kevin durant how to play tough defense in basketball

9 Simple Ways How To Play Tough Defense In Basketball

The Definitive Guide To Basketball Defense

How to play tough defense in basketball is something that every player must know. If you don’t know how to play good defense, then you better be one heck of a player on offense, or your coach will find you a nice warm spot on the bench.

Playing good defense isn’t something that comes naturally to most players. It takes hard work and dedication. Many players are not willing to put in that type of work.

That’s where you come in. You can read other articles that tell you 47 ways to play good defense, but they all come down to the 9 simple ways that will keep your opponent off the scoreboard and keep you on the floor.

Without further ado, how to play tough defense in basketball:

1. Play Defense With A Purpose

This makes sense. You should do everything in life with a purpose. Otherwise, why do it. But what does it mean to play defensive basketball with a purpose.

It means that you shouldn’t go through the motions. You should be willing to do everything possible to keep your opponents from scoring.

This means working hard both on the floor and off of it. Keep yourself in good shape. Work out hard in the gym. Lift weights when everyone else is ready to call it quits.

There are two easy things that show what it’s like to play defense with a purpose.

Dive On The Ground

The first is diving on the ground for loose balls. Don’t watch a loose ball roll around on the ground. Go get it! Coaches love it. Teammates love it. Fans love it. It shows that you are willing to do what it takes to get the ball.

After all, if your team doesn’t have the ball it can’t score. Get the ball and give your team a chance to score.

basketball players being tough trying to hold onto the ball

No Easy Shots

The other way to show that you are playing with a purpose is to make sure your opponent never takes an easy shot. That means playing close to them, bodying up, closing out when they go to take a shot, and putting a hand in their face.

If they still make the shot, then good for them. But most likely, your hard work will result in a missed shot.

2. Always Be In a Ready Position

If you have spend any time in a basketball practice, you have heard about the triple threat position. The triple threat position is typically used for offensive purposes, but you can use it for defense too.

Make sure your knees are bent, arms are out, and you’re athletically ready to move in any direction. Your opponent can dribble, pass, drive, or shoot, and you have to be ready to defend it all.

If you are not in a ready position, you can’t defend any of it. And that goes back to #1 above. If you are playing with the purpose to keep someone from scoring, then you force them to be more ready that you are.

how to play tough defense in basketball begins with being in good body position

Play Off The Ball

Being in a ready positions doesn’t always mean that you play on the man with the ball. Sometimes you have to be ready to play off the ball.

All coaches have different ways they teach playing off the ball, so defer to them, but regardless of their philosophy, it is vitally important to be able to guard your man even when they don’t have the ball.

And you have to be in a ready position to do that.

3. Work Hard To Jump Higher

If you plan to be a defender that can alter shots, you need to be able to jump as high as you can.

If the defender can jump high, then you need to be able to do that too if you want to put a hand in their face to distract them or possible block a shot.

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4. Be In A Position To Rebound

I believe rebounding is a part of defense, because the goal of rebounding is to make sure your team gets the ball.

Check out our rebounding tips here.

When you work to put yourself in a good defensive position, you have to make sure that when a shot goes up, you can immediately turn your body to box out your opponent.

This is easy to do when you are on the shooter.

This is harder if you are playing off the ball. Everyone knows what it’s like to have an offensive player fly by you to get a rebound and a put-back.

If you don’t, here’s a reminder.


Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure that when you are off the ball, you can still find someone to box out so that your team can get the ball back.

5. Be a Good Transition Defender

What is transition defense? Transition defense is when your team misses a shot, the other team gets the ball, and they start to run a fast break.

Bad defenders job back and hope someone else stops the break.

A good defender hustles back to stop the ball. Just because your opponent wants to push the ball doesn’t mean they should automatically score.

Part of learning how to play tough defense in basketball is learning to get back on defense even when that means sprinting when it looks hopeless.

You never know when the other team will make a bad pass, bad dribble, or lose track of where they are.

Again, this is a time to shine. While everyone else is jogging, or worse, walking back, you will be a star by getting on your horse and finding a good defensive position on defense.

6. Use Active Hands But Don’t Reach

using active hands is key to learning how to play tough defense in basketball

Do you like it when your defender is constantly moving their hands all over the place, trying to distract you or keep you from making a great pass? Of course not.

You need to be the same way when you play defense. As you have good position, make sure you keep your hands up and moving at all times.

The thing that drives me crazier than anything else when I’m coaching young players is watching them play defense with their hands down. I can’t stand it.

How are you going to be quick enough to knock a pass away if your hands are down? It’s crazy.

Now, having said that, you can’t be overzealous with your hands. You want to make sure you keep good body position, and use your hands as a supplement.

If you use your hands as your primary source of defense, then you will never have good position, and you will constantly get called for reaching. Do that too much and you will find yourself on the bench. And once you’re there, it’s hard to get off.

7. Communicate With Your Teammates

Communicating with your teammates is a major key to learning how to play tough defense in basketball. Why, you ask?

Because teammates have to work off of each other. You have to know when your help defense is needed, because you don’t have eyes in the back of your head.

If you happen to lose your man, you need to yell out for help. If your teammates are worth their salt, and they’ve read this defensive guide too, then they’ll come over and help you out until you can pick your man back up.

Teams that don’t talk defensively are teams that give up a ton of points. It’s that simple. You must be willing to talk, and talk loud. There’s not room for shy players on defense.

how to play tough defense in basketball requires good communication
Don’t Communicate With This

8. Know The Difference Between Different Types Of Defense

Anyone who has played basketball knows that there are different ways to play defense. But the key is to know how to play each style well. So lets take a look at three of the most popular defensive systems:

  • Man-to-man
  • Zone
  • Box-and-1

Man-To-Man Defense

Man-to-man defense is the toughest defense to play. It requires you to always have good position, both on defense and during rebounding.

With man-to-man, you stay with your player during the entire defensive sequence. If you happen to switch during a screen, make sure you and your teammates are communicating, like we talked about above.

To play great man-to-man defense, you have to be in great shape.

Zone Defense

Zone defense is where you are playing defense over a certain area of the court instead of sticking with one man the whole time.

You stick with someone, but once he or she leaves that area, someone else picks them up, and you pick up whoever else moves into your area, or zone.

There are two main things to remember if you find yourself playing zone defense.

First off, you have to talk with your teammates. Otherwise, an offensive player will sneak into an opening in the zone for an easy dunk or layup.

The other thing you have to learn to be good at is finding someone to box out. There won’t always be a player nearby, so you have to go find someone to block out to make sure your team gets the rebound. It requires you to be active and strong, two things we talked about above.


I won’t spend much time discussing the box-and-1. It is usually played when the offensive team has 1 really good player that needs to be closely defended the entire game, but the rest of the team can be guarded with a zone.

Your responsibilities will depend on if you are assigned to guard the 1 great player, or if you are one of the other four players playing the box, or a zone.

Take the advice from above depending on where you’re assigned, and you’ll do great.

make sure you watch video of your opponents

9. Study Your Opponent

The last lesson to know how to play tough defense in basketball has nothing to do with being on the court.

It has everything to do with preparation.

You need to study your opponent before you step on the court. If you are lucky enough to have film to watch, then spend that time learning your upcoming opponents’ tendencies.

Where do they like to shoot? Where do they like to go on the court? What plays do they like to run, especially if they want to get certain players isolated.

If you can learn and know these things before you step on the court, then you will know where they’re going before they do.

Know what that will do? That will cause THEM to make halftime adjustments to you instead of you having to make halftime adjustments to what they’re doing.

A good rule of thumb is that 50% of what you prepared for never actually materializes. If you can double up the preparation then you know you’ve done your job.

There is a reason that the great players and coaches are always watching film. You have to know your opponent to be successful, and that is especially true with playing defense.

How To Play Tough Defense In Basketball Takes Time To Learn

Playing good, strong defense is not an easy thing to do, because it is hard. It is natural for people to not want to work hard.

So if you are surrounded with players that do not want to put in the work necessary to be great, then you will shine like a star when you walk on the court ready to dominate the defensive end of the court.

It doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but coaches, fans, your teammates, and scouts recognize the effort and skill that goes into being a great defensive player.

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