, the coach will instruct players to apply pressure to the ball-handler to prevent him passing the ball or making it difficult to dribble.


When practicing one-on-one situations, the defender should decide how to make his opponent move in one direction or another, forcing him to change direction or stop his dribble. These moves are difficult and require a commitment to achieve maximum fitness and many repetitive drills to develop sound technique.

Most players will prefer to dribble with their right or left hand and have favourite moves to get open for their favourite shots. Prior knowledge about these preferences is helpful, but coaches and players should identify these moves early in a game and adjust their strategies accordingly. At the higher levels, most players have a wide range of skills, which makes it more difficult to prevent them doing what they want to in one-on-one situations, so a team approach to defence is necessary.

It is not uncommon for coaches to call for players to push your opponent to the sideline or push your opponent to the centre or don’t allow your man to drive toward the baseline. The coach wants his players to apply sufficient defensive pressure to the offensive players to influence them to do what the defenders prefer.

When there is strong pressure on the ball-handler, the defenders guarding players away from the ball will make decisions about preventing their opponents from receiving a pass or helping their team-mate who is defending the ball. They will be unable to do this successfully unless they ALWAYS see the ball and their opponent and they communicate.

Coaches regularly call for their players to talk. This does not mean chatter, but to communicate important information to help their teammates play defence. On defence, most of the talk involves alerting the on-ball defender to screens being set by the offence and letting him know there is help available on the left or right or to fight over or through a screen or to switch on the screen. In other words, the defender can make adjustments to his positioning and how he deals with his player according to the information being fed by his teammates. As easy as it might sound, it is not so easy to get players to communicate constantly. They must be reminded frequently to talk to get maximum benefit from their efforts.

Coaches will usually give pre-game instructions to players about how to deal with screens. Does he want them fighting over or switching? Does he want them to slide under screens and stay with their men? Does he want a double-team on the dribbler if he picks up the ball? These instructions depend on the skills of the opponents and the coach’s philosophy. In any case, it is desirable all the players understand the various options available and they execute the team plan. It can be very frustrating for players and coaches when players do not execute the team instructions.


Guarding the player without the ball

The moment a player attempts to score all members of his team should be thinking about defence, which starts with a determined effort to get the rebound. However if the opponents get the rebound then a quick transition from offence to defence is vital otherwise easy scoring opportunities will be conceded. Defensive pressure should be applied to the ball-handler as soon as possible, but it is just as important that players without the ball are defended to prevent them from receiving an easy pass.


Generally coaches will ask their players to get back to the line of the ball regardless whether their individual opponent is ahead of the ball or not. This allows help to be given to the player defending the ball-handler at least until the ball is advanced beyond the mid court area.

When the opponents initiate their half court offence the players defending away from the ball must decide if they intend to pressure their opponent in an effort to prevent him from receiving the ball, or take a position closer to the man defending the ball and be prepared to provide help. In modern basketball most players will aim to drive to the basket at every opportunity when they receive a pass and unless the defender is extremely quick and has good stance and position he will find it difficult to contain his opponent without help. Therefore the most common instruction given to beginning players is “Help and recover”. This means the first objective when defending a player without the ball is to take a position “in the driving lane” to prevent an opponent, who is able to drive past his defender, from going all the way to the basket.

The distance a defender should be away from his man, who does not have the ball, will depend on the skill of the player defending the ball-handler and whether you are one or two passes away from the ball. It is important to maintain vision on the player with the ball and your own man and do so without turning your head. If the defender turns his head and loses vision on his own man he will be vulnerable to a back door cut, or any move his opponent will make. If he loses vision on the player with the ball he will be unable to help prevent a penetrating drive. When defending a player without the ball the closer he is to the ball handler the closer you will be to him. If you are defending a player on one side of the court and the ball is on the other side of the court It is likely you should be close to, or inside the keyway. As the ball is moved to your side of the court the closer you will be to your man.

If we divided the front court down the middle into halves we would call the area where the ball is the “ball side” and the other half would be called the “help side”. In general we aim to pressure the ball to the sidelines and deep to the corner and then make it as difficult as possible for the opponents to move the ball quickly from one side to the other. If you are defending a player one pass away from the ball, try to pressure your man to catch the ball further out.

When applying “pressure” defense on the wing it may open up passing lanes into the post. Unless the post player is defended aggressively he is likely to receive the pass and then be in a good position to pivot quickly for a scoring opportunity or to pass the ball to the other side of the court. When tall, strong players are able to receive the ball in the post area close to the basket the offense will have an advantage. Defenders may choose to “front the post” that is to play in front between the ball and the post. This will leave him vulnerable to a lob pass, but that should be denied by ensuring Help side defense and, if necessary, double teaming defense.

Strategies may vary when considering the level of “help” required to the man with the ball, or the man away from the ball. Sometimes it may be preferred to overplay the potential receiver, whether it may be a post player or perimeter player. In other situations it may be preferred to allow passes around the perimeter and try to deny any penetration by drivers, or passes. However it is important that in all cases the man with the ball is defended closely.

Many teams consider defense to be a grind, a boring part of practice with little recognition given to hard work. However when the hard work is don, defense can be turned into fun. By varying the strategies between extreme pressure and retreated ‘help” concentration on certain individual opponents and denying their priorities, the satisfaction that comes fromdefensive success can be just as rewarding as high scoring.

Some hints on defense

  • The ball is the key and must be defended at all times.
  • Know when to help and when to deny. Defend without fouling.
  • All defenders must move every time the ball moves.
  • Block out, rebound, don’t give up second shots.
  • Always maintain good stance and position.
  • Point at your man, point at the ball.
  • Communicate purposely – don’t chatter
  • Fight over the top of screens when defending perimeter shooters
  • Slide through screens when defending non shooters.
  • Generally switch on screens on the ball, slide though screens away from the ball.
  • Help and recover




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Basketball Tips – Defence

Defensive stance and movement

The defensive stance and the ability to move while staying in that stance are two aspects that will define a good defensive player. The longer you can stay in your stance and apply pressure to your opponent, whether he has the ball or not, will be crucial to your team’s chances of winning a game and more. As the old saying goes: Offence wins games, defence wins championships.

Stance and slide




Crouch with your knees bent and weight evenly distributed on the balls of both feet. Your thighs should be almost parallel to the floor with head erect and back almost straight. When moving to defend an opponent who has the ball, the defensive player should take short sharp steps and the feet virtually slide across the floor. It is important not to bounce on your feet as this limits your ability to change direction quickly and adjust to the different pace your opponent will use to disguise his intentions.

Drop step




One of the most difficult things to learn is to move backwards quickly. The drop step is an essential skill you will need to retreat fast down the court, covering your opponent using a good defensive stance while being aware of the positions of your teammates and opposition.

To learn this movement, take up a good defensive stance. Try to imagine you are going to fall backwards and land on your right buttock. The only way you can stop falling is to move your right foot backwards and around very quickly. This movement will keep your stance low and in good position. Never cross your feet, but slide.

Drop step drill


Players move backwards down the floor, taking a drop step first then sliding a few steps while maintaining a good defensive stance, then taking another drop step in the opposite direction and sliding again. There would normally be about eight changes of direction to move from one end of the court to the other.


Tips for better defence

  1. Study every opponent and know each of your team-mates defensive assignments. If you are forced to switch, you will then know which man to take.
  2. All five defensive players should be in the keyway for defensive rebounds. After a shot by the opposition team your first job is to check your man and then go after the ball.
  3. Learn early in the game, or through scouting, what are the favourite moves, or fakes of your opponent. It is rare a player will change his normal habits during a game so being prepared will help you apply tougher defence.
  4. Always  be in a position to see your man and the ball, without turning your head. The distance you are away from your man will depend on whether you are one or more passes away from the ball.
  5. Be alert for screens. When your man sets a screen on a team-mate, you must warn him and be prepared to switch. Sometimes get reluctant to “talk” while defending. If you are defending a screener the typical instructions could include, switch, fight over, slide. Each of these instructions will depend on the skills of the opponent, the distance between the screen and the basket and the effectiveness of the screen.
  6. When  defending an excellent shooter the defender may have to fight over the top of the screen, otherwise he will be vulnerable and the offensive player may have a good scoring opportunity. While the defender fights over the screen he may need temporary help from the team-mate guarding the screener. Sometimes it might be appropriate for both players to double team the shooter. In this case the screener could be open for a return pass if there is not enough defensive pressure on the player who was being screened and a third defender might be called on to help. This will require a rotation of defensive assignments and a lot of communication between all defenders with quick adjustments to new assignments.
  7. The man defending the centre, or post man should also call help when he is required to front an opponent near the basket. When a man receives the ball close to the basket he has a high percentage scoring chance, so it is necessary to deny these passes as much as possible. When ‘fronting’ the post to deny a direct pass, the lob over the head of the defender is the natural option for the offence. That requires defensive help from team mates on the weak side to prevent, or intercept the lob pass.
  8. When caught in a two on one fast break situation, protect the basket first. Try to fake the ball-handler and force him to stop his dribble. Normally there is no way you can prevent a shot, but you might be able to force them into a poor shot, or delay them long enough for help to arrive. The instruction given to offensive players in this situation is, the dribbler should attack the basket until the defender gets into the driving lane and only then make the pass. So the defender must try to confuse the dribbler by faking and retreating in an effort to intercept a pass or force a contested shot.
  9. When defending a ball handler on the side of the court overplay slightly toward the baseline to prevent him from driving in that direction. You are more likely to receive help if the player is forced to drive toward the middle of the court. Some coaches teach the opposite, encouraging a drive to the baseline, with the expectation t help will be available from the centre, or postman close to the basket. This strategy is more common in the American NBA where tall, strong and aggressive players are common, but the ball-handling skills and quickness of modern players means that allowing players to penetrate the baseline will usually lead to a good scoring opportunity for the driver or the man he passes to.
  10. Do not foul un-necessarily. It is possible to play aggressive defence without fouling. Team-mates, opponents, spectators and officials always respect players who play hard but within the rules.
  11. There are many players who can score, but it takes a lot of determination and effort to play good defence. If you are not a great shooter but play tough defence, you will find a place on most teams.




Nellakir helps young athletes reach their goals by providing the highest quality Sprung Timber Sports Floor playing surfaces.