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Defensive Basketball Techniques
Defensive techniques used to prepare for football games can be used in basketball. In football, the goal is to use plans, formations and techniques that limit the ball’s progress. One technique is to identify tendencies and find ways to counteract them. For example, in basketball, if you can find a way to lower an opponent’s shooting percentage by five percent, it can create a difference of six to eight points. It is a worthy achievement.
Let’s start by looking at man-to-man defensive techniques. One of the first determinations is your opponent’s dominant hand; Either right handed or left handed. This is the shooting hand and determines how you will guard your man and block the shooting path. Next determine which foot is the pivot foot. This varies with the property and determines the orientation of the drive side, often towards the non-pivot foot side. Another thing is hand position on the ball. Slapping the hand behind the ball indicates preparation for the shot. Hands on the side of the ball indicate a readiness to pass. The hand on top of the ball indicates readiness to dribble and indicates which hand to go left or right.
Another indicator is the dribble pattern. Players who dribble between the legs or behind the back often do so in repetitive patterns before shooting or driving to the basket. Knowing this instinct gives the defensive player a slight edge, a fraction of a second to contest a shot or dribble drive. Contested shots or drives reduce scoring percentage and how much depends on the agility and speed of the defensive player. It also depends on the player’s ability to read and react to indicators.
Reading habits can also help with plagiarism. By seeing dribble rhythms and patterns, a defensive player can predict where the ball is going to go and deflect the ball to poke it into that spot. Such a move requires knowing at what point to attack and becomes instinctive rather than mental with practice. Targeting too early allows the opponent to redirect the dribble and leaving the defender out of position too late. The point of attack is usually when the dribbled ball is climbing onto the opponent’s hand where the dribble follows a predetermined pattern. Stealing the ball like this not only destroys the opponent’s confidence but also adds two points to the scoring differential. This stops scoring attempts at an average of one point per possession and allows the defense to average one scoring opportunity per point.
Team defense combines the above techniques but adds coordinated movements to assist. This could be cutting off an oncoming or passing lane, or trapping a stationary player and obstructing a passing or shooting lane. Other times it corrects a mismatch such as a short player guarding a tall player or an exceptional shooter facing an average defender. Assisting is a constant risk-reward choice as double-teaming can lead to positive outcomes or leave the opponent completely exposed. Thus, all five defensive players must work as a team to help. This means that when one player moves forward to help, the defensive responsibilities of the other three change.
How it changes depends on the skill of your opponents. For example, a low-percentage shooter requires less attention than an interior center who dominates paint scoring and rebounding. Such a player requires special treatment, including double teaming, lowering the defense and/or denying the ball.
A major defensive issue is dealing with screens, peels and the resulting mismatches. This is where trend analysis can be a huge advantage. Do they use screens to set up open shots or drive to the basket? Or do they use it as a slip screen where the screener peels off the basket? How you defend it depends on their instincts and the scoring threat of the players involved. Good defense requires making calculated choices that result in the best results.
No defensive team will be able to shut down the offense. Instead, the goal should be to limit points per possession. Defensive rebounding comes into play in this situation because limiting second chances greatly reduces points per possession. Although a defense has the advantage of getting closer to the basket, it can increase this advantage with solid rebounding techniques. Blocking your opponent is fundamental, but defending potential landing spots is just as important. For example, missed mid-range jumpers come close to the basket versus long three-pointers. Layups and put-backs are even closer. Using this information can increase the rebounding percentage.
Additionally, rebounding position is more important when facing taller, more athletic players. Blocking is not enough, one must balance one’s opponent by maintaining contact and limiting their ability to jump.
Switching is another defensive move where players hand over the responsibility of the defense to another player. This can be a verbal or non-verbal exchange and is commonly used in high-screen pick and roll situations. Most of the problems in this area are that the switch is not fixed and one or both offensive players have an advantage. Players are stuck in that zone of indecisiveness and offensive players are left unchallenged. Communication is an essential solution in such situations. Likewise, moving into a mini-zone defense helps correct such mismatches and allows players to regroup.
In zone defense, players are assigned zones to guard instead of players. Usually, players move into formation angled toward the ball with little separation between them. This distance reduces dribbling or drives to the basket. Thus, the offense is restricted to passing the ball to the open man and taking mostly long shots. One strategy in this defense is to encourage shooting from low percentage shooters and play for rebounds. Another strategy is to contest shots from potential shooters which lowers the percentage.
Zone defense requires discipline to maintain distance and approach the ball in a decisive and tackling manner. Here again, passing patterns soon emerge that predict scoring chances and which players will shoot and when. This information allows the defense to escalate the conflict at that moment. Such intense defense can be tiring and require recovery moments. Offenses such as walking the ball up the court, taking time off the clock, and shooting later during the shot clock can be taken. Continuing the high-paced game can be counterproductive and detrimental to the winning cause. Thus, attention must be paid to recovery.
On defense, you have many allies, namely the sidelines, the five-second rule and the shot clock. When opponents step aside, it looks like you have another defender because they can just step aside. And if they use their dribble, it’s a tense moment that could lead to a turnover. Likewise, they can go out of bounds when pressed. Therefore, sidelining your opponent is a good thing and creates more moments of confusion for the offense.
Taking advantage of the five-second rule on out-of-bounds throw-ins can be key in tight games. Taking more than five seconds results in a turnover. When a crime has to go to court, a person can take a risk and make a quick turnover. Thus, the defensive alignment that disturbs the throw-in should be a quick accumulation of defenders. Blocking all possible lanes, first one, then two, and quickly three, creates a chaotic challenge for the passer. Is the passer likely to be intercepted or does he have time to call a time out?
In college, the offensive player is closely guarded by a defender and the five-second rule applies without the ball going toward the basket. This rule eliminates a dribbler who runs the clock without attempting to score. Here again, when defenders crush the dribbler and obstruct the passing lane, such action can lead to a violation and a turnover.
Knowing the shot clock can also have positive results, as when there are five to seven seconds remaining, the offense is forced to take a shot off. This is the time to disrupt the flow and pace of the defensive attack. By preventing primary shooters from getting going, more time is wasted forcing poor shooters to take poor shots. Such a strategy requires the defense to know the skill sets of the offensive players and their shooting percentages, then defend accordingly.
While scouting tactics are common in football, the awareness and application of them can be a game changer in basketball. These strategies can emerge from studying opponent statistics and videos, or through personal observations and scouting reports. By countering tendencies, an opponent’s skill set, a team can gain an advantage against stronger opponents. Knowing what your opposition can do is smart basketball. However, you need to know what trends to look for and how to incorporate appropriate countermeasures into your game plan. Not only is it smart basketball, it’s great.
The author wrote a companion article on the offensive aspect of “Basketball: 5-Player Schemes Promote Winning Ideals.”
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