Although it may not seem like it, good defense in basketball can be the difference between winning and losing a game. It’s importance usually gets overshadowed by offense, which tends to get more attention, but behind every great team is a solid defense to back it up.
One of the most intimidating aspects of defending that gets performed throughout a game is blocking shots and lay-ups in an attempt to prevent the offensive team from scoring.
Blocking in basketball is a powerful tool that contributes to a team’s defensive capabilities, and has been used masterfully by various players throughout NBA History, most notably Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Eaton, who were some of the best shot-blockers ever.
The act of blocking is pretty simple; it involves you getting in the way of your opponent and using your hand to stop the basketball, but it can oftentimes prove difficult to deflect the ball successfully.
To have a better chance of deflecting successfully, it’s important to understand what’s being done wrong and learn how to correct it.
For this reason, we’ll be addressing the usual mistakes people make that sabotage their chances of stopping an opponent, and may even turn the tide in the other team’s favor, as well as learning how to properly go about stopping the basketball before it ever gets a chance to reach the net.
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Blocking in Basketball
Before we get into the problems and solutions, let’s first define some key points that concern blocking in basketball.
- You can stop the projectile at any spot in the court, but it’s usually done at the low post predominantly because this is where the defense of tall players are located (power forwards and centers).
- Deflecting a basketball is often done simply by extending one or both arms up and using your hands to either obstruct the basketball’s path or swat the basketball off course.
- Tall players have an easier time than most other players when holding off shots because of their long arms and large frame.
These are important points to clarify upfront since they’ll explain most of what you’ll see on the court. Shots or lay-ups that occur at the low post are almost always worth deflecting, but anything on or outside the perimeter is debatably not a good trade-off.
Shots made from that far already have a lower percentage of being made, and depending on the shooting percentage of the person shooting, it’s reasonable to suggest that you just guard them like normal.
Your height can definitely affect your ability to block; it isn’t just a coincidence that some of the best shot-blockers were also tall, their height provided greater reach to stop projectiles with ease. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some amazing players that are short, and to clarify you can still stop a projectile even if you aren’t extremely tall.
Your vertical jump, your speed, and even your mental game in predicting the offense are all factors that contribute immensely to your ability to block, and this applies to both short and tall players.
Learning to increase your vertical jump and your speed both improve your performance when defending to keep up with the offense and meet the ball at the point of release, and your mental toughness is a critical component in staying focused on the court.
When developed they can help improve a player’s defensive capabilities, but on the surface, a short player trying to guard a player taller than him is at a disadvantage, and in these cases, it’s important to assess the trade-offs in deciding who’s guarding who.
There’s a bit of risk involved for defenders when blocking because if they make a mistake, it can quickly backfire and even help the opposing team. The greatest mistakes come from not knowing the rules in basketball as well as rushing while guarding without taking proper measures of the situation.
If you make contact with the shooter while attempting to repel the shot, that results in a foul that gives free throw attempts to the offense. This also includes hitting the opponent’s hand while trying to repel or alter the projectile, which will still result in a foul.
This is a reason why most attempts go unsuccessful. When you’re defending the shooter, keep a moderate distance between you and him, and wait for him to release the ball. At the point of release, whether using one arm or both, keep them straight and use your hands to obstruct the path of the basketball.
Be careful to avoid contact when reaching in for the basketball. There is such a thing as incidental contact between the shot-blocker and the shooter that the referee will not call a foul on, but that is only a contact that occurs on the way down from jumping after the attempt.
Another problem that’s less common but that many players do at times unknowingly is goaltending.
If you in any way alter a basketball shot that is already on its way down or descending relative to its arc, that is considered goaltending and will automatically be counted as if it had been made, granting the offensive team however many points it warranted.
This rule was largely created to prevent high jumpers from contesting the basket and swatting away projectiles, much like a goalie in soccer would defend the goal. This leaves you with a brief window in which can you deflect the projectile, which is from the point of release until about the end of the ascension portion of the shot’s arc.
I’ll go ahead and lump interference alongside goaltending; interference is a violation that can be performed in many different ways:
• Touching the ball or any part of the basket while the ball is on the rim of the basket.
• Touching the ball when it’s within the cylinder extending upwards from the rim.
• Reaching up through the basket from below and touching the ball, whether inside or outside the cylinder.
• Pulling down on the rim of the basket so that it contacts the ball before returning to its original position, or during a shot attempt.
These all constitute a basket interference violation, so it’s very important to keep them in mind as things to avoid doing.
It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll naturally want to rush in and swat the ball, and that’s usually when the fouls start getting called. Another thing to be careful of is a pump-fake from the offense that’ll often trick you into jumping, at which point the shooter may get around you and take his shot.
For this reason, one of the best methods of defending is simply to mimic the other player so that you’re on par with what they’re doing and moving at the same tempo. In this way, you’ll learn to slow down instead of skipping ahead and have the person you’re guarding on lockdown.
Now, this isn’t exactly easy to do and won’t always work, and the pump-fake is a great example of where you need to be vigilant of your opponent. If the person you’re guarding starts pulling out tricks to deceive you, then it naturally becomes a lot harder to defend them, but now you’ll be more cautious of your opponent’s future moves in anticipation of a fake-out.
At this point, it’s best to rely on your mental wit and in-game experience to contest their shot. As such, to prepare for these events it’s best to practice your defense with another person on the court, and this along with you’re in-game experience is what will give you the mindset necessary to minimize rushing.
How to Block a Shot
To stop a shot correctly, we’ll incorporate what we’ve already established on both blocking and avoiding mistakes to arrive at a solid method.
Depending on where the shot is being taken from, as well as who is taking it, will determine whether we try and stop it. As previously stated, these usually take place on the low post, and if a shot is being made on or outside perimeter, there’s little reason to try and repel it.
Unless the shooter has a high shooting percentage and knows how to shoot a basketball well, then the best thing to do is try to contest the shot and apply pressure to the shooter while maintaining your distance to avoid a foul.
When you’re guarding your opponent, get right in front of him and stay on him at all times. You want to copy his movements to make sure that your in sync with what he does. If he runs towards the hoop, you stay directly next to him, and if he jumps, you’re jumping after them with your arms held straight up to contest and hopefully deflect the shot.
Be careful of your timing so that you don’t miss your attempts, but also keep in mind that you should be jumping after the offensive player to ensure you don’t get deceived with a shot fake.
Follow these general guidelines for effective guarding:
• When moving, make sure to stay on the balls of your feet to maximize your mobility while on the court.
• In a squatting stance, spread your feet shoulder-width apart and keep them square relative to the offensive player. This aids with both mobility and jumping power by keeping you low to the ground and maintaining a strong foundation from which to jump.
• Keep your chest facing the shooter while guarding to give yourself the option of using either hand to block and be sure to manage your view so that you have a clear sight of the person shooting.
• Arms are at all times spread to about shoulder-height, and once you move within a little more than an arm’s length of your opponent, raise your arms above your head to allow for a quicker response.
These guidelines describe an optimal defensive stance to be in for effective shot-blocking, be sure to make use of them both on and off the court to adapt yourself to be in that pose.
This is where the mind games come to play as your opponent begins to fake you out in an attempt to catch you off-guard and shoot the ball. Even if the offense hasn’t tried it, it’s still important to keep watch so that if it happens you’re ready, but if they’ve already begun using these tools then expect them to use it again.
Here the best course of action boils down to both your practice and in-game experience with holding off shots as well as your relative knowledge on the offense, which includes how aggressive their playstyle is and how often they use fakes. That information can tell you a lot about how likely they are to perform more fake outs.
This is more so a gradual step that you’ll begin to understand and grasp not just over time but more specifically over the course of the game as you begin learning more about the opposing players.
However, your opponent isn’t the only one that can use this trick; you can also perform a fake to apply even more pressure to the offensive player. Once you’re within arm’s reach, you can fake your jump by simply extending your arms up and down.
This can prove to be an effective way of stopping the shooter dead in his tracks and even throwing off his rhythm by getting him thinking about when you’ll actually jump, all without having to get off the ground.
Once the shooter releases the basketball, have either one or both of your arms completely extended and use your hands to obstruct the basketball’s path. You may either keep your arm straight and let the basketball come down towards you for a steal, or you can swat the basketball and throw it off course.
If you do swat the basketball, be wary of where you’re directing it towards; if possible, aim it towards a teammate so that your team can steal the ball.
Be careful when reaching in the for basketball to avoid getting a contact foul, and if the ball is already on its way down or descending relative to its arc, don’t alter the shot as that’ll be considered goaltending and will automatically be counted as having been made.
Avoid incurring a basket interference violation by being cautious whenever you get close to the rim. In the case of blocking a dunk, whether you should go for it or not depends on how well the person you’re defending knows how to dunk, but generally, it’s best just to provide pressure and contest the dunk.
In the case that you’re trying to avert the shot of someone taller than you, there’s little chance of you successfully carrying it out unless you have a high enough vertical jump, in some cases a record-high jump, so just try and contest it to put pressure on the shooter and hopefully throw off his aim.
Of course, the best way to become a better shot-blocker is to prep for in-game experiences with practice drills on the court where you defend another person and try to stop their shots. This works incredibly well towards improving your shot-blocking capabilities and making you a better defender overall.
When shot-blocking in-game, be sure to:
1. Determine whether the shot is worth deflecting relative to the player shooting and their location.
2. Keep up to pace with your opponent’s movement while in a defensive position.
3. Anticipate some type of fake to be able to deal with it, and dish out tricks yourself.
4. To repel the projectile extend one or both arms and obstruct the path of the ball with your hand.
When you’re going to alter the shot, be sure to avoid:
1. Rushing, don’t go ahead of your opponent and don’t lag behind either.
2. Contact foul, try and avoid all contact with the shooter when trying to stop their shot.
3. Goaltending & Interference, if the basketball is on its way down or descending relative to its arc, leave it alone. If the basketball is anywhere near the basket, be cautious in your approach.
Hopefully, this should all give you a better idea as to how to properly go about repelling a projectile in-game. Remember that in general, being a good shot-blocker can prove to be hard even for the best players in this area, so don’t feel too bad if you only get one or two blocks per game.