The Fundamentals of Off-Ball Defense

A strong defense should do more than guard the ball handler on the basketball court. You can limit an offense by guarding players without the ball.

January 28, 2019

Being able to put pressure on a ball handler can be crucial in shutting down an opponent’s offense or coming up with a turnover.


But for a defense to be successful, a team must be able to guard the players without the ball, too. This is known as off-the-ball defense.


Your positioning on defense while away from the basketball is very important to your team’s defensive philosophy. To better understand this positioning, you should first think about the ball line. This is an imaginary line from the basketball to your guarded offensive player.





When the offensive player is one pass away from the ball, you should position yourself about one-third to one-half of the distance between your opponent and the ball. Keep your chest facing toward the player you’re defending, not toward the ball. Have your hand closest to the ball line out to potentially disrupt a pass. Keep your chin on or near your shoulder in the direction of the ball. This can help you see both the player and the ball while maintaining an athletic position.



If you’re playing in the gap position:

  • You should be one or two steps off the ball line with your back toward the basket. If you’re playing in this position, you’re trying to take away any type of dribble penetration from the offensive player with the ball.
  • As the ball handler drives in your direction, stunt (flash) toward the ball to disrupt the play. To stunt, take a step toward the ball with your hand out to show pressure and keep the offensive player from driving.
  • Maintain an athletic position with your chest toward your defended player. This way, you can react if the ball is passed to them.


If you’re playing in the denial position:

  • You should be on the imaginary ball line with your arms up, attempting to disrupt a pass. Maintain body placement between the ball and your defender.
  • As your guarded player moves to try and get open, mimic their movement so you can stay on the ball line between your opponent and the ball.
  • You want to keep the player you’re guarding from being able to receive the pass. This can help disrupt the offensive action.


Positioning on the defensive end of the floor is very important to a team’s defense. Great off-the-ball defense can be the difference between your opponent scoring or your team getting a stop.


Ready for a drill that works on your offense and defense at the same time? Add the Tip the Cone Basketball Drill to your workout.