Basketball Defense Guide: Inside 5 Types of Defenses and the Rules

Two young men playing basketball outside office

In basketball, playing defense means trying to stop your opponent from scoring. The rules of basketball spell out how and under what circumstances the defense can attempt to stop offensive players. Understanding these rules will help you not only be a better defender but a better basketball player. Basketball also has five basic types of defense that you should be familiar with if you play organized basketball. Here are the types of defenses and rules you should know if you are playing basketball.

What are the five types of basketball defenses

What is man to man defense?

A man to man defense creates a match-up of one player against another player. The defenders main focus is to prevent their player from getting the ball or, if their player is the ball handler, scoring the ball. If defenders keep their man in front of them, they can prevent the offense from penetrating the baseline. This defense is especially useful if your team is good at switching ,helping out on pick and rolls and has solid quickness. It can lead to easy traps on the sidelines that will lead to steals and turnovers and is just fundamental good defense. However, it’s hard to cover up weaknesses so if your point guard isn’t good at defense the opposing PG will have unlimited dribble penetration for a lay-up. If a team is also full of shooters, they can just pull up and hope that your defense can’t close out.

What is a zone defense?

Zone defense is another defensive strategy employed by many basketball coaches. It trades the footwork and on-ball defense of man defense for more of a court based approach. Each player gets a part of the court to cover and covers anyone who enters that part. This can be used to hide weak defenders and specialize for certain offenses with different match-up zones. Players in zones can also block out passing lanes and create deflections off passes. However it is one of the harder defensive schemes because it does not work against fast breaks, and players may miss rotations in the zone if they are not paying attention.

What is a combination defense?

The combination defense is a defense that combines both man and zone. This usually is used to combat star players and makes it so that a ball defender guards one player while everyone else plays zone team defense. These are unusual defenses and not commonly run because they can be easily exploited.

What is a press defense?

A press defense is a defense that applies pressure to every offensive player on every part of the court. This can be a half court or a full court press, depending on if it starts in the half court or starts when the ball is inbounded at full court. A half court press or full court press is usually employed when a team is far behind and not usually employed throughout a game because it is taxing. But some high school teams opt to run it.

What is an inbounds defense?

This is a defense that mainly focuses on plays when the ball is passed in-bounds. In late game situations it can be used to prevent quick jump shots or easy outside shots. The goal is to have someone ball-side to block an in bounds and have the other four defenders guard in man or zone to prevent a quick shot.

What are some defensive basketball rules?

Legal Guarding Position

Basketball rules define the exact movements and position a defender must take in order to establish legal guarding position. A player who has both feet on the ground and is facing his opponent has established legal guarding position, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Any contact with an offensive player while a defensive player has legal guarding position is considered either incidental contact or a foul on the offense. A player may move to the right, left, or back up and still keep the same legal guarding position. Once a player has established legal guarding position, it is the responsibility of the offensive player to move or change directions in order to avoid contact.

Secondary Defender

In college and the National Basketball Association, a secondary defender is not allowed to draw an offensive foul while underneath the basket. A secondary defender is defined as a player on defense who is not actively defending a player making a move to the basket, but comes in to help a teammate acting as a primary defender on the offensive player. In the NBA, a semi-circle is painted under the basket to help officials determine if a player is positioned in an area where this rules applies. In college basketball, no line exists, and it is up to the official to determine if the secondary defender is under the basket.

Defensive Three-Second Rule

In the NBA, defensive players may not be in the free-throw lane for more than three seconds without being within arm’s reach of an opponent. Defensive players may defend anyone on the other team in order to comply with this rule, including double-teaming another player. The count is suspended when the ball is in the air on a field-goal attempt, when the player begins actively guarding an opponent, or when there is a loss of team control by the offense. Failure to comply with this rule results in a technical foul. One free throw is awarded to the offensive team, and the ball is awarded out of bounds to the offensive team on the side of the court at the free-throw line extended.