How to Defend Better in Basketball

Coach Wayne Wharton demonstrates techniques of dribbling and defensive strategy drills.

It’s important to learn defensive techniques in basketball, and even if you are at a low skill level, coaches say it is easy to improve your game.

A few regular drills can help you master a strong defense and you can end up being the team’s most valuable player.

What you do with a good defense strategy is to shut down the other team’s best players. There are two main types of defenses, and plenty of variations. The man-on-man defense is a classic style where the coach assigns each person to a specific offensive player. The zone defense has you playing a specific area of the court. A junk defense is some combination of the two, and mixing it up when appropriate.

Among the most common zone defense is the 2-3 zone, where two players remain at the free throw line area while three other players guard the baseline. This strategy is good for defending against corner attacks and going for the rebound.

It’s important to always be aware of your opponent’s positioning, but also your own teammates, and where they are situated. Learning good footwork helps with a great defense.

One simple drill, a Lane Slide, is a bit hard to perfect. A Lane Slide will force you to keep your body low and keep your feet apart, as you learn how to pivot your feet while dribbling. You learn to slide side-to-side and front-to-back and back-to-front. By repeating that motion, your body will have muscle memory with the move, and it will be easier to dribble.

One tip that coaches insist on to help create a faster defense is always having your knees bent in an athletic stance to show you are ready for anything.

One test to prove this works is to have a race of only 15 feet between the fastest runners and the slowest runners. Have the faster runners start standing straight up, and the slower runners start with their knees bent in an athletic stance. Chances are you will see how starting from the bent position allows even slower runners to get a faster start.

Another tip from good coaches is to have the defense move on the pass, not on the catch. Moving when the ball leaves the offense’s hands offers you an extra second to get into position to block the shot and possibly retrieve the ball.

Becoming a Lockdown Defender makes you also a valuable player, too. What it means is that you remain low — keeping your head below the opponent. It makes you a better defender, and the chances are that you will foul less.

At some point you have to move toward someone, so play close enough to touch, but be aware of fake shots and false moves.

You don’t need to have your hands overhead, but keep them at shoulder height. If a person can still continue dribbling, and isn’t forced into a shot, it’s not necessary to raise your hands high, because chances are the opponent will sneak around you.

“Your footwork is your best asset for defense, and you can push the opponent into a place of weakness,” says basketball coach Wayne Wharton, who teaches in Southern California. Wharton played basketball too, and studied kinesiology, which is the study of the body moves. He said he believes that practicing techniques and movements will train your body to follow the same moves every time.

“Repetition and constant practice will put your body in a place of confidence, and you can master a good defense,” Wharton says.