Guarding off the Ball on the Perimeter: One Pass Away

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“I stress offense without the ball and defense before the other player gets the ball.” John Wooden

As important as on the ball defense is during a basketball game, off the ball defense is just as important and much more difficult. Playing effective off the ball defense is one of the most challenging parts of playing basketball. It is easy to keep your attention on the offensive player you are guarding when he has the ball. When he doesn’t have the ball is when you really have to be aware. The most important points to remember about playing off the ball defense when you are one pass away:
Ball, You, Man. There is an imaginary line that runs from the offensive player with the ball to you, an imaginary line that runs from you to the man you are guarding, as well as an imaginary line that runs from the man you are guarding to the offensive player with the ball. There is a triangle that is formed between the man with the ball, yourself, and the man you are guarding. YOU MUST SEE YOUR MAN AS WELL AS THE BALL AT ALL TIMES. This is vitally important and the number one rule of playing great team defense.
If you are playing an aggressive man to man defense you will probably deny the offensive player you are guarding when you are one pass away.
You should be on the line and up the line of the offensive player you are guarding and the offensive player with the ball. Your shoulders should be squared with the offensive player you are guarding even though you are in a denial position.
On the line means you are on the imaginary line that extends from the offensive player with the ball to the player you are guarding.
Up the line means you are positioned a little less than halfway from the man you are guarding on this imaginary line.
So you are positioned almost halfway between your man and the man with the ball. You need to position yourself approximately at an arm length’s distance away from the offensive player you are guarding.
The hand closest to the ball is in the passing lane, not your body. If you position your body in the passing lane and get too aggressive, it will be easier for the man you are guarding to beat you on a cut to the basket. This is mainly because it is more difficult to see your man with your peripheral vision when you position your body into the passing lane.
Your arm is enough to dissuade the man with the ball from passing to the man you are guarding, especially when you have an active hand in the passing lane. This also allows you to see the ball and your man easier with your peripheral vision.
If you get too close to your man and hug him, he will also have a better opportunity to cut to the basket. Having an appropriate amount of space between you and the offensive player is necessary because it allows you to react and impede his progress if he cuts to the basket.
If you are one pass away from the offensive player with the ball and you are denying the wing player without the ball, it is difficult to help on dribble penetration. Just keep this in mind because usually the help will not come from this man.
If you decide to not play such an aggressive man to man defense, and wish to protect the paint from dribble penetration, a sagging man to man defense is probably more suitable.
Guarding an offensive player who is one pass away from the ball in a sagging man to man defense requires the defensive player to sag off his man. You should position yourself under the three point line, allowing the pass to your man on the wing.
This position allows you to help off your man and protect the lane if the man with the ball drives. Your aim in this defensive position is to stop the ball. You need to see your man and know where he is, but the goal is to not give up any drives to the basket.
No matter what type of man to man defense you utilize, make sure your players know how to play proper off the ball defense. Good offensive players will take advantage of defensive players that “fall asleep” when playing off the ball defense.

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