Basketball isn’t like football. You must be able to play on both sides of the ball if you want to stay on the court and excel. Here’s the good news. Tall or short, strong or weak, quick or slow, lockdown defenders are made, not born.
Here are the four keys to becoming a lockdown defender that I wish I would have known while I was still playing.
1. Make a commitment to yourself
Before we talk technique, you must understand it starts with a commitment to yourself. Not your teammates, not your coaches, and not even your parents, IT’S YOU! You can have all the knowledge, technique, and athleticism in the world, but if you don’t commit to defending every practice, scrimmage, and game, you have no chance. You will struggle. So don’t even read any further if you are not willing to make that sacrifice to be great. But if you’re still reading and are eager to make that commitment, let’s talk technique!
2. Head height
Many coaches have yelled at you to be low in a stance on defense. So why is it that every coach says it, but few players consistently do it? Maybe it’s a lack of definition. You might not know what it means to be low. The constant self-check for, “am I low enough,” is: is my head lower than the offensive player’s head. This is tangible and easily attainable. Tall defenders move slower, get beaten more, and find themselves often reaching because they can’t stay in front. Keeping your head lower than the offensive players’ will immediately help you stay on balance, play wider, and foul less. Be a defender that understands why being low is the most effective way to guard your opponent and then do it!
3. Hand position
Many players, when guarding an offensive player off the dribble, play with high hands. High hands throw off balance and cause players to be slower when moving laterally. Players also tend to keep their palms down on defense. Then, they reach for the ball, and the refs call a foul (even when it might not have been a foul). Clever players understand referees don’t call fouls, they call what look like fouls, and slapping down looks like a foul. Instead, keep your hands low with your palms up. This allows you to “slap up” at the ball, which will lead to more deflections and steals while reducing the number of foul calls on you. It’s subtle, yet significant, and the way great players defend.
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4. Force Your Opponent to Their Weaknesses
If you are reacting on defense, you will get beaten. If you dictate, you can effectively anticipate. When Shane Battier, one of the great defenders in NBA history, was guarding Kobe Bryant in the 2009 Western Conference Semifinals, he understood that he couldn’t shut Kobe down. However, Battier knew he could dictate the action, forcing Kobe into zones of inefficiency. He knew where, on the court, Kobe shot a lower percentage and forced him to take more shots from those positions.
What can you learn from this? Well, the players you’re playing against aren’t professionals, and you probably don’t have access to advanced analytics like Battier did. However, the majority of players you’re competing against are weaker going to their less dominant hand. This means a right-handed player will make worse decisions doing things to their left. So stop allowing these players to dribble and finish right, force them left!
You: “I want to be a basketball player”
Me: “Take pride in your defense.”
You: “That sounds hard.”
Me: “Everything you want is on the other side of hard.”
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PGC Basketball provides intense, no-nonsense basketball training for players and coaches. Our basketball camps are designed to teach players of all positions to play smart basketball, be coaches on the court, and be leaders in practices, games and in everyday life.
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