During practice in the days before your team’s biggest game of the season your coach lets you know that you will be guarding the opponent’s best player. This player is an absolute scoring machine. It seems like anytime they get the ball they can score at will against any defender. Now that defender is you! You spend the next few days trying to figure out how you can be effective as a defender against a player this good. You know that your coaches and teammates are depending on you to play great defense and lead the team to a win. What is the number one key thing that you can do to shut down (or at least contain) this great scorer?
PLAY DEFENSE BEFORE THEY GET THE BALL!
If you can limit the number of times your man gets the ball you will limit the number of shots that he or she can take. Working hard before your man gets the ball is not easy.
- You have to beat your man to the spot where they want to receive the ball. You must be paying attention at all times both to the position of your man and the position of the ball. If you know where the opponent likes to catch the ball you can use that knowledge to your advantage and gain a half-step. The key is to not relax, but remain focused on what your opponent is going to do next so you can beat them to their preferred spot and deny them the ball.
- You have to fight through screens. This requires being a tough, physical defender who is not afraid of contact. You must anticipate where the screen is coming from and how you will navigate around the screen. Do you follow? Go over the top? Your teammates can help you by “bumping” your man as they go off the screen, but ultimately you must compete and not allow the screen to hold you up.
- Know where your man is in transition. The two seconds it takes you to locate your man in the frontcourt can be all that player needs to get the ball and score. Don’t lose sight of the man you are supposed to be guarding as you sprint back on defense. You do sprint right?
- You can’t casually play helpside defense or make a show of denial at the last second and then suddenly attack the player once they have the ball. This is a pet peeve of mine as a coach. A player is lackadaisical the whole possession until their man catches the ball and then suddenly they are in a stance ready to play. The player already missed the best opportunity to stop their man by letting them catch the ball.
- Don’t turn your head to watch the ball. Always see both ball and man. The moment you lose sight of your man is the moment great scorers cut to an area from which they can catch the ball and either shoot or attack.
- Finally, remember that you most likely have more responsibility on defense than just guarding one player. So do your teammates. A great defensive team works together and communicates to take away opportunities for the opposing offense. Unless your coach has told you “no help defense” make sure you have your teammates’ back just like you expect them to have yours.
If you work hard before your man gets the ball your ability to contain a great scorer is dramatically improved. To read further about what it takes to be a lockdown defender click here.
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