The 5 Defensive Hallmarks of Great Basketball Teams
Written by: Chris Hungerford
Time to read 3 min
1. Great Transition Defense
Great defensive basketball teams get back on defense quickly to protect the basket so they don't give up easy baskets. To accomplish this, every player must hold themselves accountable to get down the floor faster than their opponent. If you allow the player you are guarding to beat you down the floor that is where the defensive breakdowns can start.
Players need to find another player to guard and that might not always be the man they are "supposed" to guard. The player with the ball needs to be slowed down to give the rest of the defense time to get back and into position. A common mistake in basketball is to not guard the player who is most likely to score in favor of making sure you have "your man". Have you ever seen a player leave the player with the ball to go find his man?
2. Players on Defense are Willing to Sacrifice Their Body
From taking a charge to diving for a loose basketball - great defensive teams have players that do the little things that make a big difference. Diving for a loose ball doesn't always show up on a stat sheet but that type of effort is contagious, raises the energy level of the team, and every player will give more of themselves.
If the best player on the team is willing to sacrifice for the team, every player down the line should buy into hustling, taking charges, and diving for loose balls. This is the hallmark of a team that plays hard.
Coaches should use defensive drills that emphasize hustle and are competitive to instill great effort into their players. If your players don't hustle and sacrifice their bodies in practice they probably won't do it in a game either.
(Rental)-Competitive Rebounding Drills
(Rental)-12 Competitive Rebounding Drills
3. Don't Commit Silly Fouls on Defense
Teams that commit silly fouls lack discipline on defense and these fouls end up contributing not only to extra fouls which lead to more trips to the free throw line and more points but also to bailing teams out.
The reach-in foul out of scoring range is a terrible foul to commit. For example, in a full-court press, the defense might have a player trapped with nowhere to go and someone reaches in and fouls. This bails out the team of this situation. If the foul isn't committed, then the team might turn the ball over leading to more points for the defensive team and more frustration for the opponent.
A great point of emphasis for avoiding the silly foul is to tell your players to "let the other team make the mistake". Let them throw the basketball away. Let them travel. Emphasize to your players that they don't have to make a steal every time but just play good position defense and this will help cut down the silly fouls.
4. Great Communication
Great defensive teams talk. "I got the ball", "Help Right", "Help Left", or "Deny" are some phrases great defensive teams use to communicate and work together. Talking on defense brings up the energy level and keeps players focused. It's the mind-body connection at work.
Talking on defense will also make your opponent think twice about their actions. For example, if a player in defensive help is yelling "Help Right", the offensive player will probably be less likely to drive toward that defender because they know they are ready for them.
Most high school teams don't talk on defense and it takes a coach willing to make that an expectation and then hold his players to it. Most young players won't want to talk out loud on the court on defense but once they see the results on the court it can be something that becomes an expectation and part of the culture of your program.
5. Limit Shots & Rebound the Basketball
Great defensive teams don't give up multiple shots per possession. They secure the ball and limit teams to one shot if they can't make a turnover. Having a team with an aggressive rebounding mentality comes from the coach emphasizing the importance of rebounding.
As a coach, you must then teach your players how to block out and hold them accountable when they don't. It all starts in practice and while blocking out isn't the hardest skill to learn it will need to be reinforced with your players and once they see the benefits of doing it every time it will become a habit for your team.