Reading the Defense

Reading the Defense

One of the most important and challenging skills you must develop as an advanced hooper is reading and understanding how the defense is playing you. First you're shot ready, and now you can begin the process of scoring by reading the defense. 


The first question you must ask yourself: How is the defense playing me?

If you see your defender running hard and fast at you, you have many options depending on certain circumstances. Assess your strengths against your opponent. Quickness is probably the critical factor to use when measuring your advantage value.

Play off the defense

Depending on your quickness, do you want to go right by them? You think, “Maybe if I’m quicker, I can just rip and go…” This is what the reading process could sound like in your head.

Let’s consider what could happen if they don’t really close out hard, baiting you to shoot the ball. If there’s space, you should already know before you take the shot (when you’re initially being shot ready). This read would sound like, “My defender’s late; I’m going to make him pay for it.”


Trust yourself

Don’t think of these as split second decisions that are going to stress you out; all of this happens within the flow of the game. Understand that these are the things you work on in practice in order to help you transition to success in the game. So trust yourself, and always be confident in the decisions you make.

REMINDER: The fundamental key is being shot ready. When you get the ball, you always want to do something productive with it.


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Know your defender

When it comes down to the art of reading the defense, it really comes down to knowing your defender.

The two ideas here are:

  1. Knowing your defender’s strengths/weaknesses

  2. Knowing how you can take advantage of them

For example, my brother Alan, who is 6’8”, sometimes plays the Center position, and is undersized. He laid out the way he identifies his defender’s strengths/weaknesses when he is matched up against a bigger, slower guy, and how he takes advantage of them:

If he’s in the corner--The big man is either going to stay out and deny, or help inside. Also, since he’s a big man, he has to go in to rebound when the shot goes up.
If his defender helps, Alan’s got the shot because he’s slower to close out on him.
If his defender guards him closely, Alan can drive and blow past him, taking advantage of having the faster first step.
This same idea plays into the post position as well.
If Alan gets the ball in the post, he’s not going to back him down. He loses his advantage this way. Instead, he’s going to turn and face the defender. He’s going to jab, and see how the defense reacts. If the defender forces him right, he’s going to go right. Etc.

You take what the defense gives you. Also, keep in mind that you may have to counter for the second line of defense, so your job doesn’t necessarily end after you’ve beaten your own player. 

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Make the defense respect you

Lastly, make the defense respect you. In order to become a great scorer, which is the goal of every offensive player, you have to make the defense respect the fact that you’re a threat. Sometimes that means you might have to shoot the ball, even if you’re not a good shooter. The idea being that your defender will have to come out or close out a little harder the next time you shoot.

Let’s say you’ve read the defense and saw that they were sagging off, so you shot the ball. The next time you catch it in the shot ready position, your defender will most likely close out a little harder, no matter how poorly you shoot.

Never Forget: Basketball is a mind game

Think about what the defense is thinking. Even in the worst-case scenario, if you miss the shot, your defender says “ok,” but you’re still going to shoot it the next time you are open, so they actually have to make a gradual commitment to your commitment. This is a process, and it is this scorer’s mentality that you should be engaged with throughout the entire game.

Now you’ve become the narrator of the script; you’re playing offense on your own terms. 

Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach