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