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How to Play Better On-Ball Defense

September 4, 2017



Why are so many offenses placing an emphasis on driving and getting to the rim? Well there are actually several reasons but possibly the biggest one is simply that it's hard to guard! Because most players need to improve their "on-ball" defense, here are three ideas to consider:


# 1 Adjust Your Stance

It's safe to say that there are very few things that defensive coaches can agree on - man-to-man or zone? Front the post or play behind? Force baseline or force middle? Etc. But the one thing that nearly everyone agrees on is that all effective defense starts with the stance.


In fact, when it comes to defense I've heard some coaches say "No stance, no chance."

However, different situations call for different stances. (The San Antonio Spurs were great examples of this in the last few games of the 2013 NBA Finals)


An open stance allows players to take up more space, shrink the court, and stop penetration. A closed stance is more aggressive, allows you to push the offense away from the basket or in a particular direction and while there is higher risk there is also higher reward.


The important thing is for players to constantly be adjusting their stance to fit a particular game situation or philosophy. Most players know they need to be versatile when it comes to offense but they also need some defensive versatility as well and it starts with the proper stance.


#2 Measuring Up - Placement of Your Lead Arm

After the offensive player has received the ball and you have taken your initial stance, your next step is what I like to call "measuring up". Measuring someone up means that you are close enough to bother a shot attempt by the offensive player but far enough away so that you are in good position to react to any drive that might happen as well. The biggest mistake that many athletes make is they use their lead hand to trace or follow the ball as the offensive player rips through or sweeps from triple threat.


This often causes the defender to get off balance and out of position which gives the offensive player a direct driving angle to the basket. My suggestion for players is to simply put their lead hand up right in the offensive player's shot pocket and LEAVE IT. If they offensive player wants to rip through and sweep the basketball just stay in your stance and be patient! When the offensive player tries to drive, the defender will be in great position to react and defend it because he will still be in a low, balanced, stance.


#3 Arm Bar

Any good 1 on 1 player will surely tell you that the ability to get to the rim and score the basketball is all about creating angles and getting your defender off balanced. Thus, most offensive players will try to make contact and get into the body of their defender. Knowing this it is imperative that you as a defender keep the offensive player from creating that contact. This is where the arm bar comes in.


When the offensive player drives, immediately put your arm bar up and momentarily force the ball handler away from the basket. An arm bar will not only help you guide the ball handler away from the basket but it will keep you from getting holding fouls too. Although this sounds elementary and simple, the arm bar in my opinion is the difference between most 'good' on ball defenders and 'great' on ball defenders.


Sometimes the best solution to a problem is the simplest. There are no magic answers when it comes to playing sound and solid "on-ball" defense. Mastering the fundamentals might not be glamorous but it is highly effective!

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