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
Next week we will continue with tips 25-57. Learn from the best. Be the best you can.
On a Nellakir Sprung Timber Sports Floor – the champion floor where champions learn and perform.