DJ’s Three Point Take: Guarding the League’s Best

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We’ve been blessed to see great offensive spurts this year by some of the best players in the league this season. From triple-doubles to scoring 50-plus, what we have been able to watch so far as been beyond great. However, sometimes I feel like we don’t talk about the other side of the ball as much. Defense is a big aspect of basketball and today, I want to talk about how I would defend the top 3 scorers in the game today.


When defending LeBron James, the best thing you can do is not let him get a big head of steam to the basket. As a defender, you want LeBron to take jumpshots because that’s where he’s least effective. Michael Jordan did his homework on LeBron and this is what he had to say:

“So if I have to guard him… I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”

(Via ESPN The Magazine)

Sometimes James will post up his defender but more than often his main priority is to get to the rim, so with him it’s best to close all paths to the basket and make other players beat you. Although as we all know, LeBron is a more than a willing passer and a good one at that. So when it comes to guarding LeBron James, it’s more of a team effort than just the job of one player. Everyone has to get out to shooters and the defensive rotations must be on point.

Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets

James Harden might be the toughest player to guard on this list in my opinion. Just because he does everything so well, it makes him very difficult to guard. Harden has a plethora of moves that he can throw at you and if u can defend it then so be it but if not; you better yell for help. To be honest the best way I would guard him is simply denying him 100% of the game. He’s so deadly that you want to keep a body on him at all times. Harden loves his step back, especially when driving right so when he feels your body, he usually steps back and pump fakes and waits for the defender to jump; just to go up into their body and draw the foul.

Shot Type

Field Goals MadeField Goals Attempted


Driving Layup163244


Jump Shot141492


Step Back Jump Shot



Lay Up Shot34104


Free Throws26253080


Majority of Hardens baskets come from driving to the basket. We all know that’s where he’s most deadly because he either scores or he gets to the free throw line. The best bet in these situations is to stay close, not reach, and pray for your best rim defender to contest the shot up top. It’s hard to set a charge because of his nifty euro step and you can’t rake the ball down-low due to Harden’s awareness of making you foul him; so it most cases it’s best to try to get the block up top.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

Russell Westbrook’s explosiveness makes him a nightmare for opposing point guards on a nightly basis. He can get down court in about 5 dribbles and once he gets to his launching pad there’s no way your  getting up there with him. I think when defending Westbrook, you want to guard him in a similar way as you would LeBron. I would play off and make Russell take as many jumpshots as possible. Also, sometimes it’s best to get the ball out of Westbrook’s hands as well. A lot of the time he goes and gets the defensive rebound and goes to coast to coast so what I would do is I would try my best to meet him as soon as he comes down with the rebound to stop him from getting that momentum. In a recent interview, Coach Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks gave his input on the best way to guard Westbrook:

In the West, guys like Paul and Westbrook, you’ve got to have a lot of numbers of guys to throw at them, Carlisle said. One guy isn’t going to stop them.


One of the things that many hold against Russell Westbrook is his gunner style of play. As a defender and as a coach, I would use this to my advantage. I would throw different defenders at him so that he wouldn’t get comfortable on offense and I would also get physical with him and talk a little smack just to try to get in his head. Westbrook is one of the most competitive players we have in this game to combine with his erratic style of play; so if you can get in his head and force him into bad decisions then you have already won the battle.


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