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Defensive Basketball Techniques
Defensive techniques used in preparation for football games can be applied to those used in basketball. In soccer, the goal is to use schemes, formations, and techniques that limit the ball’s progress. One technique is to identify tendencies and find ways to counter them. For example, in basketball, if you find a way to reduce your opponent’s shooting percentage by five percent, it could create a difference of six to eight points. It is a worthy success.
Let’s begin with an overview of man-to-man defensive techniques. One of the first decisions is your opponent’s dominant hand; either right-handed or left-handed. This is the shooting hand, and it determines how you guard your man and obstruct the shooting path. The next determination is which leg is the pivot. This can change with possession and determines the tendency on the drive side, often towards the side of the foot without turning. Another sign is the position of the hand on the ball. Shooting with the hand behind the ball indicates preparation for the shot. Hands on the side of the ball indicate preparation for the pass. The hand on the top of the ball indicates preparation to lead and which hand indicates whether you are going left or right.
Another indicator is dribbling patterns. Players who dribble between the legs or behind the back do so in repeated patterns before shooting or driving to the basket. Knowing that tendency gives a defender a slight edge, a split second to contest a shot or dribble. Contested shots or attacks reduce the percentage of points and by how much depends on the agility and speed of the defender. It also depends on the player’s ability to read and react to indicators.
A penchant for reading can also help with theft. By watching the rhythms and patterns of the dribble, the defender can predict where the ball will be and can hit that spot by deflecting the ball. Such a move requires knowing when to attack and becoming instinctive instead of mental with practice. Aiming too early allows the opponent to divert the dribble and leaves the defender out of position too late. The point of attack is usually when the dribbled ball rises to the opponent’s hand where the dribble follows a predetermined pattern. Stealing the ball in this way not only instills confidence in the opponent, but also adds two points to the difference in the score. Stops a scoring attempt by an average of one point per possession and allows a scoring opportunity by giving up an average of one point per defense.
Team Defense combines the techniques mentioned above, but adds coordinated assist moves. This could be upcoming or cutting passing lanes or even trapping a stationary player and disrupting passing or shooting lanes. Other times it’s correcting a mismatch such as a short player guarding a tall one, or an exceptional shooter facing a mediocre defender. Assisting is a constant choice of risk and reward as a double team can have positive results or it can leave the opponent completely open. So helping requires all five defenders to work as a team. This means that when one player moves to help, the defensive responsibilities of the other three change.
How it changes depends on the skill set of your opponents. For example, a low-percentage outside shooter requires less attention than an inside center who dominates in scoring and rebounding. Such a player would require special treatment, including double-teaming, lax defense and/or denial of the ball.
The main defensive problem is dealing with screens, snaps and the resulting mismatches. This is where trend analysis can become a big advantage. Are they using a screen to set up an open shot or drive to the basket? Or do they use it as a screen where the sieve peels off towards the basket? How you defend depends on their tendencies and the goal threat of the players involved. Good defense requires making calculated choices that result in the best outcome.
No defensive team will be able to stop the attack. Instead, the goal should be to limit points per possession. Rebound defense plays into this scenario because limiting second chances greatly reduces points per possession. While the defense has an advantage by being closer to the basket, it can increase this advantage with solid rebounding techniques. Blocking your opponent is basic, but defending possible landing spots is just as important. For example, missed mid-range jumpers fall closer to the basket than long 3-pointers. Layups and put-backs are even closer. Using this information can increase bounce rates.
Additionally, jump position is more important when facing taller, more athletic players. Blocking isn’t enough, you have to keep your opponent off balance by maintaining contact and limiting their jumping ability.
Shifting is another defensive trick where players shift the responsibility of guarding to another player. This can be a verbal or non-verbal exchange and is usually used in high screen situations. The biggest problem in this area is that the change is not final and one or both offensive players have an advantage. Players get caught in that area of indecision, and offensive players go unchallenged. Communication is a necessary remedy for such situations. Similarly, going to a minizone defense helps correct such mismatches and allows players to regroup.
In a zone defense, players are assigned an area that they guard instead of a player. Usually, players move in formation in the direction of the ball with little space between them. This spacing reduces dribbling or driving to the basket. So the offense boils down to passing the ball to the open man and mostly long shots. One strategy in this defense is to encourage low-percentage shooters to shoot and play on rebounds. Another strategy is to contest the shots of potential scorers, thus reducing the percentages.
Zone defense requires discipline in maintaining spacing and moving toward the ball in a decisive and confrontational manner. Here too, passing patterns are soon emerging that predict goal chances and which players are likely to shoot and when. This information allows the defense to increase engagements at those times. Such an intense defense can be exhausting and requires moments of recovery. This can be applied to the offense by walking the ball around the court, taking time out of the clock and shooting later in the shot clock. Keeping the game high-tempo can be regressive and detrimental to the winning cause. Therefore, attention to recovery is essential.
On defense, you have a few allies, namely the sidelines, the five-second rule, and the shot clock. When opponents get close to the sideline, it’s like you have another defender on them because they can only go sideways. And if they use their dribbling, it’s a tense moment that could lead to a turnover. Likewise, when pressed, they can be pulled out of bounds. So sidelining your opponent is a good thing and creates more chaotic moments to attack.
Taking advantage of the five-second out-of-bounds rule can be crucial in close games. Taking more than five seconds results in a reversal. When the offense has to last a long time, one can take risks and go for a quick turnaround. As such, a defensive alignment that stifles the pass should be a quick pile-up of defenders. First one, then two and quickly three blocking every possible passing lane, creating a chaotic challenge for the passer. Does the passer have a chance for an interception or does he have time to call a timeout?
In college, the five-second rule also applies to an offensive player who is closely guarded by a defender and does not advance toward the basket. This rule eliminates a dribbler who runs out of time without attempting to score. Here too, when defenders stifle the dribble and obstruct passing lanes, such action can lead to fouls and turnovers.
Knowing the shot clock can also yield positive results because with five to seven seconds left, the offense is forced to get a shot. This is the time to disrupt the flow and pace of the defensive attack. By preventing passes to primary shooters, more time is wasted, forcing inferior shooters to make bad shots. Such a strategy requires the defense to know the skill set of the offensive players and their shooting percentage, and then defend accordingly.
While scouting strategies are common in football, being aware of them and applying them in basketball can be a game changer. These strategies can emerge through studying the opponent’s statistics and video, or through personal observations and scouting reports. By countering the tendencies, skills of the opposition, the team can gain an advantage over the opponents that can be formed. Knowing what your opposition is likely to do is smart basketball. However, you need to know what tendencies to look for and how to incorporate the appropriate countermeasures into your game plan. It’s not just smart basketball, it’s brilliant.
The author wrote a follow-up article on the offensive aspect titled “Basketball: 5-Man Schemes Promote Winning Ideals.”
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