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The Different Type Of Basketball Defenses.

FREE Basketball E-Book In basketball, the offense has one big advantage over the defense; it knows in advance just what it is going to do. This fundamental fact makes it obvious that the five men on defense must always give their very best if they hope to keep the opposing team from scoring.

Individual effort alone won't be enough to halt an organized, offensive attack. The defense must work as a team, a unit, if they are to be successful. As there are planned attacks, there are planned defenses.

There are three basic type of basketball defenses:

1) Man-for-Man.

2) Zone.

3) Combination man-for-man and zone.

In each of these defenses the objective is the same; to take the ball away from the opponent; to halt and disperse the offensive move. The methods and principles, however, differ with respect to how each type of defense is executed. These differences present certain advantages and disadvantages.


As the phrase “man-for-man” indicates, each guard is assigned to an offensive player. The guards “pick up” their opponents as they cross the center line into the front court. In doing so, the guard tries to prevent his man from catching a pass. Should the offensive player catch the ball, the guard then does his best to prevent a shot or another pass.

The guard, in effect, hounds his opponent wherever he moves in the front court. In addition, each guard attempts to help out his teammates. There will be countless opportunities to knock down passes, pick up loose balls or tie up an opponent for a held ball.

The advantages for the man-for-man defense are numerous.

1) Every man in the front court is covered.

2) The defensive players can be matched to the offensive players by size and ability.

3) The size and shape of the court cannot work against the effectiveness of the man-for-man.

4) The man-for-man can easily be converted to an all-court defense.

5) It can be adjusted quickly to the jump ball situation.

6) It helps develop individual ability.

While it has many strong points, the man-for-man has some weaknesses.

1) It is vulnerable to screen plays.

2) It is not much stronger than the individuals from which it is formed. The “team” aspect of the defense, in other words, cannot compensate for weak defensive play on the part of any individual.

3) It can be tiring.

Zone Defense

In the zone defense, each player is assigned a section of the front court. The way the front court is blocked off, indicates the type of zone being used. For example, three men may be strung across the court just inside the half line. The two other defensive men may be stationed behind the first three; one on each side of the foul lane. This would be called a 3-2 zone.

By dropping the middle man in the front line back to the foul line, you create a 2-1-2 zone. If you placed the middle man between the two back men and pulled the two front men closer together, you would have a 2-3 zone.

Whatever the formation, the defensive player plays the ball, not the man. Usually, the entire defense shifts as the ball shifts. If the ball is to the left of the defense, each man moves to the extreme left portion of his particular zone. In the 2-1-2, the shifting is often more pronounced than in other types of zone defenses.

The players in the zone constantly “hawk'' the ball, concentrate on interceptions and rebounds. They constantly hurry and harass the offense. It's rush, rush and get the ball! get the ball!

Here are the strong points of the zone defense:

1) It is good against an inside or short range attack.

2) Very strong on rebounds as the defensive men can quickly form a powerful triangle under the basket when the ball goes up.

3) Ideal set-up for a fast break attack.

4) Players can't be screened in most situations.

5) Easy to learn and not tiring.

6) Cuts down fouling.

Like the man-for-man, the zone defense has weaknesses. Here they are:

1) It is usually weak from the outside.

2) Zones can be overloaded so one defensive man is forced to play two offensive men.

3) It is useless when the defense is behind, as the offensive team need not attack.

4) Players cannot be matched according to size and/or ability.

5) Tends to weaken individual defensive play and does not contribute to all-around ability.

Combination Defenses

In these defenses, each man plays in a specified zone. Each guard also plays a man. Thus, two of the major features of the zone and man-for-man are combined.

The defense may have three men up front and two back as in the 3-2 zone, or two men up and three back as in the 2-3 zone. By sagging off on the side farthest from the ball (weak side), the defense is always in the heart of the scoring area. As a result, each defensive man almost always finds an offensive man in his zone.

Advantages of the combination defense is this:

1) If the attacking team attempts to use a man-for-man attack it won't work very well as the defense can apply zone tactics let the offensive men run and play and ball).

2) If the attacking team uses a zone offense, the defense can apply man-for-man tactics. (Since the offense will spot pass, each defensive man need only stay between his man and the basket to halt the attack.)

While the combination defenses have all the strong points of the man-for-man and zone (including good rebound strength), it does have weaknesses:

1) Combination defenses are difficult to teach.

2) Since a great deal of “switching” is involved, the weak¬ness of switching shows up.

3) The defenses are somewhat weak against outside and corner shots.

4) The defensive players in the combination defenses tend to become “passive,” which is a grave weakness.

The Press

Aggressiveness is the real key to successful defensive play. Take the initiative away from the offensive player. Make him guess what you are going to do.

This aggressiveness, which takes courage and stamina, is a must in the pressing defense. The pressing defense is normally an all-court, man-for-man defense, although zone tactics are sometimes used.

Usually, the press is used when the defensive team is behind as the last few minutes of the game tick by. To have a chance to win, the defense must get hold of the ball.

Assume for the moment that the offensive team has the ball out of bounds at the far end of the court. If the defense ignores the man out of bounds, five men will be playing four in-court. Thus, when the ball is thrown in, two men can double-team the receiver, while the others adjust. It is this double-teaming that makes the press effective. It leads to many interceptions of the throw-in.

Double-teaming must be done quickly and intelligently.

The team putting on the press should make every effort to panic the opposition. Force the team with the ball to make mistakes, especially bad passes.

A good press can give you a win, just when it seems you've lost the ball game. But, remember, a pressing defense will fail unless every player goes all out.

Stopping the Fast Break

Stop the fast break before it starts. How? First by fighting harder than usual for rebounds on the offensive board. Second by halting the “pitchout”—the first pass made by the rebounder. Thirdly, by always keeping one man in defensive position as you attack.

To start a fast break, your opponents must have the rebound off your basket. To keep it going, they must have a clear path down court.

Choosing the Defense

When choosing a defense, you must be guided by the following:

1) The type and caliber of players that make up the opposing team will tell you which defense to favor. If the other team is composed of five small, fast men, the man-for-man defense would seem best. Five big, slow men, on the other hand, would be better suited to a zone.

2) You must always consider the kind of game played by your opponent. If you know your opponent does not have an organized zone attack, throw up a zone. If he has a weak man- for-man attack, go to the man-for-man.

Finally, a good team should be able to adjust its defense to situations that develop during the course of the game. If it is using a man-for-man defense, but losing the ball game on inside shots—switch to the zone. If you're using a zone and find that the opposition is killing you with outside shots, switch to the man-for-man. Always switch defenses when the opposing team's set plays are working.

The best way to beat your opponent is to upset his attack —an attack he probably has worked hard to develop. If you can't do it with one defense, you should have the ability to change to another.

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