Different strategies and skills are needed to guard perimeter players versus how a post player is guarded. Beyond that, you even need different strategies and skills for defending different types of perimeter players (shooters, slashers, scorers, etc.). Guarding a perimeter player in these instances refers to guarding a player that is NOT posting up. However, the majority of this section applies to guarding a player that can drive, shoot, and pass with effectiveness.
Before the dribble
The first step to guarding a perimeter player is how you handle them when they catch the ball, before they take a dribble.
Take away space: When a good perimeter player is allowed space to survey the floor, build a head of steam, or get their shot off, they will be almost impossible to stop. Their open space must be taken away. Overcrowding the offensive player will result in them being able to go past the defense. So a middle ground must be found. A basic rule of thumb is to have approximately an arms length between you and the perimeter player. This enables an adequate hand in the face, or strip of the ball if it is exposed. It also doesn’t overcrowd the defense to enable them to get by you and to the hoop. Position yourself approximately an arm’s length from the player between them and the basket upon the catch.
Take away vision: You should try to keep a hand up towards a defenders face (without touching him of course), as this takes away their field of vision and makes it difficult to see his teammates and to survey the floor. This is also very frustrating for a player to constantly have a hand in their face at all times, so it can be a psychological advantage for the defense.
Force weak: Know the player you are guarding. If they are strong going to the right, angle your body slightly as to force them left. If they are strong to the left, force them right. If they are equally skilled in each direction, you may have to play them straight up.
Watch the mid-section: This is taught very early on in basketball, but still applies at high levels. A good perimeter player has the ability to fool the defense using the basketball (e.g. a crossover dribble moves the ball, so players tend to follow the ball, which tricks them into going the wrong direction). To keep an offensive player from getting to the basket, be sure to watch the mid-section.
Maintain positioning: A good offensive player will have a full arsenal of jab steps, pump fakes, and pass fakes. Their goal in using these fakes is to get YOU off balance or out of position or to create space for them to get a shot/pass off. Your goal is to not allow them any advantage by getting you off balance. To do this you must maintain your stance and maintain your distance:
– Maintain your defensive stance. Stay low. If they rise up like they are going to shoot, do not jump to try to block it, and do not stand straight up. Simply raise your arms so that you can put a hand right in front of their face.
– Maintain distance. If they jab step, use a quick hop to pop back so that you keep the same arm’s length distance you establish at the catch. As they bring back the jab step, use a quick hop forward
Once the ball is dribbled
Once a player has started dribbling, there is a different set of challenges you face as a defender, but the strategy in countering those challenges is very similar to defense you play against a player who has not yet dribbled.
First things first, you want to maintain the principles outlined above…take away space (without overcrowding), take away vision, force them to their weak hand, watch the mid-section, and maintain your positioning. Here are a few additional items
Don’t reach: A good perimeter player will make you pay for reaching at the basketball, don’t reach unless you are very confident you can steal the ball, or you are certain you can perform a subtle reach without lunging or taking yourself out of position.
Body up, hands up: Perimeter players will frequently try to get to the basket, and when they do, there will usually be some contact. As the offensive player drives be sure to get a good angle to cut off the drive, and step in front with your body. As you do this you should keep a good defensive stance, keep your arms and hands up (so the official knows you are not fouling), and body up to them until they are forced to pick up the dribble, back dribble, or change direction. It is important to not lose your balance when there is a little contact and to not lean into the offensive player too much, because as soon as the defense is off-balance, the offensive player can use that against you. This is done by a spin move, drawing a foul, or many other ways.
Don’t leave your feet: Unless you are a skilled shot blocker and have a significant height advantage, you should not be thinking about blocking shots. As a perimeter defender, your job instead is to BOTHER the shot. As a player rises to shoot you have two options. The first is the less likely scenario, if the player has a significant hitch in their shot, you can attempt to swat it on the way up. The second, and most likely scenario, is to simply put a hand right in the shooters face so they cannot clearly see the hoop. The numbers don’t lie; contested shots go in less frequently than open shots and even the best perimeter player shot blockers in the NBA get about 1 block per game. So just play the odds and put a hand in the face.