Streetball Defense: On-Ball Defense For Beginners

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.

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-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.


Basic Movements

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


Streetball Defense: Defensive Pressure

My favorite quote for Defense has always been “Offense wins games, Defense wins Championships”. It signifies that good offense can help you win many games, but good defense helps you stay on the court longer. However, even the most successful defense CANNOT end the game. It just can’t. You don’t win by blocking 5 shots, or grabbing 7 steals. The ball has to fall through the hoop.

It is an inevitable fact of the game: You will get scored upon.  The sign of a good defender lies not in how often you get scored on, but how you get scored on. Every time your opponent attacks, you should contest the shot, make him work hard to get that shot to fall in. So what is a good contest?

A good contest are actions or factors that lowers their efficiency of making shots/plays. It is not limited to just blocking shots, or stealing your opponent’s dribble. Anything action which increases the chance of you getting the ball back can be considered part of a contest. Although there are many techniques which can help you contest shots and create turnovers, today I want to focus on the fundamental essence of all these techniques: pressure

Pressure is “the threat of committing a mistake”. When you pressure someone with the basketball, you’re essentially making him feel as though he would commit a mistake. This makes him second-guess his decision, and in basketball, that moment of hesitation could spell disaster for him. Just by dropping into your defensive stance, you’re sending the message that you’re ready to react to him — putting pressure on him to make a decision. Should he accept your challenge and try to drive past you? Should he take a safer option and look for someone more open? Should he take a jump shot instead?

Sure, dropping into a defensive stance might make him more hesitant in attacking, but that’s not good enough. You have to strip him of whatever luxuries he have to make a play.When he holds his Triple Threat Position, or while he is  dribbling the ball, you must constantly remind him that the threat is real, that YOU ARE REAL. Remove him from his perceived sense of safety, make him fight to keep the ball, make your existence a deterrence for him from doing anything. Get your hands active, disrupt his space,  jab at the ball, hand check him, get a hand in the passing lanes, take away his space…. make him feel that the possibility of losing the ball is getting greater.

Many people forget to stress on the importance of STAYING LOOSE AND RELAXED (well, this is basketball after all, not Yoga). But, with all seriousness, those two are one of the MOST important factors of a player. The moment muscle tension builds up (be it from fatigue or frustration), you can guarantee yourself to have a bad game ahead. Muscle tension slows down the flow between motion, its emotional equivalent makes you undertake bad decisions. This is why a defender want to pressure you adequately enough —- to make you feel that tension. Once the offensive player feels the “urgency” to get away from the harassment, his body is going to start tensing up; like how a prey freezes up when a predator is nearby. Your defensive assignment will  start “looking” where he wants to pass, or take an ill-advised drive against you, or even pull-up for a jumper under tight coverage. After all, having a missed shot seems better than having the ball ripped by you. Once that happens, his offensive game will become much more sloppy, much more forced. He might start overcompensating his attacks; changing into a lower-percentage lean back runner (to avoid getting blocked), or speeding up his drives (and resulting in a hard layup off the glass), or shooting the ball unnaturally quicker than normal. This makes him a easier defensive assignment, and a less efficient offensive threat —– something which is really, really good news for you!

Always remember that Defense is really a game of heart and confidence. Make your guy think twice about doing anything against you. After all, you ARE going to make him pay for his little mistakes. A good defender should always go up the court feeling like the antagonist, the villain. Look to give the guy you’re guarding a bad day, expose his offensive prowess, make him pay for trying to score on you. Go out and play some D!