Individual and team defense in basketball has taken a hit over the last couple of decades due to decreased practice time and no focused effort from coaches to teach it. Players do not seem to understand how to guard their man and guarding a man off the ball two or three passes away is almost nonexistent. Defensively, basketball players guarding the ball are content to let their man go by them off the dribble and get to the rim and players off the ball would be better served being a matador in the bull ring with their ¨reach and get out of the way” methods of defending than an actual basketball player. Nonetheless, this lack of defensive ability is not entirely their fault and nor is it the coaches. In fact, it is more a product of gym time or lack there of than anything else.
With the increased number of basketball teams around the country, travel and rec, it has created an issue with gym time. There are just not enough gyms and not enough available time slots to accommodate all of these teams. Furthermore, if there is enough gym time made available, it limits teams to a little over an hour one time a week. Consequently, when coaches do get in the gym with their players the majority of their focus is on their teamś offense and maybe some team defense that is usually in the form of a zone. Why zone? It is believed to be much easier and less time consuming to teach than man to man defense and coaches can get away with giving it some sort of cursory effort. This could not be further from the truth. To play a zone defense correctly and effectively, players must first learn to play man to man defense. In fact, the best zone defenses are actually really great man to man defenses whose players understand how to guard the man in their area as well as be a help defender when off the ball. On the flip side, really great man to man defenses function as a zone with players helping off the ball into an area and then recovering with the movement of the basketball.
To develop this type of successful zone defense, takes a ton of time and practice. When I coached at the high school level, we spent a segment of every practice every day doing defensive breakdown drills for the variety of defenses that we played. That being said, we also had the gym space and the time to. With only one day in the gym each week for some of these travel and recreational basketball teams, that time just does not exist. Therefore, teaching team defense becomes an afterthought. The prevailing thought of, ¨Letś just play zone because all they player has to do is guard an area.” This notion does not take much time or effort and is so far from the truth but the unfortunate reality of the lack of gym time in America today.