In pickup basketball, offense is as unpredictable as a dinner date with Ron Artest. (That's just a wild assumption, by the way. I've never actually had a dinner date with Ron Artest. As far as you know.) Some nights your teammates won't pass the ball, other nights you might not hit your shots. There are a lot of unknowns on offense.
But you can almost always play consistent defense.
Defense isn't about natural physical skills. It's about focus and effort. That's why guys like Bruce Bowen and Raja Bell -- fairly average NBA athletes -- were able to become elite defensive players.
Several years ago, I decided I wanted to become a better defensive player. This attitude is pretty rare in pickup ball. After all, it's the first team to 11 points, not 11 steals, right? But trust me, you can swing games by playing great defense.
Here are the defensive principles I live by:Commit to defense:
The majority of pickup ballers are pretty lackadaisical on defense. In most cases, the only time they actually try is when their man has the ball during a halfcourt set. They jog back in transition and they space out when their man isn't directly involved in the current play. This behavior results in easy baskets for the other team. Consistent effort results in stops.
Committing to defense is step number one to becoming a better defender.Develop the proper defensive stance:
This is step number two. Here are the 10 keys to a great defensive stance from Breakthrough Basketball
1. Fronts of the Feet - Most of your weight should be on the fronts or balls of your feet and the majority of the weight should be on the big toes. Heel should still be in contact with the ground.Watch your man's midsection:
2. Wide Base & Feet Turned Slightly In - Your feet should be pointing straight ahead or slightly turned in (pigeon-toed). This creates an angle that allows you to provide more force against the ground. In the picture to the right, the feet are bowed out which is improper form.
Your feet should also be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
3. Hips Back & Knees Bent - Butt should be behind the heels and your knees should be pointing forward, but not past the toes.
4. Knees Inside of Feet - This helps create better push-off power.
5. Butt Down - Staying low helps maintain balance.
6. Shoulders Over Knees - Your shoulders should be over your knees with your chest out and back straight or slightly arched.
7. Hands up - Depending on the tactic (Hands out or hand up to defend shot/dribble).
8. Eyes focused on the player's waist or chest.
9. You should be able to draw a vertical line from the front of your forehead thru the front of your knees thru the front of your toes.
10. All of this should create GREAT BALANCE.
No, not to admire his six-pack abs. This is a follow up to step 8 of a great defensive stance. Watching the midsection is the best way to determine which direction he's moving. That way, you won't get tricked by ball fakes, head fakes or foot fakes.Play off-the-ball defense: Karate Kid III
taught us that "If a man can't stand, he can't fight." Similarly, if a man doesn't have the ball, he can't score. Chase your man all over the floor. Deny him possession whenever possible. This doesn't always work in the NBA because coaches are able to write up plays that free up their players, and the players are good enough to execute those plays. Pickup basketball isn't that organized. With the right amount of effort and intensity, you handicap your man by limiting his shot attempts.
To do this, pay close attention to the ball-man line. That's what coaches refer to as the imaginary line between the ball and your man. Do your best to a) stay between that line and the basket and b) impede that line so that your man can't easily receive the ball.Sprint back on defense:
It's amazing how many buckets you can stop by doing this. I can't tell you how many two-on-ones and even three-on-ones I've stuffed just by getting my ass back in transition. Remember, this isn't the NBA. There's no guarantee a pickup baller is going to finish a fast break.Block out:
They call them "defensive rebounds" for a reason, people. Rebounding is the final step of a successful defensive play. When the ball goes up, put your body between your man and the basket and make contact so he can't get around you. It's as simple as that. But you'd be surprised how many people can't or won't do it.Grab rebounds with two hands:
Dr. J was the master of the one-handed rebound. When he did it, it looked fucking cool. Guess what? You aren't Dr. J. Don't try to one-hand the rebound. Don't tap at it. Go after it and grab it with two hands.Jump to the pass:
Whenever somebody passes teh ball, take a few quick steps in the direction the pass was thrown. This will put you in the proper position to stop your man if he cuts to the basket or help a teammate who gets beaten off the dribble.Call out picks:
Seriously. Your teammates need to know.Fight through picks:
A lot of people get stopped cold by picks...or they stop themselves cold. Seriously, a lot of people hit the pick and then give up on the play. Fight through it. Again, this isn't the NBA. You can get through that pick.Pressure your man when he has the ball:
Make him work. Make him think. And whatever you do, don't keep backing up and letting him move to his sweet spots. Never concede anything. The harder you make life for the man with the basketball, the better the chance your team gets a stop.
When pressuring your man, keep your hand up and active so he can't see the court, shoot an open shot or make an easy pass.Stay between your man and the basket:
That's where he's trying to go. On that subject...Slide your feet:
When guarding a man who's dribbling the ball, step sideways with the lead foot (the foot closest to the direction you want to go), then push off with your trail foot. Keep your feet in contact with the floor. Stay in a low stance and keep your feet wide. Make quick slides.Deny the middle at all costs:
Always keep your inside foot high to deny dribble penetration toward the middle of the court. Overplay toward the middle to force your man baseline. This way, the baseline becomes an "extra" defender. The backboard can also become an extra defender if you force yoru man to dribble partially behind it.Get in your man's shot pocket:
Never heard of the shot pocket? Here's the definition
: The position the basketball is in when a player begins his jumpshot. Typically, the ball is "in the shot pocket" when all parts of the shooting arm -- upper, lower, hand, and two shooting fingers (index and middle) -- are in a vertical plain to the side of the face, out in front of shoulder.
If you keep a hand inside your man's shot pocket, he's going to have to move the ball around your hand in order to shoot. This effectively takes him out of his natural shooting motion. Muscle memory is a key component of shooting, so making a player shoot in an unusual way often results in a missed shot.Contest every shot:
But do it the smart way: Stay on your feet and keep your hands up.Do some scouting:
Remember: Most pickup ballers have limited skill sets. They probably have only one or two moves. They can only hit a few pet shots. You should be able to figure out what someone's tendencies are after a handful of games. Once you know what they like to do, you can stop them.
My buddy Mister P loves to shoot threes from a specific spot. I always put extra pressure on him when he's near that spot. He also has this move where he takes on hard dribble to the right, comes back to the left and then pulls up for a jumper. When he's going into that motion, I overplay him left because I know he wants to come back that way. It disrupts the move and he usually has to pass the ball away.Guard everybody:
I don't care if your man isn't an offensive threat. D him up anyway. Why give somebody an open shot? Even bad players hit the occasional jumper. Or they earn garbage points -- open layups or putbacks -- because their defender isn't paying attention. I've been on teams that lost because bad players were given the green light. Many times. On the flip side, putting intense pressure on lousy players can cause turnovers. That's a better outcome, right?Avoid All-Star Defense:
Blocked shots and steals. There are people who think these are the only defensive plays that can be made. Blocking lots of shots or grabbing a lot of steals help make people an All-Star in the NBA. They also make SportsCenter. But fundamental defense rarely results in blocks or steals. Going for them, on the other hand, will get you beat. I play with guys who love to gamble for steals so they can go the other way for an easy bucket. Unfortunately, more often than not, the team defense gets disrupted by their wild gambles.
Labels: defense, pickup basketball