One important question I always come back to is; which technique is used the most in a defensive possession? This helps narrow in on what the most important technique could be, and in my mind that is the closeout.
Of course, a defender does has to pick-up and guard the ball handler. This however becomes too specific, only including the technique of one player. So we must expand this thought, perhaps, a defender always has to guard the ball. This would clearly make the case for developing superior individual on-ball defenders. However, besides the initial defender of the ball handler, every other defender must use a specific technique successful to begin to guard the ball: that’s the closeout.
Failure to execute a successful closeout will lead to a clean shot attempt or a blow by, thus eliminating the technique of defending the ball all together. For example, if you have a talented on-ball defender, but he or she is not able to closeout properly, their effectiveness on the defensive side of the floor is in jeopardy as well as your entire defensive scheme.
But what is the precise technique of a closeout? I broke down multiple areas, concepts and drills within my Closeout Clinic and the Lockdown Book - but one topic I would like to dive into here is the footwork.
To Chop or Not to Chop?
Over the years, there has been a lot of debate if players should or should not chop their feet in a closeout. Perhaps the debate has been unheard by many, but several NBA staffs are pouring data and research into this debate. One NBA study performed by the Memphis Grizzlies concluded that chopping the feet showed a negative correlation to containing the ball and impacting the shot. In turn, the study endorsed a run and stop approach compared to a choppy feet breakdown.
This apparent finding does baffle many coaches and throws a huge wrinkle into the age-old fundamentals of a closeout. However, studying many of the NBA best defenders has shown a huge backing to this new philosophy. The Stride Stop Closeout is the most used technique of great defenders.
It is funny that most coaches (former me included) believe asking a player to run and stop on defense is impossible, and yet we constantly demand it of our players on offense all the time. We instruct our players to drive at full speed and stop on two, pull up for a jump stop or stride stop. But for some reason the idea of doing so during a closeout seems too difficult.
Now many will defend the choppy feet technique for the ability to execute a defensive slide at any time. However the previously mentioned study actually found that claim to be false, and in fact less effective due to one foot constantly being raised and lowered to the ground. The immediacy of the stride stop allowed players to convert into containment much more effectively as you can see in the above video examples.
Furthermore, the technique does have some nuance. The stride stop does position players in a narrow stance - one foot further than the other. This is why so many players who use the technique end up on the hip of the offensive player with a heavy force in one direction. This can be attributed to the defensive system of the team or in many cases scouting reports on weak hands. Although there is the seldom ability to use the Stride Stop technique to end in a more square position, as displayed below.
Lastly, the ability to contest a shot. If you have read the Lockdown Book or watched the Closeout Clinic, you will know one of the most important impacts on shot % during a contest is the defender’s ability to challenge at the point of release. This is accomplished effectively with the Stride Stop as the 1,2 motion is ideal for vertical leap. Pair this with the discipline of Second Jumper and you have a great closeout technique.
If you would like to learn more about Closeouts the Closeout Technique Clinic is a 37 minute masterclass focused on lower body mechanics, upper body mechanics, long vs short closeouts, coaching concepts, keys and principles as well as important drills for building these mechanics and nuance. To find out more: LockdownHoops.com/CloseoutClinic
See you next time!