The core of everything you do defensively starts with your defensive stance and footwork. A defender needs to be in a stance that allows them to quickly react to the offensive player’s movement, and needs to be able to execute the correct footwork to stop or deter the movements of the person they are guarding.
Defensive Stance and Posture
Feet slightly wider than shoulder width:
You do not want to have your feet to close together because a sudden movement by the offensive player will make it very difficult to react while maintaining balance. However, you also do not want to have your feet so wide that it makes it difficult for you to quickly move in one direction or the other. A stance with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width is best.
Knees bent, heels slightly off the ground:
Bend the knees to get into a squatting position (about 2/3 of a full parallel squat). The back should be kept straight as possible and the defender should be off their heels so they are resting on the midfoot and balls of their feet. This position enables you to quickly move and change direction. Stay low and stay balanced.
The arms should be bent at the elbow and slightly in front of you at chest height OR wide at your sides around waist level. Your arms aren’t just used as a deterrent to prevent the offensive player from going around you…They are also your feelers; you use them to feel out for ball screens, keep your balance, and more. The best arm positioning depends on the type of player you are defending. Against great shooters you want to have your hands high ready to contest a shot. Against a great ball handler who isn’t necessarily a good shooter, it is probably better to stay low, keep your arms low, and challenge their dribble moves a little.
Eyes straight forward:
The eyes should look straight ahead at the defenders mid-section, rather than the ball. Straight up and down It’s vital when playing defense that you always keep your head directly over the center of your body. Your torso and head should always keep that vertical line with the ground. If you start lunging, reaching, you will notice that your head is out of that vertical plane, and you will become off balance and ineffective as a defender.
All defensive footwork must be balanced and under control. With that said, it must also be explosive since you are always reacting to a defender, and since they already know what their plan is…you are always playing catch-up!
A defensive slide is done starting out of your solid defensive stance. If you intend to move to the left, the left toe should quickly point to the left, and the left foot should come off the ground and slide left (the slide is actually more like a short choppy step). To slide left, push off with your right foot, stepping left, then quickly bring the right foot left as well. These steps should be short and quick, and the feet should not cross. Most beginners’ have a tendency to “jump” rather than step. This results in their head bobbing up and down as they “slide”. Be sure that as you slide your head and upper body moves only slightly, the legs should be the only thing that really moves.
The reverse pivot will be used constantly in basketball as players attempt to drive past you or in off-the-ball situations. From your defensive position, simply “drop” one foot backward. From this position you can continually sliding, turn to face the hoop, box out your opponent, change directions, and more.
A quick hop is used when a player jab steps or fakes. A quick hop starts in the defensive stance; the defender then quickly “jumps” backwards, continually maintaining their defensive stance. This jump should barely bring your feet off the ground; in fact, the feet almost glide on the court rather than leaving the ground. In this jump, you remain balanced and don’t come out of your stance.
A closeout is when a defender is in the position of having to run out to an offensive player because they helped on defense or had significant space between them and the offensive player for some other reason. This is a very difficult position for a defender, because all the momentum is going towards the offensive player. This enables the offensive player to more easily go past the defender. An effective closeout is done by covering 75% of the distance to the offensive players with long fast sprinting steps, then the final 25% with very short, balanced, and choppy steps. One hand should be up towards the defenders face to deter them from shooting.