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How to play more effective off-ball defense in basketball

by | Sep 19, 2020

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Being a player who plays great off-ball defense can be just as effective as having one that’s a great defender on the ball.

“Off-ball defense” simply refers to defending when you aren’t guarding the player on the ball.

Here are four tips to strengthen your defending off the ball:

Pay attention to opponent AND ball-handler

When you are defending a player off the ball, it’s important to constantly be checking on them AND the player dribbling.

This is vital, as clearly, it prevents the opposing team from scoring in two ways.

Paying attention to your opponent:

This prevents them from receiving the ball for a wide open shot.

Paying attention to the ball handler:

This puts you in a position to help out or switch players with a teammate if needed, in order to prevent a bucket.

Staying alert is key…

Losing focus leads to points for the other team.

Talk and communicate with your teammates

Coaches go on and on about communicating on defense, and they have good reason to.

If you see an adjustment that needs to be made, call it out.

By doing so, you are able to shut down the opponent’s opportunities faster.

For example, if you see an opponent setting a screen on the on-ball defender, you can call out which side it’s on to let them know.

Additionally, you can look out for mismatches and call a switch.

This is where it would be better to swap the players that you’re guarding with a teammate.

(You can also call a switch when the player you’re guarding screens the on-ball defender. This leaves you to guard the player dribbling which they were guarding.)

basketball tips for better off-ball defense

Help defense

Help defense is a major part of off-ball defense.

At some point, the on-ball defender will get beat… it’s just how basketball is.

At times like this, it is often your role as the off-ball defender to rotate over and help defend them at the basket.

Make sure to get there on time, to give you a greater chance of contesting/blocking the shot.

If you’re late, it’s likely you’ll foul… and we don’t want that.

However, if you’re guarding a player who is a good shooter, it is best not to help.

You would be giving up a wide open shot.

Here, the best you can do is step away from your defender to fake the help (and block the path to the basket for a moment) and then rush back.

In basketball, this is called hedging.

Ball handler has their back turned?

When playing off-ball defense, this can be an opportunity for you to pressure the ball handler and maybe even steal the ball.

AGAIN, this is only advisable if the player you are guarding is not a good shooter. Although the ball handler may not see you at first, once they do, the shooter is wide open.

That said, at times the ball handler is congested in the paint and is not in a position to see you. In these situations, you can force a turnover by rotating over and trapping the ball handler/poking the ball loose.

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