The Simplest Ways to Play Man to Man Defense
Man up! That’s the call from the sidelines and everyone in the gym knows what’s coming next: man to man defense. It is the most common and easiest to teach defense in the game. It is one on one, man against man, let’s see who is the best, in your face basketball. It is the defense played on playgrounds all over the world. It takes heart and dedication. Man to man defense is basketball at its purest.
The simplest definition of man to man defense is everyone guards the man they are assigned to. Assignments are made based primarily upon height, position and skill level. Wherever your man goes, you go, keeping him from scoring or even getting the ball. Follow him around the court and stay between him and the hoop. The goal of man to man defense is to force the most difficult shot possible. Players must work hard to perfect the techniques necessary to lock down the opposing player. It is a simple concept but there are many details that make it successful.
Staying between your man and the basket is the basic goal of man to man defense. Defenders do not want to allow their player to dribble past them for an easy score. Keeping the knees flexed, butt down, back straight and on the balls of your feet are essential. Active hands in the passing lane and guarding against the cross-over dribble complete the basics of the defensive posture. Great defenders move their feet instead of reaching with their hands to stay in the right position. As the offensive player drives with the ball or cuts without it, the defensive player must continually adjust their position to maintain contact with and proper positioning to the man they are guarding.
You can also be a great on the ball defender. That is where I make my bread and butter when playing defense. Just a reminder that I am 5’8″ so am much closer to the ground and a lot quicker than most. I pressure the ball when a defender is either dribbling or has picked up their dribble. If they are dribbling, I don’t reach and just stay in front of them with a low posture. This frustrates the offensive player because they are typically not quick enough with the ball to dribble pass me. Eventually, they give the ball right to me, while trying to put on a dribbling show. If a player picks up their dribble they are stuck. I will pressure them so that they can’t make an easy pass and force them to try to deliver a bad pass off balance.
Coach Knight teaches some great techniques and tips for man-to-man defense
Attacking the man to man defense is all about movement and match ups. The more the offensive player moves around the court, the more likely the defender will lose contact with them allowing for an open shot. Players switching positions on the court, running off screens and completing simple dribble hand-offs create movement that forces the opposing team to make snap decisions and presents opportunities for an offensive advantage.
Creating a mismatch where the offensive player is matched against an ill-suited opponent is the key. There are many ways to create such a mismatch, but the most common way is the screen. A screen forces the defense to either switch the players they are guarding creating a mismatch or fight through the screen creating an opening for the offensive player. Screens can be set on the defender guarding the man with ball or for a player trying to get open for a shot. In either case, carefully timed movement creates the offensive advantage.
Man to man defense and offense are simple to teach and fun to play. They do require much practice to perfect, but the benefits are worth it. Players enjoy the challenge and it drives them to become better. It is simply basketball in its purest form.