As promised last month, here is more about playing defense, 1-on-1,
by Jeff Haefner, owner of

So much energy is expended in developing game plans, working on skills, scouting opponents and trying to find an edge to be a better team and win more games. All of that hard work will go down the drain if you cannot defend on the ball.

The nature of American basketball these days is to create match-ups, isolate the match-up and then attack the defensive player. If you cannot play 1 on 1 defense, or defense on the ball, all your work and preparation will amount to nothing.

What Is Defense?

Before you go out to defend the opposition, you have to define what your objectives are. Are you trying to steal the ball, make traps, pressure, sag, etc. That has to be spelled out so all players are on the same page. Teamwork is always cited in offensive play but seldom in defensive play. Without defining your defense, five players will be playing individually.

Each team will have its own methods, goals and objectives but for my money, defense comes down to, “Don’t let them score!” How you go about that is up to your team, but it doesn’t matter how many steals or blocked shot you have if the other team scores.

Defense is all about dictation. Defensively, you must dictate to the offense what you want them to do. If you allow the offense to choose, they will beat you every time. If you dictate to the offense what you want it to do, you have a much better chance of success.

Where to Play the Ball

Whenever you play the ball, you have to first decide where to pick up your defense. If you are going to play the ball at the baseline, you must be a true 1 on 1 defender. You will not get much team help in the backcourt. The ballhandler has the entire length of the court in which to beat you. What are you going to do with the ball; force it to the sideline, make it change directions, force it to a particular side? You can create pace, force turnovers and expose weak ballhandlers this way but you run the risk of getting beat a long way from the basket.

If you pick up the ball in the offensive area, you have less of a chance to get beat on the dribble but the offense will have an easier time getting into their offensive patterns. You have no time for relaxing because the offense can score at any time. You have to be very determined when you get into this area of the court.

You have to evaluate your abilities as a 1 on 1 defender and the ball handler’s abilities in light of what your defensive goals are to determine where you are going to defend the ball.

Where to Send the Ball

Defending the ball is thought of as 1 on 1 defense. In many regards it is. You are out there, all alone, defending the ballhandler and preventing him from making his move. However, in a game, if you are truly playing 1 on 1 defense, you will be in trouble. Defense is a team function in which your 1 on 1 defense is only a piece. With that in mind, your team defensive philosophy will determine how you play your defense.

Do you have a big man who can block shots? You might want to “funnel” the ball to the middle. As the ball handler tries to make his play, you try to force him to the middle, into your big man. The big man is now in position to turn him out or block the shot. After this happens a couple of times, the offensive player is less inclined to drive the middle and thereby limits his offense. By dictating a “funnel” to him, you become a better 1 on 1 defender.

No shot blocker in the post? You might want to “fan” the ball to the sidelines. Pushing the ball to the sideline helps your teammates determine when they are a “help defender” and deters the ballhandler from going to the basket. By taking his drive option away, you become a better 1 on 1 defender.

How about the old standby of forcing to the ball handler’s weak hand. That is a sound strategy as well. Forcing a right handed player to his left or a left handed player to his right definitely decreases his skill level and erodes his confidence. You might even be able to guard him in a truly 1 on 1 situation without help. But, as the ball is passed from offensive player to offensive player, the players might have different weak hands. This forces many more adjustments by your off the ball defenders. In addition, the higher you go in competition, the stronger the weak hand becomes. Driving the ballhandler to his weak hand might be very effective at lower levels of play, but good players can beat you which ever way you push them. Tony Parker, of the San Antonio Spurs, has trouble handling with his left hand, but if you push him left, he will beat you anyway.

Is it really 1 on 1 Defense?

As players, we all want to compete at the highest levels possible. As coaches, we want our teams to play at its maximum potential.

As part of our preparation we work on 1 on 1 offense and 1 on 1 defense. We know that 1 on 1 offense is really preparing individual offense to fit in with our team offense.

When we practice our 1 on 1 defense, it should be to improve the way we play in our team defense. Drive your player to the side, force him to the weak hand, pick him up from the endline or pick him up at mid court, depending how your team will play.


Drills for 1 on 1 Defense

Live Wing

This drill is used to teach aggressive 1 on 1 defense when the wing has the ball.

O1 and O2 start on the elbows

Coach stands on top with the ball

On the command, “Go,” both players sprint and touch the same spot on the baseline

After touching the spot on the baseline, both players sprint to the wing.

Coach passes to the first player out. That player immediately becomes the offense, other player immediately becomes defense.

Players now play 1 on 1 from the wing.

Play should reflect both offensive and defensive philosophy.

Offense can use dribble limitations or can direct play to a position (such as the middle)

Defense should dictate to the offense (such as drive him to the baseline)

Live Top

This drill is used to teach defensive play from the top.

O1 and O2 start at the elbows

Ball is placed on the floor at the 3 point line.

On the command, “Go,” players sprint and touch the same spot on the baseline.

After touching the same spot, both players sprint to the ball.

First player to the ball immediately becomes the offense, other player immediately becomes the defense.

Players then play 1 on 1.

Play should reflect the offensive and defensive philosophy of the team (force ball to the sideline, weak hand, etc.).

Ball can be placed in different places to simulate guarding the ball in different areas, such as picking up at the top of the key, mid court, etc.


Wing Containment

This drill teaches 1 on 1 play on the wing after recovering from the middle when offense already has the ball.

Offense starts on the wing.

Defense starts under the basket

Coach has ball on the baseline


Coach rolls the ball to offense on the wing.



Defense chases the ball out to the wing.

Offense and defense play 1 on 1.

Play should reflect the offensive and defensive philosophy of the team.

Defense can force the ball to the baseline or back out to the top.

Offense plays to its strength.

Box Drill

This drill is used to teach defense on the move while recovering from the baseline.

Offense and defense start at the baseline on opposite lane lines. Defense has the ball


Defense rolls the ball across the lane, above the elbow

When the ball is rolled, offense immediately sprints directly to the ball and picks it up.

Defense sprints across the lane, touches the other lane line and then cuts to defend the offense.

Offense and defense play 1 on 1.

Play should reflect the offensive and defensive philosophies of the team.



Jeff Haefner is the owner of

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