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Stealing the Catch, Not the Pass?

One of my favorite players to study when I first started analyzing defenders was Kawhi Leonard. He showed me the beauty behind one of my favorite defensive quotes, "Good defense isn't always spectacular. It resides in the absence of spectacle -- mistakes that don't happen” - in a 2017 article by Zach Lowe’s on This was especially true for the early Spurs Kawhi Leonard and his finals battles against Lebron James.

But even more than the absence of mistakes or the conservative nature of the Spurs defense; diving deeper I noticed a superb ability to take advantage of the most common situations. One that really stuck with me was his ability to attack an opponent’s catch.

He didn’t have to gamble in the passing lanes or anticipate a pass, instead he located the catch zone. Not the ball in the air, but the ball as it hit the hands. It is far easier to predict the area the ball will be caught than it is to predict the pass itself. Once ball is in flight the path becomes obvious.

The reason this concept popped back into my head was a video that came up on my social media feed. A defender in a high school game took an outside route to steal an inbound pass to the outside shoulder. This is a maneuver that is rare, but not unfamiliar, to great defenders.

In fact Tony Allen was the best I’ve seen at this precise technique and now Gary Payton II has even shown some use for it.

Now I know this is an unorthodox concept, it is the advanced dribble move that only one player on our team can get away with. The behind the back pass only allowed to our best passer if that. This is an idea to add to the bag for an elite defender. And that’s how we should see defense. Just like we challenge players to expand their games and moves on offense, we must continue to encourage and add to our defender’s abilities.

This might be rare, but it could be the difference in a big moment. The introduction of the technique gives it a chance to appear when you most need it and least suspect it.

See you next time.

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