Man to Man Defense
Basic Fundamentals

Man to man defense is probably the most important skill a player can learn. Good shooting, drives through the key, spectacular passing, and of course, a nice dunk will always get the headlines, the glory. But solid defense is what brings home titles. Every defense has man to man principles at its heart, so the first thing that players should be taught at the defensive end are these fundamental basketball skills.

I love playing man to man defense. Not that there isn't a place for zone defense or special defensive plays - presses and combination defenses - but even when these defensive strategies are being used, players need to be utilizing man to man defensive principles in order to play strong defense. Which is why it is so important to start off teaching man to man, and in fact, the first few games of the season - especially pre-season exhibition games - the only defense we run for the entire game is man to man.

Simply put, with man to man defense each defensive player matches up with an offensive player and tries to stop them from scoring. One of the most important aspects of man to man defense isn't about stopping the man from scoring, but rather stopping the man from getting the ball - i.e., denying the ball.

But we'll leave that for another page - check out the Deny and Help Drill for a good practice drill for denying the ball. Here we'll deal with the basic fundamentals of movement when playing solid man to man.

The Basic Fundamentals of
Good Man to Man Defense

Defensive Stance

To move quickly and easily in any direction, to react fast to the offense's moves and to get in position to stop them, players need to play "D" in proper defensive stance:

  • stay low, knees bent, back straight
  • weight evenly balanced on the balls of the feet, feet shoulder width apart
  • hands up, chest high, one hand up for shot, the other in passing lane

Points to Consider when Playing
Man to Man Defense

  • the defensive player is almost always between his man and the basket - unless the low post player is fronting his man, but even then he should have his back foot wrapped around the offensive player
  • never reach for the ball - on rare occasions this might result in a steal, but usually what happens is either a foul or the offensive player beats the defensive player

  • watch the offensive player's chest, especially if he is quick and hard to stay with. The offensive player can fake you with a head fake, eye fake, arm or shoulder fake, or a jab-step, but his chest will always go only in the direction that he is going.

If the offensive player is:

  • very quick, a good dribbler, and outside his normal shooting range, the defensive player should back off a few steps. This space will give the defender time to react, so that the offensive player will not get around him.
  • a good outside shooter, but can't dribble very well, stay up close and keep the pressure on.
  • right-handed and always goes to the right, over-guard the right side and force him to the left. Same goes for the left side.

A few more tips:

  • when approaching the offensive player, the defensive player must do so in a controlled manner, with feet in a T stance and one hand raised against the shot

  • When the shot goes up, the defensive player responsible for the shooter should yell "shot!" and all defenders should box-out their men, go for the rebound, and get the fast-break going. One caveat here - if the defensive player yells while the offensive player is in the process of shooting, the defensive player could get tagged for a technical foul, and I have found in the past seasons, refs in my league are touchy about this.

For some good basic drills to practice man to man, check out the Basic Defensive Drills page.

Man to man defense is an essential skill that every player needs to know and be able to use. Every coach wants a few good shooters, a good ball carrier or two, a couple good rebounders. And we train players in these areas according to their abilities and drive - a player who desperately wants to be a good shooter is given extra drills and will practice them and become better; a player that towers over his teammates is given extra rebounding focus.

But every player, regardless of skill and motivation, needs to be a good defender. Every player needs to have solid man to man defense if the team is going to win; otherwise, your opponent will find the weak spot and capitalize on it.

"Most ball games are lost, not won."

- Casey Stengel

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