Player Resource: 8 Keys to Becoming a Great Defender

Kyle Ohman, Basketball HQ (

This article was written by co-founder Kyle Ohman.

1. Communication

  • Always be Communicating
    • Be in constant communication with teammates to help prevent defensive breakdowns.
    • Communicate on and off the ball regardless of being in the direct action or not.
  • Relevant Communication
    • Communicate things that will help teammates out. Don’t just talk to talk because the coach says something about talking on defense.
    • What you should be talking about: Being on the ball, being in the help/gap, cutters, screens (which direction and what type of screen), what defense you are in, and anything else your team emphasizes.
  • Communicate Loudly!
    • Communicate loudly and clearly so that your teammates don’t have any doubt of what you are saying.
    • Loud and effective communication also demoralizes the other teams offense.

2. Positioning

  • Be in the Right Place
    • Don’t let yourself get caught out of position and playing catch up to the offense.
    • As the ball moves you move. There are different types of defensive strategies, but this is a good rule of thumb that you should follow.
    • Correct positioning allows you to take charges, block shots, close gaps, etc.
  • Teammate Trust
    • Being in the right position allows your teammates to trust the help and do their job on the ball.
  • Discourage the Offense
    • Having 5 players that are in the correct defensive position forces the offense to take a tough shot, and will eventually cause them to be discouraged on the offensive end.

3. Athletic Stance

  • Stay Low
    • There is no reason to stand up off the ball. When you do, you lose your ability to be quick and explosive.
    • Athletic stance allows you to quickly move to where you need to be as the ball moves.
  • Wall Up
    • There is an exception to staying low, and that is when you are guarding in the post and the offensive player is trying to finish over you. In this situation you are going to want to keep a wide base with your feet, but make sure that you are walling up the offensive player and making them finish over high hands.

4. Anticipation

  • Anticipating Vs. Reacting
    • Being in the right position and staying in an athletic stance allows you to anticipate where the ball is going to go.
    • Keep your head on a swivel and be aware of what is going on around you.
    • If you are always reacting to the ball, you will find yourself getting beat.
  • Read the Offense
    • Be a student of the game and recognize that different offensive actions open up certain types of shots and passes.
    • Read what the offense is trying to do, and then be in positioning to take it away.

5. Scouting Report

  • Individual Scouting
    • What type of offensive player are you guarding? What are their strengths and weaknesses? These are questions you need to ask about your defender.
    • Once you figure out these answers, you can start forcing the offensive player into shots and positions where they are not comfortable. Which leads to low percentage shots, turnovers,etc.
  • Team Scouting
    • Learn the other teams set plays and tendencies from film, as well as throughout the course of a game.
    • As you recognize what they are running, call it out to the rest of your team.

6. Effort and Energy

  • Maximum Effort
    • Great defenders are willing to give max effort all the time.
    • Don’t be afraid to do the dirty work.
  • Ways you can Give Effort
    • Sprint back.
    • Dive on the floor.
    • Take a charge.
    • Battle on the boards.
    • Whatever will help your team win.

7. Discipline and Details

  • Stay Disciplined
    • Don’t gamble outside of team strategy and get caught out of position.
    • Don’t commit silly fouls that hurt yourself and put the other team in the bonus.
  • Commitment to the Details
    • High hands on every closeout.
    • Active hands on and off the ball.
    • Great angles on and off the ball.
    • Bump cutters.
    • Come together and touch on screens.
    • Do all the little things that your team emphasizes on the defensive end.

8. Finish the Play

  • Rebound the Ball
    • Forcing the offense to take a bad shot is great, but you have to finish the play on the boards.
    • Box out on EVERY shot, and then pursue the ball.
  • Get on the Floor
    • Any loose ball in your area needs to be yours.
    • Sacrifice your body for the team if need be.

Being a great defender starts with a choice. You have to decide that you are going to put in the effort, energy, and commitment to playing defense at a high level. After that it becomes the ability to learn how to play defense the right way. It takes time to learn correct angles, how to anticipate, commitment to details, etc. To be a great defender you have to be willing to put in the time and the work.

Playing defense does not always bring the recognition that it should because the average fan doesn’t understand how important it is to have a player communicating on every play, having active hands, and being in the right position. However, I guarantee you that your coaches and teammates do! If you want to help your team win games and even championships, defense is one of the best ways that you can do it. It is not just about scoring or some of the more recognized stats. It is about having a commitment to being a great defender.

Use these 8 keys to being a great defender as a blueprint to what a great defender looks like and get in the gym to make yourself an elite defender. Here are some defensive drills that you can use as well to help.

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