Sports & Games

Learn How to Read and React to Your Defender in Basketball With Tips from Steph Curry

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 26, 2019 • 4 min read

For basketball players looking to improve their offensive game, reading and reacting to team defense and individual defenders in basketball is an important skill set to keep the opposition off-balance.

There are several offensive moves or counter moves to get past defenders with dribble moves, like a shot fake, a spin move, or a crossover dribble. Quick and deceptive footwork can also get the job done, opening up a passing lane or rebounding opportunity to shoot or dunk the ball.

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What Is a Defense Position in Basketball?

In the NBA, a basketball defense exists to prevent the opposing offense from scoring baskets.

An individual defender works with his teammates to stifle scoring opportunities like an open jump shot or lay up, box out to prevent an offensive rebound, and avoid fouling that will lead to a free throw.

Ideally, a defense will secure a turnover, leading to a defensive possession in which the team can run a full-court fast break to set up a quick pull-up three-point shot.

Why Is Reading the Defense Important?

Since an offensive player’s goal is to score and a defender’s goal is to stop them, it is important to read the defense to find its holes. This means both reading an individual defender’s body movements as well as the broader defensive scheme, which can create opportunities for scoring in different ways.

A basketball coach will often teach young players how to read a defense through basketball drills, dribbling drills, and basketball shooting drills. These skills are nurtured through high school, college, and into the NBA in basketball training camp, in-season practice, and in-game from the sidelines.

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How Do You Read the Defense?

When reading the entire defense, teams on offense are looking to see:

  • Are they playing man-to-man defense, zone defense, or matchup zone?
  • If the defense is sending weak side rotational help, where is the help coming from?
  • How are they defending pick-and-rolls, screens, and other actions? Switching? Hedging?

Steph Curry’s Tips for Reading an Individual Defensive Player

In the game of basketball, NBA perimeter players like Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors have innumerable tricks for reading and reacting to defenses.

When reading an individual defensive player, Curry says it’s all about their defensive position, defensive stance, and their body language. He advises:

  • You can’t direct your defender—basketball isn’t choreographed—but you can watch for cues to predict what they might do next.
  • Learn to read your defender’s balance, position, and intention.
  • Knowing how to identify what they’ll do next in order to exploit it will make you a more versatile and strategic player.
  • Scoring against a defender is all about forcing them to make a decision, then reacting according to what the defender decides.
  • Pay attention to your defender’s feet, hands, and nose: their positions can indicate how you should handle the ball and give you opportunities to create space using jabs, jab steps, and crossovers.

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How Do You React to the Defense?

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In 17 lessons, the two-time MVP breaks down his mechanics, drills, mental attitude, and scoring techniques.

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When a player first receives the ball on offense, they are a triple threat: they are potentially a passer, shooter, or dribbler. Their decisions should be based on reading the defensive end of the ball. If they are off-ball, they should be looking for opportunities to set screens, establish a position in the low post (for a post player), find an open space for a jump shot or drive, or to box out for a rebound.

  • When dribbling the ball with your left hand or right hand in a half-court set, there are several ways to react to the defense and create space after you have effectively read the defense.
  • You only have split-seconds to make defensive reads, which dictate to a dribbler where they should set a ball screen and its screener based on what they see on the opposite side of the ball.
  • Through quickness and faking on the basketball court, players can change directions when they anticipate a closeout, begin pivoting on their pivot foot or find a change of pace to find soft spots in the defense.

Steph Curry’s Tips for Reacting to the Defense

Curry offers the following tips for reacting to the defense during play.

  • Use your shoulder against your defender’s chest to leverage more space, making your body a shield between your defender and the ball.
  • The pull dribble is a simple tool for making defenders react, so you can read them and counter.
  • If, when you pull dribble, your defender doesn’t guard you tightly enough, you can use a plyo step to explode past them.
  • If the defender squares you up, you can step back into space to shoot.
  • If the defender overcommits, you can counter and beat him or her in the opposite direction.

Steph Curry’s Tips for Attacking the Defense

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Curry offers several basketball tips that will help players attack the defensive team.

  • When creating space from a tight defender, Curry has three main goals as a ball-handler: disrupt their balance, protect the ball, and create a driving lane to the basket.
  • As a shooter, Curry relies on his and his teammates’ basketball IQs to read and break down the defense’s strategy so they can create opportunities to get the ball in the basket.
  • Curry emphasizes the importance of confidence on the court. Being positive and not letting a cruel and disrespectful defense eat away at the faith you have in yourself is crucial to a winning strategy.
  • Remember that if the defense disrespects you, that means they consider you a threat to their success. Wear that disrespect like a badge, keep on playing the game that you love, and continue to improve every day.

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