10 Keys to Team Defense in Basketball

10 Keys to Team Defense in Basketball

This article was written by Basketball HQ co-founder Kyle Ohman.


Team Defensive Key 1: Communication

  • Communicate on Defense
    • Talk through exchanges and offensive actions.
    • Discourage the offense with loud communication.
    • Stay engaged the entire play with communication.
  • No Exceptions
  •  Accountability
    • Players 1-14 must be held to the same standard.
    • Great communication needs to be rewarded.
  • Relevant Communication
    • Call out specific things that will help teammates out.
      • Cutters
      • Screens
      • Being in the gap
      • Being in the help
      • Etc.


Team Defensive Key 2: Be on the Same Page

  • Defensive Philosophy
    • Everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to your basketball team defense and guarding different actions.
    • This will help to eliminate defensive breakdowns and confusion.
  • Areas to Talk About
    • Ball screens
      • Guards: go under, switch, deny, fight through
      • Posts: hard hedge, soft hedge, trap, switch
    • Off ball screens
      • Guards: chase, go under, switch
      • Posts: show, sit back, switch
    • Post defense
      • Guard: dig down, double, stay home, lob help on the backside if it is a full front.
      • Post: Sit behind, front, 3/4 front, 1/4 front.


Team Defensive Key 3: Attention to the Details

  • Active Hands
  • High Hands
    • Closeout with high hands and contest every shot.
      • Drastically lowers shooting percentage.
  • Closeouts
    • Be there on the catch.
      • Move to closeout as soon as the ball leaves the passer’s hands.
      • Don’t leave early. If you do, it will open you up to pass fakes.
    • Must be under control.
      • Chop your feet and stay connected to the ground as much as possible.
    • Cut Off the Drive
      • Be in a position to slide and take away the drive without using your hands.
      • No middle penetration. Aim the driver to the baseline.
  • No Free Cuts
    • Bump every cutter.
    • See the ball and the man when guarding cutters.
  • Post Position
    • Don’t allow the offensive player to get a deep catch on the block.
    • Fight for position before the ball is entered, and drive the offensive player further out to receive the catch.



Team Defensive Key 4: Stay Disciplined

  • Don’t Gamble (Outside of Team Strategy)
    • Stay in a defensive position.
    • Don’t reach.
  • Negatives of Gambling
    • Unnecessary fouls.
    • Easy offensive looks for the other team.
    • Leaves teammates exposed.
    • Builds distrust within the defense.
  • Stance
    • Stay in an athletic stance so that you can react quickly as the ball moves.
  • Positioning
    • When the ball moves, you move.
    • Know where you should be and what you should be doing at all times.



Team Defensive Key 5: Finish the Play

  • Rebound the Basketball
    • Every player must do their job when the shot goes up.
    • No second chance opportunities.
  • Loose Balls
    • Win 50/50 balls.
    • First to the floor every time.

Resources: Basketball Rebounding Drills



Team Defensive Key 6: Energy Plays

  • Charges
    • Must be willing to step up and sacrifice your body for the team.
    • Stay in an excellent help position, anticipate what the offense is doing, and then get set for the charge.
  • Get on the Floor
    • Your mindset needs to be first to the floor.
    • Don’t be too cool to get dirty.
  • Celebrate Energy Plays
    • Run over and help your teammate up after they take a charge, dive for the ball, etc. GET EXCITED!!



Team Defensive Key 7: Compete

  • Deal with Mistakes
    • Fight through mistakes and get the job done regardless of what happened.
    • Communicate at a high level to get through it.
    • Emergency switch if needed.
  • Fight for Stops
    • Want it more than the offense.
    • Make a play. Big-time players and big-time teams make a play when it is needed.
  • No Plays Off

Resources: Basketball Competition Drills



Team Defensive Key 8: Protect the Paint

  • Don’t Allow Paint Touches
    • All five players must work together to keep the ball out of the paint.
    • The player on the ball needs to trust that he/she has teammates helping them.
  • Ball Pressure
  • Rotations
    • Players in the gap must be ready to help if the ball handler gets an angle.
    • Players in the help must help the helper.
    • Everyone needs to be ready to rotate if needed.
    • The entire team defense must work as one unit if there is a breakdown.



Team Defensive Key 9: Get Back in Transition

  • No Easy Baskets
    • Sprint back on defense.
      • The First 3 steps need to be a full-on sprint, then get your head up.
      • Don’t hang back with your man or stay at the level of the ball.
    • Stop the ball.
      • One player needs to be communicating that they are stopping the ball.
      • Try to turn the ball handler 2-3 times.
    • Communicate who you have.
      • Point and talk.
      • It doesn’t have to be your man, just match up.



Team Defensive Key 10: Scouting Report

  • Know What the Other Team is Trying to Do
    • What are their strengths?
    • Who is their best player?
    • What actions do they like to run?
  • Take Away what they do Best
    • Don’t allow the offense to dictate what they want to do.
    • Make them uncomfortable.
  • Commit to your Game Plan
    • Players need to be fully committed to the defensive game plan.
    • Don’t try to do your own thing; trust the plan.



10 Keys to Team Defense in Basketball

Championship basketball teams play defense; it is as simple as that. There are great offensive basketball teams that can make runs, but if you cannot get big stops at the end of close games, your season will end shorter than you would like.

A high-level defense is not something that appears overnight either. It is something that takes time and must be built up and established daily. As a coach, you must be willing to do defensive basketball drills, hold players accountable, and preach defense regularly. You must be fully committed to the defensive process.

Regardless of what type of defense you play, these keys will apply to your team because they translate from scheme to scheme. There are ten keys listed above, but the one that blankets all of them is buy-in. Great defensive teams are bought into the system and do what it takes to play defense at a high level. It is not easy to build this defensive foundation, but if you stay committed to the process, it will be more than worth it in the end.


If you have any defensive tips or advice, feel free to share them below. Also, if you have any questions, we will do our best to answer them!


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5 Responses

  1. The short answer: yes.
    The long answer: If you can’t remember all 10, which are the important ones that would still allow a team to be good defensively and how do you pick them? Lastly if a coach isn’t hammering on these in defensive drills, he’s doing his team a huge disservice.

    Just my opinion so I could be wrong but I doubt it.

  2. Absolutely right Brian. The goal is to learn/master them all, but it takes time and commitment. It isn’t an overnight process.

  3. defense starts from us, the coaches. its a commitment, in other words, a daily grind, drills and execution. not just mere shouting ‘ defense’ words during actual games.

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