Man-to-man defense is probably the most important defense to learn how to run. It will be the most common defense played throughout youth, high school, college and beyond. And as you learn how to run an effective man-to-man defense, you will also learn how to beat it the most effectively.
Man-to-man defense is a matchup-based defense where each player on the court will guard the opposing player based off of positioning, matchup, or skill level.
The three most important parts of emphasis on teaching man-to-man defense are on-ball defense, off-ball defense, and help defense.
1. On-ball Defense
When guarding the ball, the main point of focus is not letting your matchup get to the basket easily. You should force your matchup to the outside of the court and not right down the lane. By doing this, you can keep the ball out of a scoring position, gain an extra defender in the sideline or baseline, and let your teammates stay in good position not allowing any wide-open passes or shots. Some important aspects of on-ball defense to focus on are shuffling your feet, not reaching, and staying keeping active hands. Having good, quick lateral movement and shuffling your feet is important to stay in front of your matchup and not allow them to get around you. It is also important not to pick up easy fouls by reaching in and trying to steal the ball. Getting steals can be important to your team, but it is an art that must be worked on and used wisely as if you get little fouls too often, it could hurt you and your team down the last stretch of the game. Getting steals and deflections is easiest if you always have active hands though. Keeping your hands up and in the passing lane will help you tip a pass, steal a fumbled ball, or contest a shot. Focusing on these things can really help your team run a very effective man defense.
2. Off-ball Defense
Off-ball defense is just as, if not more important than on-ball defense. First off, it is extremely important to always know where your man is, and what their role on the opposing team is. One important rule of thumb when playing off-ball defense is to always stay in between the ball and your man. And when doing this, you should be about an equal distance from your man to the ball. This will let you be in perfect position to get to your man if the ball is passed to them or help over on a drive if your teammate gets beat to the basket. You do not want to allow any easy passes to your man for a shot, or an easy drive to the basket and this is why positioning is so important. Another rule of thumb is to stay as low as the ball. This goes hand and hand with playing halfway between the ball and your man. If the ball is on the baseline in a corner, you do not want to be at the top of the key. This would put you in a position where you could not help at all.
A good example how to play off-ball defense in this situation is as follows:
The ball is in the corner at the 3-point line and your man is on the opposite wing. You would want to play in the paint right around the basket. This would put you in a great position to tip or steal the skip pass over the paint to your man. If you do not steal it, you can get out to your man quickly and prevent the shot. If your teammate guarding the ball in the corner gets beat, you can step up to stop the ball, take the charge, or contest the shot. And if a shot goes up, you can be in good position to find your man, box out, and get the rebound.
3. Help Defense
Help defense just like off-ball defense is all about positioning. Like discussed in the off-ball defense section, if your teammate gets beat towards the basket, sometimes you have to help over to the stop the ball. When this happens, it’ll leave your man open on the court somewhere where your teammate now has to help over. This is why being in a good position off the ball can be so important. Because some plays will result in every member on your team having to help over on another man if the ball is swung quickly around the court. And if you are not ready and know where to help, you could allow a wide-open shot. This is why staying focused on the ball and knowing where your man, or where the open man is at all times is crucial to winning in man-to-man defense.
Advanced Focus Points
Two important points to think about with man defense beyond teaching the basics are screens, and on certain skilled players. There are two ways to defend a screen, but the most important part is communication. The two defenders have to communicate throughout the entire play. The coach will decide how their team will play all screens throughout the game. And then if needed, the coach can make adjustments. A defender can either go over or under the screen if they are sticking to their man. OR every screen, either off-ball or on-ball, can be switched. How this works is if you are the one being screened, you now guard the screener, and the person who set the screen will switch to the person with the ball going around the screen. So, you will not go over, or under the screen when you are switching it but always remember to communicate by saying switch or however your team decides to call this out. This carries right over to defending certain skilled players. For example, if the man going around a screen is an incredible shooter, it is important to not go under the screen as this will give them an open shot. But also, at times, you will want to not be directly in between the ball and your man if your man is a great shooter. You should then cheat over a little towards your man, so you still are not too far to play help defense, but you are more out on your man to prevent a shot on a quickly swung ball. These are all very important parts to playing an effective man-to-mand defense and every coach can put different flairs on their defense or make adjustments where they see will best help their team.
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