Basketball Tips on Defense: Reach with a purpose

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Michael Jordan

Tips on Defense: Reach with a purpose

You reach, I teach. Blah blah blah.

Reaching is the prescribed cardinal sin of on-ball defense. The proper way which is taught to defend is with your hands out wide, high, and active, not reaching and diving for the basketball aimlessly. Reaching is considered a gamble, and gambling leads to advantage offense, advantage offense leads to easy baskets, easy baskets leads to the dark side (in this case meaning lots of running at your next practice).

But I’ve come to believe and even teach to my own players that if you’re good and patient enough, reaching can be an intimidating and often necessary component to good on-ball defense. That is, if you’re reaching with a purpose.

LeBron James and Rajon Rondo

It’s always important to know your personnel. Reaching on someone who has shifty ball control and lateral quickness almost never ends well. At the same time, if you become smart enough, it can become incredibly useful.

Reaching with a purpose means picking your spots. It comes with timing, quickness, and most of all, extreme patience. It lets the ball handler feel your presence. It also gives you an opportunity to dictate the offensive player, which should always be the goal. A slight reach or two in certain directions could send the ball handler exactly where you’d like them to go — whether that’s into your help towards the middle or the base line (I prefer base line).

And that’s the key point: these have to be slight reaches, pokes, and jabs at the ball — not full-on extension reaches that take you out of the play or put you at the mercy of the ball handler. More importantly, if you are going to take the risk of reaching, you better be quick or smart enough to recover with your feet.

To show the most recent example I could think of to demonstrate, let’s look at James Harden this week versus two different defenders.

Here, rookie Andrew Wiggins (who has extraordinary natural athleticism and quickness) starts with his right foot back a bit because he knows Harden wants to go left, but he also knows he can beat him to the spot. He does that. As Harden pulls back to re-group for his next move, notice that Wiggins puts his left hand out so slightly as just a quick swipe to let Harden know he’s still there. This is considered a reach, but it’s done with purpose.

Now this is how you reach foolishly and get burned for it. Obviously Ricky Rubio is nowhere near the defensive capability of Andrew Wiggins, but as aforementioned, know your personnel. 

The point is not to reach, but to reach with a purpose. This takes just as much discipline and focus as it takes to not reach and play solid defense. It takes practice and timing, but more than anything, a sharp awareness of your opponent and his/her tendencies. If you learn how to reach with purpose, you can become that much more of an intimidating on-ball defender, which is why every great defender reaches.

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Martin is the Founder, Chief Editor, and Head Skills Development Trainer for Basketball Society. He has work experience in digital media and marketing, radio, and journalism. Currently, he does freelance work as a videographer and content creator. He has been featured as a writer on sites such as Def Pen, TV Film News, All Hip-Hop, and more. Martin played high school basketball at South Brunswick High School (NJ) where he graduated in 2007. He is a 1,000-point scorer at SBHS and an All-Middlesex County performer as a 3-year varsity starter. He helped lead SBHS to their first-ever Central Jersey Group 4 sectional state championship in 2007. Martin played college basketball at Eastern University, where he graduated (BA, Communications) in 2012. Martin was a four-year starter and a 1,000-point scorer at EU. Follow Martin on Twitter @Marsoaries and on Instagram @martin_soaries

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