Maybe you’re new to the game, and you’ve gotten beat constantly. Maybe you’re sick of looking like a fool one-too-many-times. Or maybe, you just want to start locking down other people, shut their mouths up when they start missing their shots…
And so, you have decided to start working on the other half of basketball —- Defense. In this article, I’ll very briefly touch on some key “elements” of on-ball defense, so that you know what to look out for when you start, or as you progress. From there, work on remembering and executing that two,three major key points for those specific levels.
Staying In Front
This is often easier said than done. The first step for defense is to simply stay in front of your man, constantly existing between the basket and the ball. Don’t force yourself in wanting to make your guy commit mistakes. If you can constantly keep your presence felt, if you can close his space, if you can keep him out of the high scoring areas… all these are signs good defense (rather than focusing on steals and blocks).
Physical Ability: How athletic you are is what I refer as “how much leverage you have”, or the leeway you have when committing a mistake. Basketball is a physical sport, so how fast or strong you are does influence the game in a significant manner. On defense, quickness is key on the perimeter; if you can quickly recover back in front of your man despite being crossed, you stand a good chance of making him more hesitant on spending effort to beat you. You will also need strong core muscles to hold your balance and maintain position, so that you won’t get literally run over on drive attempts, or pushed away down in the post. Then there’s stamina, which is essentially how long you can maintain your performance level. A lack of stamina means going from playing lockdown defense for one game, to no defense in the next. Other physical factors like vertical, grip strength, explosiveness, quick hands, nimbleness… all play roles in making you a better defender.
Defensive Stance: A correct defensive stances pre-position your body to react better to the movements of your opponent (similar to how a boxing stance offers protection to the Boxer’s vital targets). In basketball, short explosive movement is key on offense and defense; to be able to quickly drop back or cut laterally is the essence of defensive movements. Many coaches will teach different body placement, body angles and reaction in organized basketball; those usually suit the philosophy of their game. For me, I feel that the best defenders have a stance most similar to that of another sport: volleyball. For volleyball players, quick lateral hops to get into position is what allows them to receive powerful spikes, which can be translated in cutting off dribbles in basketball.
-Your knees should be shoulder width apart, while your feet are slightly further. This will give you a wide, stable base to move around
-Knees should be bent, pointing forward or (ever so slightly) inwards. This will provide you the power from your thighs to push off quickly laterally. Always stay lower than your opponent to contain (your head at his chest level).
-Be on the balls of your feet. If your stance is correct, you should feel the strain of the contact area pushing against the ground. (I prefer to feel the weight on the inner ridge along the big toe). This contact area is where you would push off when reacting.
-Top foot should be up (top heel should be slightly further from the bottom toes). This allows you to drop back towards the basket when you push off your top foot. Maintain a light bounciness (think Bruce Lee or Muhammad Ali) on your feet. YOU MUST ALWAYS FEEL LIGHT ON YOUR FEET
-Shoulder are drooping forward, relaxed (I do this by putting my hands on my knees). Hands by your hip to maintain balance, ward off screens, generate extra torque when turning, and keep your hands active (distract the offensive player, limit his vision). There should not be much tension in your upper body.
Coaches like to use the term “defensive slides”, which means moving laterally without breaking the stance. However, against quicker opponents, simply “sliding” is often too slow, making it easy for the defender to be beat. Enter the “Split Step”, a tennis footwork which allows for greater lateral quickness. In layman terms, it is essentially “bounce-push off-step”, a “slide” which includes a wind-up to a push off
First, the bounce. The light bounciness which I mentioned earlier on is crucial. Think of your legs as springs, it requires a hard compression to generate power, and releasing this compression allows the spring to jump off. By bouncing (either through extra bend of the knees, a deeper drop into your defensive stance, or a very small hop off the ground), you are essentially “compressing your spring” when you land. Think in terms of a wind-up that offensive players use when trying to drive past you; that short hop or “hesitation”, followed by the quick explosive burst forward. If you feel an extra tension on your feet’s contact area when you do it, than you’re doing it right. You “release” this compression through the pushing off from the opposite foot (if you’re moving right, push off the left foot), making it a far more explosive slide. If you do this right, you can feel yourself gliding in front of your attacker to cut him off.
For front/back movements, the same concept applies, except this time you will push off your top or rear foot after your “wind up”, without breaking your defensive stance. Remember, keep your feet light and bouncy, and very mobile.
Continues in Part 2