Not all players are going to be dominant on the offensive end of the floor, and the reality is, not all players need to be. That being said, there is no excuse for not working hard on the defensive end of the floor. Defense is about heart and effort, not natural talent. Focusing on defense is easier than done and requires a lot of hard work.
The first step to playing lock-down defense is staying between your man and the basket. This starts with knowing your opponent and what they want to do. If they like to go to their right, force them to their left. If you are guarding a shooter, don’t give them space to set their feet when they get the ball. If a player lacks the ability to shoot from the perimeter, give them space to make it hard to drive to the hoop. In the post, always be physical and use your body to prevent easy baskets and offensive rebounds. Everything you do should be focused on making the offensive player’s job as difficult as possible.
Remember to slide your feet on defense. Part of staying between your man on defense revolves around technique and footwork. Once you cross your feet up, you are at the mercy of the offensive player. Especially when guarding quality ball handlers, who will use jab steps or crossover dribbles to try and force you out of position, make the offensive player commit before you react. Once your opponent commits to one direction or the other, slide your feet on defense to stay in front of them. You should never be standing straight up when guarding your man.
Hustle. You’ve been hearing it for as long as you’ve been playing and it is an absolute must. It makes everything that you want to accomplish possible, especially on the defensive end of the floor. This entails being decisive and deliberate in your actions. If you want to help out on a double-team and trap the ball handler, make your move aggressively so he doesn’t have time to react. If there is a loose ball on the floor, get on the floor and go after it. The team who makes the most plays usually wins the game, and playing harder than the other team all but ensures that your team will make more plays than the other team on the defensive side of the ball. Hustle is not based on skill, it is based on effort. Lacking the skill of the team across from you is no excuse for getting outworked by them. I did not win Big West Conference Hustle Player of the Year award for nothing…
Even the best defensive scheme in the world won’t reach its full potential if a team doesn’t communicate. Talk to your teammates when you see a screen coming their way. If it doesn’t look like they will be able to fight through the screen, yell “switch” and take the player they were guarding. In transition, call out who is going to guard the ball handler and whoever else is running up the court. Many easy baskets can be prevented by getting back on defense and communicating. Making the opposition work hard for every point they score will not only have an impact on the other teams’ offense, it will wear them down physically and psychologically.
Guarding your opponent and challenging their shots is the first part of great defense, but great defense does very little good if you don’t rebound. There is nothing worse than defending your opponent for an entire possession, only to give up the offensive rebound and let them have another possession. Rebounding is largely a function of hustle and effort, so working hard on defensive rebounding is a must. When a shot goes up, block out the opponent closest to you and put your body between him and the basket. Great defensive rebounding primarily does two things for your team – ends the other team’s possession and gives your team the ability to get out and run down the court with a chance to score easy transition baskets. Getting defensive rebounds is the responsibility of everyone near the ball, so never assume that one of your teammates is going to get it.
If the ultimate goal is to win basketball games, making a commitment to focus on the defensive end of the court is an important first step to achieving that goal. Becoming a better defender is a choice, and if you put the work in, you are guaranteed to improve. All great teams that have ever existed have exemplified the importance of good, fundamental individual and team defense. It’s been said before,