Stopping a Single Dominant Basketball Player

Michael Jordan #23

Basketball is a team game, but sometimes one dominant player can virtually take charge of a contest, whether it’s a big man such as former All-Star Shaquille O’Neal or a guard like Michael Jordan. In response, coaches employ various strategies to at least limit the key player’s scoring output and prevent him from completely dominating the game.


A box-and-one defense is a combination of zone and man-to-man strategies. Four defenders cover the court in a zone to form the “box” portion of the defense. The fifth defender covers the other team’s top scorer man-to-man; he’s the “one.” The man-to-man defender has the primary responsibility for stopping the opposing star and can play him tightly because, if the defender is beaten, help should be available from one of the zoning defenders no matter where the dominant player is on the court.

Double Team

If a player is too good to guard with one man, a coach may use two defenders at times. With two defenders set in position around one offensive player, the single player will almost always have to pass the ball. This strategy is usually more effective when the defense double-teams a big man in the post, since post players are typically not great passers. If the double-teamed player does make a good, quick pass out of the double team, the defense must reset itself quickly, because it’s difficult to guard the remaining four offensive players with just three defenders.

Deny the Player the Ball

Players obviously can’t score without the ball, so some teams try to deny the ball to an opposing star. Normally, a defender positions himself between the man he’s guarding and the basket. But if you’re trying to deny the ball, you position yourself between the player you’re guarding and the player with the ball. The idea is to cut off the passing lane and prevent the dominant scorer from receiving a pass. If a pass does get through, however, the offensive player will frequently have an uncontested shot, because his defender is now out of position.

Make Player Work on Defense

Some teams try to stop an offensive star by employing the old cliché that the best defense is a good offense. This strategy involves getting the ball to the player who the opposing star is guarding as often as possible, forcing the star to work hard on defense. The hope is that the offensive standout will expend so much energy and mental focus on defense that he won’t be as effective on the offensive end.

Jordan Rules

Depending on who you ask, the “Jordan Rules” were a brilliantly devised strategy to defense basketball’s most talented player, or a psychological ploy to get into the heads of Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates. Either way, the Detroit Pistons employed the “Jordan Rules” to defeat the Bulls in three consecutive playoff series, from 1988 through 1990, leading to Detroit’s first two NBA championships. Then-Pistons coach Chuck Daly says the Pistons used a series of double-teams -- which varied depending on where Jordan was on the court -- as well as strong, physical play to slow Jordan’s scoring.