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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.