When you are guarding a stronger basketball player, especially when he has the ball, how do you combat his pivots and his movement to the basket? How do you stay close to him and apply pressure without getting an apparently accidental elbow in your eye? It can be very difficult to apply pressure and hold your ground unless you can protect yourself in the process. Protecting yourself is the key ingredient, because no player is permitted to make contact intentionally. Intentional contact will result in a foul and a turnover, so a strong player who uses his strength merely to run over you or push you is of no particular concern. He is a poor player and will soon be out of the game. The problem is with the good player with strength, more strength than you.
The best way to guard a strong player with the ball is to keep your forearms up in front of your face. Keep your hands just to the side of your head or almost in front, with your palms out (facing forward) and your thumbs near your eyes. This is a very natural position, almost like Ali in rope-a-dope, except that your palms face forward, so that you are ready to put your hand up on a shot or to deflect a sudden pass. With your arms next to your body like this, you feel comfortable moving quickly, yet your hands are ready for anything.
The great advantage is that now you can take the pivoting and the swinging elbows and all the aggressiveness of your opponent on your forearms, the one place where you don’t really mind getting hit. Your nose is no longer at target for an “accidental” elbow, and you need not shy away from an aggressive pivot. You can stay in your opponent’s face without fear and without backing off an inch.
Also, by having your hands in the air, visible to the referee, it will not look as though you are responsible for any contact. So any fouls will likely be called on the offensive player as long as you maintain good body position.
This forearms-in-front-of-the-face defense is especially useful in guarding someone inside who is about to turn and take the ball to the basket, in applying pressure in a double-team or after the offensive player has used his dribble. You may find this defensive position useful even when you are guarding someone not as strong as you, but certainly it will be extremely valuable when you are facing a very physical, aggressive player who has great strength.
—Excerpted from the book, “Stuff! Good Players Should Know.”
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