How to play defense: No Fake Fundamentals

My friend and future NBA coach Jon Giesbrecht put together the above video on Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson’s defense. Many consider Roberson to be the NBA’s best perimeter defender, especially with Kawhi Leonard’s persistent injury problems this season.

As I watched the video, I noticed two things. More specifically, I noticed the absence of two things: (1) stutter-step closeouts; and (2) a low defensive stance. When I played, these were the two most instructed and drilled defensive fundamentals.

At summer camps, we sat in defensive stances, with coaches aiming for our thighs to be parallel with the ground, for several minutes at a time. After sitting in a stance, we progressed to the super-slow zigzag drill staying in this low stance. I see nothing in this video remotely close to the stance that I was taught as a player.

Once we mastered the low stance, we practiced stutter-step closeouts. We were instructed to sprint 2/3 of the way to an attacker and stutter step for the last third. Practically speaking, this is like a 2-3 step sprint followed by stutter stepping. In the video, Roberson sprints to shooters. He does not stutter step or slow down; he sprints until he stops. He stops with a stride stop or a hockey stop within reach or slightly past the shooter.

His angled stop takes away two things: the shot and one driving lane. This is what we emphasize. I do not believe that a defender can take away the shot and the drive on a long closeout, but a defender can take away the shot and one driving lane, or the defender can play far enough from the attacker to take away the drive in either direction. We attempt to take away two out of the three options: the shot, the right-handed drive, and the left-handed drive. Generally, we take away the shot and the strong-hand drive because that requires a closeout to the shooter’s shooting hand, but this is not always possible due to the angle of recovery and the shooter’s handedness.

The low defensive stance and the traditional closeout are two prominent fake fundamentals. I see tweets and articles daily about the lowness of a defensive stance or the importance of stutter-stepping to stay on balance when closing out. At youth and high school levels, when players catch and triple threat before shooting, a defender has time to stutter step and defend the shot. Against good offensive players who think shot first and catch with feet set, defenders do not have this time. They must choose.

Against great shooters, defenders must sprint to the shooter’s body, not stop a few feet from the shooter. In the video below, an NJCAA All-American (potentially the POY) defends one of my players. I imagine that she thought she was well-positioned to defend the shot with her hand at the three-point line, but my player stopped out of range of the defender, but within her shooting range. This is too much space against a great shooter.

This is typical of many closeouts (although it was not a typical closeout situation). The defender slows down and stops short of the shooter with a hand up. This defender defended the drive; she defended two out of the three things: right-hand drive and left-hand drive. However, she did not defend the shot.

Roberson demonstrated how to defend the shot. Does he give up dribble penetration? Yes. Again, one cannot defend all three on a long closeout. Great defenders take away the shot and recover to contest the dribble penetration. This separates Roberson from his peers, but this is a skill that rarely is taught or emphasized because most believe in the traditional slow closeout and low stance. This is the difference between how great defenders defend, and fake fundamentals.

3 thoughts on “How to play defense: No Fake Fundamentals

  • Good points.
    Without coaching, the player will find the correct position which is often much more upright than people would guess. If you watch infielders and tennis players waiting to return a serve, they often start in a low position (coached) but intuitively raise up on the pitch or toss to an upright position.

  • Dr McCormick – Thanks for this post. I coach high school basketball, and I’m recently trying to focus on fundamentals instruction. Detailed posts like this (with accompanying video) really help a lot.

    2 Questions + 1 comment

    1. What is the difference between a ‘stride stop’ and a ‘hockey stop’?

    If I had to guess, it seems like Roberson’s closeout vs. Barnes (around 1:30) is a hockey stop, whereas his closeout vs. Durant (around 2:35) is a stride stop. But it could be the other way around.

    2. Which do recommend teaching? (could be both)

    We play a ‘pack’-style defense, and most of the info/videos that I’ve seen on the pack emphasize the “chopping feet” closeout. To me, this makes sense because :

    a) the closeouts are shorter
    b) the shooters aren’t as good and there’s not as much rim protection
    c) most players don’t have the lateral quickness to sprint into a closeout and then cut off a drive

    This post has me re-thinking my approach to teaching closeouts, but I’m not sure how Roberson’s closeout method would translate to a high school player/team.

  • TJ:

    1. To a certain extent, it’s semantics, but I would say you are correct. Stride stop is more of a 1-2 stop, whereas a hockey stop is closer to a two-foot landing (although one foot almost always lands first).

    2. Both

    3. a, b, and c are true. I am not a backline coach, per se, so I am not going to suggest what is best or what will or will not work. However, I will say that even when closing out on an attacker, I do not understand chopping the feet, and don’t think it occurs that often at elite levels. When we short close to a driver, we run and jump stop, essentially, 6 feet or so from the player; far enough that the attacker cannot beat the defender on her first step. I see too many times that players do a picture-perfect choppy-step closeout and attackers drive against their momentum or shoot over the top because they have sufficient space. We commit to one in a long closeout situation: take away shot or take away drive. In a short closeout situation, we should do both and be on balance on the catch with a jump stop or stride stop, depending on the angle of the pass vs defender’s angle.

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