Individual Player Defensive Skills & Techniques

Like their offensive counterparts, defensive fundamentals must be broken down and practiced constantly on all levels of basketball. Players need to know and practice how to guard the player with the ball, how to guard a player without the ball, how to guard a cutter, how to guard a player in post area, and how to box out and rebound on shots.

Guarding Players With The Ball Fundamentals

Guarding a Dribbler

Defenders must take the initiative and attack, rather than react to offensive actions. Eliminate the “triple threat” (shot, pass, drive) options by taking away the shot and pass options, and forcing the ball hander into dribbling. The reason being is that the offense cannot score when dribbling.

Guarding a Ball Handler

The On-Ball defender must maintain a low, bent knee “Nose on Chest” stance with active hands and feet influencing the ballhandler towards a sideline or corner trap zone. Be aggressive and keep the ball handler off balance with defensive fakes.

Guarding a Dribbler

Containing a dribbler by pushing them toward a sideline or corner trap zone. In today’s basketball, most players are highly skilled in ball handling moves such as crossovers, between legs, spin and behind the back moves. Since most these offensive moves are predicated in getting past a defender, rather than trying to counter every move, the defender should just contain a dribbler once the ball handler initiates the dribble. To do this, the defender must stay down using knees apart, push or shuffle steps until ball handler picks up their dribble. Guard the dribbler not the ball. Do not reach or go for the steal unless the ball handler commits a flagrant dribbling error.

Attacking the Picked Up Dribble

Anytime a dribbler stops and picks up the dribble, the defender must immediately and aggressively attack and smother the ballhandler. The defender should exert maximum pressure by crowding the opponent and tracing (following) the ball with both hands. Force the opponent into making a bad pass or, better yet, taking a valuable time out.

Guarding A Player Without The Ball Fundamentals

Strong Pass Dennial

Off Ball fundamentals are the building blocks of a strong team defense. Off Ball defensive fundamentals require that players become highly skilled and proficient in first pass denials, disrupting cuts, sagging off and providing backside support, and quick close outs.

First Pass Denials

Attacking the passing lane on ballside by assuming and maintaining a low bent knee “Ear on Chest,” position between opponent and the ball extending the near arm straight out into passing lane with the palm to the passer. Maintain a position between the passer and receiver. Use split vision see both the opponent and passer.

Helpside Support

Assuming a sagging off defensive position on the weakside. In assuming a Helpside positions, the defenders are in a position to help out teammates on dribble penetration, double team, deny ball cuts, and rotate to the nearest player if/when a trap occurs. In providing strong backside support, it also allows “On Ball” defenders to become more aggressive and confident by eliminating any fear of getting beat off the dribble.

Quick Close Outs

When the ball is passed from one side of the court across to the other side, defenders must rotate quickly and match up against the closest offensive player. Close out rotations must be initiated as the ball leaves the passer’s hands. The ability to close out quickly and effectively is a real key to defensive success.

Defending Cutters

All direct basket and ball cuts should be disrupted and denied by physically blocking and assuming strong pass denial positions. Defenders must NEVER allow the cutter to make an uncontested cut or trail a cutter to the basket.

Post Defense

Post defense is played before the post receives the ball, not after. Force the opponent to adjust and set up out of their normal operating area. Defender must be active assuming a low in an “Ear on Chest” pass denial position. If the post wants to set up with back to basket in a low position, push high. If the offensive post likes to set up high, force low. Front and deny the passing lane against a good scoring post player. When playing behind the post, push off the block and away from basket. If a pass should get into the post, quickly assume an On-Ball defensive position.

Defensive Rebounding

Defensive rebounding requires a total team effort relying mainly on positioning and strength. In defensive rebounding, to be successful, every offensive player’s path to the basket and ball must be blocked. Therefore, boxing out an opponent is just as important as obtaining the rebound.

Defensive Box Out

"Box Out" – inside position is maintained on shots by using a simple front pivot, “Hand to the Shoulder – Butt to the gut,“ technique.
"Find & Go Get" – boxing out on the weakside differs from boxing out on ball side in that the defender is sagged off in a support position and stance. Therefore, weakside boxing out requires the defender to first step out and locate their opponent prior to boxing out.
"Arm Bar" – technique used when opponent does not attempt to rebound.


Things to Consider About Defense

  1. Poor defense is the number one cause of defeat.

  2. Good defensive teams are the ones that win big games and championships.

  3. Defense is stable, and seldom has bad nights. Good defense will beat good shooting.

  4. Team defense cannot be better than the fundamentals of each defender.

  5. You are never too late on defense - always hustle back. Play every play with the same intensity as the last play of the game.

  6. One of the most important principles of defense is to push the ball hander toward the sideline. In keeping the ball out of the middle it not only cuts down and minimizes the offensive operating area on the court, but it also establishes helpside defensive support.

  7. Good defense promotes the best scoring opportunities.

  8. Be alert and anticipate. Aggressive defense prevents the opponent from playing their normal game. Never be caught standing or watching.

  9. Maintain vision on the ball handler. Most passers telegraph their passes.

10. See the ball. Defenders should NEVER run back on defense with their backs to the ball.

11. Communicating on defense is a must. Use quick, descriptive words (“Ball”, “Help”, “Shot”, etc.).

12. Offensive moves (jab steps, crossovers, reverse pivots, etc.) are predicated in getting past a defender, rather than trying to counter every offensive move, simply back off (build cushion) and protect against drives.

13. Pressure all shots with both hands up. Stay down and rebound. Do not run past a shooter. A shooter is the most dangerous rebounder since they know where the ball is going as soon as it leaves their hands.

14. Develop individual and team pride on defense. To be successful players must work together and help each other out.

15. Post defense is not just limited to the tallest players on a team; on the contrary, smaller players can definitely expect to be posted up.

16. By constantly attacking the passing lanes, it will disrupt offensive spacing and timing by forcing the offensive players further away from the basket in order to receive the ball.

17. Anticipating and taking an offensive charge is a “Really Big Play” (RBP) in basketball. It not only takes away a potential basket and creates an offensive turnover but it also assesses the offensive player with an additional penalty of a personal foul.

18. Good defensive effort usually results in more playing time.

19. Never give up the three point play. If you must foul, do so before the player shoots. Fight for good position and eliminate the defensive foul. Move your feet and don’t reach.

20. The “best defense” is an offensive rebound.

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