defensive basketball drills

After our first two drill series for your dribbling and shooting improvement, BasketballPhantom continues to provide you with advice, this time on defensive end. We present you defensive basketball drills!

When you think about basketball and what makes it so fun to watch, you probably think about the offensive aspect of the game. It’s understandable – you can do much more fun things with the ball than without it. But basketball is played on both sides of the floor, and if you want to be a serious player, you need to be good at each side.

Playing defense is not much fun, for the majority of players, as it doesn’t reflect your talents and skills that you can show in the offense. Defense requires just one thing – effort. Unlike offense, there’s no such thing as natural born defender – you become a great defender only by practice.

If you look at the best players in the basketball, those who are considered to be the best of the best were all great defenders. Michael Jordan was NBA’s defensive player of the year. LeBron James is a five-time member of NBA All-Defensive First team.

As defense is something you learn and not what you’re born with, practice and training are places where you completely build yourself as a defender. We want to help you with that. And so, BasketballPhantom crew comes with another drill series, this time completely dedicated to defense. Stay with us to learn a few tricks and tips on how to improve as a defender and start building your two-way game, something that only great players possess.


Introduction to defensive basketball drills – what matters?

As we said, playing defense is something that you learn. Because it’s something that you improve at through learning process, you’ll be the most successful at conquering it by dedication, concentration, and effort.

There are a lot of differences between on-ball and off-ball defense. However, in this section, we want to point out the most fundamental aspects of defense, those that rule defensive principles no matter where on the floor is the ball, you and your attacker.

It’s important to start with fundamentals – once you apply them to your game, it will become much easier for you to learn and adapt to any defensive situation on the floor. Because of this, as in our previous drill series, we’ll start with some general tips on defense.

Once you establish and apply general rules, it will be easy for you to execute any defensive drill. Here are some general defense tips for you, and be sure you use them on any situation you found yourself into on defensive end:

  • ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings
  • Always try to be in a position to see both your player and the ball
  • Don’t lose you balance – keep defensive stance all the time
  • Be active with hands, but carefully – too much will get you in foul trouble
  • Learn to communicate, no matter where on the floor you are

These 5 tips can be applied on any defensive basketball drill, no matter which one. As we progress to the part you’re the most interested in, drills themselves, we want to use one more opportunity to advise you to keep these tips in your mind all the time you’re on defense. And also, to be focused, dedicated and concentrated.


Defensive basketball drills

It’s not easy to pick only a few drills and present them to you. There are hundreds of different defensive drills for each and every aspect of defense – on-ball, off-ball, rebounding.

To cover all of these thoroughly will require a lot more than one article. So as our space is limited, we decided to cover a little bit of every defensive aspect and inspire you to start practicing. Don’t worry, this is just a beginning from us – if you’re interested, there will be more editions.

But, we have to start somewhere, so let’s go. First of all, in this article we’re dealing with individual defensive basketball drills. Team defensive drills are something specific from coach to coach and are more applicable within established system. So our focus will be individual defensive drills, which we divided in two main groups – on-ball and off-ball drills.

We’ll start with former.


1. On-ball defensive basketball drills

This type of defense is the most noticeable. When someone make a steal or block a shot, you can instantly recognize than.

On-ball defense is a starting point in any defensive system. Ball-handler is the most dangerous player on offense, because he’s the only one that can score. If an on-ball defender is late and his man passes by him, defense gets in trouble.

This is why for start we decided to present you some individual on-ball defensive drills.

On-ball pressure drill

We’re starting with a drill that will get you through the basics of on-ball defense. This drill combines every element of this type of defense, from defensive stance to handwork and defense in motion.

Instructions: The drill is simple – your goal is to follow your man from spot to spot and keep the pace up with him. Ball-handler (hereinafter attacker) is laced beneath the basket, facing to the other.

On sidelines, place markers or cones to for diagonal shape throughout the court. You can choose the number of cones placed. For start we advise you to begin with 4 spots – from beneath the basket to free throw line level on one sideline, then to the middle line on the other side, then back to other side at the other free throw line level, and to the baseline on the other side.

The animation will explain you better

Tips: Number of cones, as well as the pace of the attacker and the intensity of your defense, is something that can be varied. You can start with fewer cones and slower pace, and gradually increase both.

As for intensity of pressure you put on defender, usually, every coach has his own requests for that. How close and how aggressive you follow your attacker is something that depends of style of play of the team you’re the part of. So if you want to be prepared to answer any coach’s request, change the level of pressure on ball during the drill.

Additional tip: This is a perfect time to start practicing communication on defense. Communication between teammates on defense in one of the major factors that separate good from great defenses.

Usually, most of the coaches will demand from player that defends ball-handler to shout “Ball, ball, ball…!” So try this. Yell “ball” all the time while you’re performing the drill. Don’t feel stupid – you need to be loud in order for you teammates to hear you, and you need to state your defensive role at any moment.

Close-out drill

Spot-up situations are usual activity during the game. When you’re on help side and the ball crosses to your man, you need to make quick steps in order to get to him as quick and as near as possible.

It’s very important for any defensive player to maintain the balance and ability to follow up their man in close-outs. So let’s practice a bit of close out defense that shifts to on-ball defense.

Instructions: You’ll need two attackers for this drill – one passer and one ball handler. Place them on opposite sides of the floor. Let’s say that the passer is on the left wing and ball-handler is on the right wing.

Your position is somewhere in between them, in help position. Again, every coach will demand different positioning, so let’s stick with the basics. You should be somewhere on the free-throw line, able to see both attackers.

The drill starts with the passer making the pass to ball-handler. As soon as you see the pass, sprint to the ball-handler and get in defensive stance, with your one hand up to contest the possible shot.  When the ball is received, you’re starting on-ball defensive drill. Again, you’re free to experiment with what the ball-handler will do. For simplicity, let’s just say that you play one-on-one until a shot is made.

When the play finishes, repeat the drill but this time the ball-handler becomes the passer and vice versa.

Additional tips: Again, practice communication. In this drill, you find yourself in both on-ball and help defensive position. So when you’re on the help side, you should shout “help, help, help…!”, and as soon you close out ball handler, you’re back to the “ball, ball, ball…!”

Change positions of both attackers to practice every in-game situation. The more positions you practice, the more natural they will come to you during games.


One-on-one drill

It’s time to really defend the basket! One-on-one defense in something you need to be good at if you want to become good defender. Without the ability to defend the attacker in one-on-one situations, you become liability in your team and the offense will look to exploit that.

Here is our drill for one-on-one defense.

Instructions: The ball is with the passer on the top. You player is positioned beneath the basket. His goal is to get in position to receive the ball, and your job is to make his job as hard as possible.

When the attacker gets the ball, you start defending him one-on-one, until he makes a shot, turnover or you steal the ball.

After the play is finished, ball-handler gets the ball to the baseline and becomes inbound passer, and you sprint to the initial passer on the perimeter. Now he’s the attacker, and your job is to defend him.

Here’s one example of how it could look like.

Additional tips: Practice defending your player from all court areas – from the perimeter, from the mid-range and in the post. It’s his decision where he’ll receive the ball, but make sure you’ve done enough repetitions to cover all these areas.

Ultimate on-ball full-court drill

For the end of on-ball series, we’re leaving you with the biggest challenge. This drill requires maximum of concentration and fitness level, but if you’re able to pull it off – you’re on a good way!

Instructions: The drill requires three attackers. The one who has the ball is on one baseline and the other two are on the other. Because this drill is full of intensity for a longer period of time, limit the area of the play on just one side of the floor.

The attacker starts the drill with putting the ball on the floor. His goal is to get to the other baseline in any way he wants (except sprinting, but changes in rhythm and pace are more than desirable).

As soon as the attacker reaches the other side, he becomes the inbound passer, and you take over the second attacker. You defend him denying the inbound pass, and when he receives the ball, again you defend him full-court to the other baseline.

The drill finishes with the third attacker receiving the ball, but this time his goal is not only to get to the other baseline, but also to score. So after three full court defenses, you need to defend the basket at the end.

Tips: Start with attackers dribbling in slower pace, and gradually increase it as long as you’re able to keep up – don’t over-pace yourself. And as always, communicate all the time.


2. Off-ball defensive drill(s)

The reason why we’re giving you only one drill for off-ball defense is because this drills covers all aspects of this defense. So whether this is one drill, you can look on it like a mixture of several separate drills.

Instructions: for this drill you’ll need two passers and one attacker. The passers can vary their positions, but they should be one or two passes away from each other. For the example, let’s position them on both wings.

Your player is beneath the basket. As a defender, you can’t influence where the ball will go – to the other passer or your player. Your only job is to be aware of your surroundings – if the ball is on the right side and you player moves in the left corner, you’re on the help side shouting “help, help”.

If the ball is then passed to the other passer on your side, now you’re one pass away from the ball, so be ready to react. Now, your player can receive the ball or continue moving. But whichever his choice is, you have to do only two things – putting a pressure on your player not to receive the ball, and be aware of your position on the floor.

The drill finishes when one of the passers takes a shot. Of course, you’re good positioned and will notice that. As soon as shot is taken, grab your player and secure a rebound. When the shot goes in or you grab a rebound, the drill is finished and you start over.



Notice: This drill combines every aspect of off-ball defense and it gives you infinite number of real-game situations. Change position of passers and tell your man to be unpredictable in movement. Truly great drill!


Bonus: Spurs defense competitive play

For the end, we want to present you how one of the best defensive teams in the world practice team defense. San Antonio Spurs are one of the best basketball teams in the world for the last 20 years, and their consistency in results are in great part made because of their defense.

This is not a drill, but different approach to the game. Basically, you play the game (1on1, 2on2, 3on3, 4on4 or 5on5), but the group that gets the points is not the one that scores, but the one that defends the basket.

Rules are simple – team that defends the basket gets one point. If an attacking team scores, they get zero points, but they become defending team and have a chance to defend and get a point. The first team that collects agreed number of points wins and the losers have to do punish-drills (running for example).


Becoming a great defender is hard, and it requires a lot of work and commitment. In this article, we’ve tried to give you the best defensive basketball drills for your improvement.

We’ve covered every aspect of individual defense with our 5 drills, and if you execute them with concentration, communication and intensity, you’ll be on a good way.

Let us know how you feel about the drills we provided, and how much you learned from them. And as always, feel free to leave questions and thoughts in the comment section below.

Work hard and enjoy the game!