The Cushion Slide - Defensive Footwork Series 1
This week we will be diving into specific defensive techniques for on-ball footwork. Of course we all know the classic lateral slide, but there are multiple ways great defenders use their footwork to stay in front, contain and pressure.
It’s actually rare to see a textbook defensive slide used in a game effectively. And so we must ask ourselves as coaches, should we be training players for techniques we see used in games or techniques we see as ideal in perfect conditions? I believe in teaching both, I know, cop out answer, but versatility in defensive footwork is the same to me as the versatility of an offensive skill.
How would it feel if you had a player who could only do one dribble move? He or she better be unstoppable with it. But of course the more likely scenario is that player is extremely limited and would be better suited to learn a couple moves. This variety would allow he/she to handle multiple situations and make them a much more capable player. The same is true in defensive footwork. Sometimes different opponents call for different techniques. Try to find me a player who can use a classic defensive slide to guard Lebron James, Ja Morant or the best downhill player at your level. Good luck.
In the meantime, we will be looking at a technique specifically used to contain those downhill threats. It’s a technique I call, The Cushion Slide and it’s easily one of my favorites.
This technique prioritizes staying in front of the offensive attacker and does so by sacrificing defensive pressure. In this way, the defender is never blown-by for an uncontested finish and is always in-front to contest a pull-up or wall up at the rim.
The Cushion Slide is the technique of reaching back with one foot while pushing off (like a lateral slide) with the other. By doing so, the defender can stay square to the offensive player’s attack while maintaining space between. As opposed to using a drop step to open the hips and give up driving angles - this would force a defender immediately into recovery mode.
In the example below, we can see Igoudala using a cushion slide to contain a downhill drive from Lebron. You will see Iggy backing up to maintain a cushion and pushing off with his right foot to move lateral and backwards. Although the contact of Lebron forces him to open up a little, Iggy is still there at the rim to wall up and prevent anything easy.
The next example is from Robert Williams III who has become pivotal in the Celtics’ top ranked defense (I just released a breakdown video of his full defensive arsenal on my Youtube Channel). Timelords switch-ability is a big part of what makes him so special and his use of the Cushion Slide is a primary reason. In both of these clips below you can see his willingness to give up ground to the offensive player to maintain a basket-you-man positioning.
Remaining square to an offensive player’s attack also allows the defender to recover more effectively to a step-back jumper.
And lastly we have some of the greatest defenders; Kawhi Leonard and Gary Payton, using the cushion slide. The mantra of giving ground to force a tough shot has been championed by some of the greatest coaches as well. To quote Gregg Popovich in a film sessions to his team ahead of the 2014 finals vs the Miami Heat, “Just keep backing up.”
The cushion slide is a crucial technique and one especially important for our less athletic defenders to learn. Utilizing this technique is the fastest way to turn a defensive liability into a capable defender. And it can also be a huge benefit for big man, like Robert Williams III demonstrates, to using their length in mismatch situations.
Some of my favorite drills for building this footwork can be found in my free clinic, Individual Defensive Technique, in the Upward Stance section (29:00 minute mark). If you have any questions please reach out. And if you are eager to learn more footwork and training techniques you can check out some additional resources at LockdownHoops.com.
If you have any suggestions for future topics or deep dives please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you next time!