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Basketball: Team Defense

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Basketball is a team sport and if you want to win games you will need to learn to play defense as a team. Five players executing tough hard-nose defense and working as a team can stop even the best players from scoring every time.

There are two main types of team defense: man-to-man and zone.


Man-to-man defense is easy to explain. It's just each player covering one player on the other team. You stay with your player and try to keep them from scoring.

When playing man-to-man you need to stay with your player. When your player has the ball, you keep between the player and the basket. When they don't have the ball you stay between them and the ball and try to deny the ball.

Of course this is just the basics. In some systems, each position may have different requirements depending on the situation. The center may only stay on their player as long as they are near the goal. If the other center goes far away from the goal, the defending center may stay near the basket to block shots and rebound.

Zone Defense

In zone defense each player covers an area on the floor. There are different types of zone defenses, but the most common is the 2-3. This is where there are two players who cover the top of the key, the guards, and three who play closer to the basket, the center and forwards. See the diagram below:

2-3 zone defense diagram
A 2-3 Zone Defense
Author: Henrik, GateKeeperX

Other popular types of zone defenses are the 1-3-1 and 2-1-2. Sometimes coaches mix up a zone and man-to-man. The "box and 1", for example, is where four players are in a zone (the box), while the fifth player covers the other team's main scorer in man-to-man (the 1).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Like anything there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of defenses. The zone defense can be vulnerable to the outside shot, but hard to drive on. Man-to-man can be easier to drive on, but tougher to get open outside shots.


One thing that offensive teams will do is set picks. This is when one player stands still and tries to get in the defender's way of another player in order to free them up. It is up to the defenders to communicate when picks are coming and what to do. You can fight through or around the pick or decide to switch up, where you take the player setting the pick while your teammate takes the player with the ball. Either way, communication is key.

Double Team

Whether you are playing man-to-man or zone a good way to get steals and cause the opponent problems is to double team the ball. This is where two defenders quickly cover the player with the ball and try to prevent them from passing, dribbling, or taking a shot. This is an especially good play in college ball where you can force a five second call.


A key to successful team defense is communication. Let the other defenders know when they are about to be picked. Communicate what the plan is on blocking out. If you all work together, you will have a strong team defense.

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