7 Reasons that Defense Wins Games and Should Be Your Priority -- Can You Come Up With More Reasons?

Both offense and defense are important. However, we believe that defense can be under-emphasized at times. Here are some reasons that we believe that defense should be emphasized and a priority at every practice. Can you help us come up with more reasons?

  1. It's Something You (Coaches) Can Control

    Defense is something that you can more easily control on the basketball court.

    You can't always control how many three point shots fall in the basket, BUT you can control the intensity, effort, and execution of your basketball defense.

  2. NCAA & NBA Champions Play Great Defense

    When you think about it, almost every championship basketball team at the college and professional level had a great man to man defense...

    Just look at the last 9 NBA champions and their Opponents PPP (Points per Possession):

    • 2012 - Miami Heat - 4th Regular Season, 5th in Playoffs
    • 2011 - Dallas Mavericks - 7th in Regular Season, 9th in Playoffs
    • 2010 - LA Lakers - 5th in Regular Season, 7th in Playoffs
    • 2009 - LA Lakers - 5th in Regular Season, 2nd in Playoffs
    • 2008 Boston Celtics - 2nd in Regular Season, 2nd in Playoffs
    • 2007 San Antonio Spurs - 1st in Regular Season, 4th in Playoffs
    • 2006 Miami Heat - 10th in regular season, 2nd in Playoffs
    • 2005 San Antonio Spurs - 3rd in Regular Season, 2nd in Playoffs
    • 2004 Detroit Pistons - 1st in Regular Season, 1st in Playoffs

    All of the teams were the top in the NBA in regards to defense. The only two that were not elite defenses were the 2010 and 2011 champions. However, they were still VERY good defenses and you would have noticed that their 3 Pt. FG defense was elite (1st and 3rd).

    The Last 5 Men's NCAA College Champions....

    This is according to the adjusted Defensive Efficiency calculated by Ken Pomeroy. Since the NCAA has nearly 350 teams, all of these teams ranked in the top 95 percentile of teams.

    • 2013 - Louisville - 1st
    • 2012 - Kentucky - 9th
    • 2011 - Connecticut - 14th
    • 2010 - Duke - 4th
    • 2009 - North Carolina - 16th

    *** We did not list women's stats as they were harder to collect.

  3. Quickest Way for You To Get Competitive

    Besides recruiting players, developing a great defense is the quickest way for you to develop a competitive team. This is why so many coaches emphasize defense at the beginning of the season and try to develop it as quickly as possible. They know that you can develop a great defense a lot quicker than offensive skills. Anyone can play defense.

  4. Gives You Consistency

    Defense will keep you in games on those bad shooting nights.

  5. Great Defense Leads to Easy Offensive Opportunities

    One of the best ways to score easy baskets is to fast break. What leads to fast breaks? Defensive rebounds and turnovers. So it doesn't matter if you're a pressing team that forces more turnovers or a pack-line style defense that forces contested outside shots that lead to rebounds. Playing great defense will lead to more offense.

  6. Tough Defense Improves Defensive Rebounding

    If your players are constantly getting beat off the dribble and are out of position defensively, they can't box-out effectively. This leads to open lanes for offensive players to run freely down the lane, grab rebounds, and lay in easy baskets.

    If players contain the dribble and rotate quickly to the proper defensive position, this will lead to more defensive rebounds which means less points for your opponent and more points for you via fast breaks.

  7. Anyone Can Play Defense

    Even if you can only get a couple football players out for your team, you can still compete and teach those kids to play defense. You can take role players with no skill and allow them to contribute to the team by focusing on defense. This gives you a lot of flexibility as a coach.

What else are we missing? What are some other reasons to focus on defense?

Defense Resources

Jim Huber's Man to Man Defense

Don Kelbick's Match Up Zone Defense

Al Marshall's 2-3 Zone Defense

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eb says:
5/15/2013 at 7:28:52 AM

Wasn't it Coach Wooden that said "show me a team that focuses on defense and I'll show you a team that I'd like to play"? I agree with all 7 of your statements but as teams get better, when it comes to crunch time, you've got to put the ball in the basket.


Ken Sartini says:
5/15/2013 at 7:53:43 AM

Joe -

You can play defense until you are Blue in the Face, but, IF you don't score........ you are in deep doo doo. I haven't seen anyone pitch a shut out in basketball yet, unless of course you are playing a patsy.

We shut out several teams for one quarter and one team for a half... so you know how important I think defense is.

They say that offense wins games and defense wins championships... EB, I think Hubie Brown said something along the same lines.

OK, now on to DEFENSE -

I think you can take teams out of their rythm and how they want to play by playing GREAT DEFENSE.

Here are some of my ideas about how to win a game.. just my philosophy.

1- Control the tempo OFFENSE & DEFENSE
2- Get a good shot every time down the floor. OFFENSE
3- Protect the ball OFFENSE
5- Take charges every time they take the ball to the hole. DEFENSE
6- Every loose ball is ours DEFENSE
7- Pick your poison (take their best players away from their strengths DEFENSE

A couple of teams asked some of my players, " What's with this 32 minute Goal Line Defense you guys play? "

I heard Hubie Brown say this at a clinic... he was telling us about one of his first teams... and he said that he had been awarded Defensive Coach of the Year..... he laughed and said.... that was because they ran a shuffle offense and kept reversing the ball.... kind of like what we did with the Open Post Offense until we got the shot WE wanted.

So Joe, from this, I think you can tell what I felt was most important... but I have seen some good defensive teams lose because they cant score. At my old school, some of the assistants were telling me that their defense sucks.... I told them.... " There is nothing wrong with your defense that a few baskets wouldn't cure. " JMO



Joe Haefner says:
5/15/2013 at 7:55:26 AM

EB, great point. We appreciate your thoughts.

This article is not meant to dismiss offense. We believe teaching offense is very important. It's a important piece of the pie.

The point is to stress the importance of defense too.

Coach Wooden was known for some of his great defenses. I'm sure he stressed the importance of playing great defense. I'm sure what he means by that statement is a team that spends the majority of their time (maybe over half of their time) on defense in almost every practice and neglects the importance of offense and skill development is not going to achieve their potential.

On a side note, I also believe defense can instantly make you competitive where offense takes longer. That's why at the beginning of every season, I spend the first few practices on defense. Since it takes me longer to develop offense, it helps be competitive during the early part of the season.


Ken Sartini says:
5/15/2013 at 7:58:22 AM

Amen to that Joe,

We also started the beginning of the year with defensive drills.

On a side note, I also believe defense can instantly make you competitive where offense takes longer. That's why at the beginning of every season, I spend the first few practices on defense. Since it takes me longer to develop offense, it helps be competitive during the early part of the season.


Joe Haefner says:
5/15/2013 at 7:59:02 AM

Thanks, Ken!

I think the key is the ever elusive thing called balance. Just like on a teeter-totter, if you tilt too far to one side, you lose balance.


David Bogataj says:
5/15/2013 at 9:04:49 AM

Defense is the process of getting the ball back to play offense. "TheTrak" UNLV played more defense than offense, run and gun. Coach Knight used great defense to negate mistakes on offense. Yes you must score, but the more times you have the ball and shot the more chances it will go in. If you can only shoot 30% get 100 shots. Cause turnovers, crazy shots, and a pec you practice, that is paying to win. That is what the game is about


dale says:
5/15/2013 at 9:49:57 AM

Keeping the ball out of your basket is always a bigger problem than putting it in...


Kedwin Grady says:
5/15/2013 at 9:58:49 AM

I agree with this article 100%!!! I have 2 additional reasons to emphasize defense at practice, 1. Most players are naturally more motivated to score the ball than to grind out and work hard at stopping someone from scoring, and people are naturally lazy and must be pushed and motivated. 2. Good defense wears teams out physically and mentally, which will effect every aspect of their game to your advantage. Louisville wore teams out with scrappy, pressure defense all year long last season and made some great come backs on the road to their championship victory against Michigan.


victor says:
5/15/2013 at 10:26:31 AM

Agree with this articule. And I lived this situacion I coach 12 year olds here in Puerto Rico. This last tournament after a few games my star player broke his leg he average 25 points per game. So I thought this is not GOOD!! I have always been a defensive maniac. So I got even harder in practice made adjustments . Told my players we dont need a star to win we just need a team that plays together. Twelve players 4 points a piece equals 48. Guess what 10 -11 players score. Not champions but ended 5 out of 37 teams .The point is good defense and team work win games. Who do you guard if all players go to the rim LOL. We are actualy 6-2 and start playoffs saturday.


Steven Ketcham says:
5/15/2013 at 10:37:04 AM

Most NBA champions are fairly evenly balanced between offense and defense. A great offensive team with a poor defense rarely wins a championship. And a great defensive team with a poor offense rarely wins a championship either.

The best coaching advice I have ever heard on this subject was this:

Focus on great offense and make sure your defense can guard your offense.


dave fluet says:
5/15/2013 at 10:41:56 AM

john wooden was a great coach. however he was just ok until he got the likes of lew alcindor and bill walton. kiki vandeweghe, george gervin and carmelo anthony never win big series b/c offense isnt so important


Dave Craddock says:
5/15/2013 at 11:00:21 AM

Don't forget the mental impact a good defense can have on your opponent. Good, aggressive defense will lead to more forced passes and shots, often leading to more turnovers and missed shots, and, as the game progresses, more frustration fouls by your opponent, leading to more free throws. More fouls on your opponents also leads to them being less aggressive with THEIR defense, leading to easier offensive possesions for you. How many ways does a good defense help your team? Let me count the ways.


Kevin says:
5/15/2013 at 11:41:12 AM

Defense makes you physically grind which improves athleticism for all facets of the game,taking a jump shot does not affect your athleticism much


Libbrecht Francky says:
5/15/2013 at 12:38:19 PM

You can score 120pts. Without defense the other team will score 122pts. You lose. Don't let them score, you win!
Any team knows how to score, this is basketball. Playing hard, agressive, but legal defence is ART.


Ken Sartini says:
5/15/2013 at 12:48:06 PM

Hey guys....

I had some teams that couldn't score a 120 points in an open gym ..... sometimes its not that easy.

I coached football too... someone asked me which sport I thought was easier...... I said football, hands down. They said.... but you have 11 guys that you have to get to work together... only 5 in basketball.

My reply, I football, IF you keep doing things right, You WILL score... not so in basketball. You can take great shots and IF they don't fall.... you are in trouble.

Don't get me wrong, defense is important in every sport....... but I want to score.... and IF you cant score, every time down the floor on defense is like life and death. JMO


Coach Kay says:
5/15/2013 at 5:31:45 PM

You can take Joes statement in theyu way most of the other coachs have, That Defense is the most important key to winning. I read and understand it as this. Good defense limiting teams to 15 points per quater. will win you the game 95 % of the time. good defense leads to fast breaks easy options on offensive transition, Bad defense leads to more pressure to score on the ofeensive end leading to bad options and shots from players trying to stay in a game.

Name one team that has won a championship 5 or more guys that average 15 ppg, it hasnt happend that i can remember. now think of teams that have won championships they have all been defensive minded sides.

Miami heat lose more games when they are not getting fast breaks easily the most balanced offensive team in the league but if they are having a bad not on the defensive end or the other team is playing great transition defense they struggle.

96 Bulls greatest record in history 72 wins they got it done the defensive end on the perimeter you had Jordan Pippen and Harper that coud guard any postion from 1 thru 3 then in the paint Rodman and Longley. besides MJ out of that team who will be remembered for their offensive out put?

My opion defense is the the corner peices of the puzzzle and where we all should start if we want to win games and championships.

JMO D is the Key


Monte Moire says:
5/15/2013 at 5:44:01 PM

Great article. I am more of an offensive guy, run an gun, drain the 3 pt shot rather than worry about the 2. But this article made me rethink my approach to summer basketball leagues and for the winter. Teams that we blew out, we out ran them (15 wins) played zero defense. Teams that played solid defense, we lost (5 losses) to them. But I do see the point of this article. You can't always out run or out shoot a team (things I can't control). But you can control the defensive end. So I am glad that I read this article. Thanks.


Ken Sartini says:
5/15/2013 at 6:10:14 PM

My goal was to keep the other team under 50 since we were not a high scoring team and lacked height big time.... so we were a ball control team, got good shots, back door lay ups and open looks for 3s... but we played at our tempo.


B says:
5/15/2013 at 7:42:35 PM

Not everyone wants to play defense.

Reason one is that there is no glory in playing defense. How many times do you se the Player of the Game or the MVP being the top defender? Top defenders are rarely if ever the highest paid in pro sports so who do the kids want to emulate?

Reason two is that it is harder to play defense than offense. All the offensive player has to do is expoit one weakness or mistake. The defender has to protect against many things the offensive players might do.


Ken Sartini says:
5/15/2013 at 7:57:06 PM

I think that depends on what the coach emphasizes....... other teams used to say that we played A 32 minute goal line defense. We took charges every time someone drove the lane. Our kids loved to play defense.

I was a defensive minded coach and so was my assistant.... don't get me wrong.... teams hated playing us because we ran an Open Post Offense.... we were very patient. Play great defense and patient on offense, that will keep you in a lot of games.

Thats what is great about this game.... there is more than one way to get a W!


Coach G says:
5/15/2013 at 10:04:20 PM

I agree on the defense and offense balance. I think you have to have a great defensive mindset to make your offense better in performing with pressure. I was an assistant coach of a team that had offenses look really spectacular in practice (at least in the players minds) and then when game time comes they struggle getting it through a solid defensive team.

if you have a defense that takes away the opponents opportunities it also helps you psychologically be a little more patient on the offensive end.


Coach Kay says:
5/15/2013 at 11:02:33 PM

B says:
5/15/2013 at 7:42:35 PM

Not everyone wants to play defense.

Reason one is that there is no glory in playing defense. How many times do you se the Player of the Game or the MVP being the top defender? Top defenders are rarely if ever the highest paid in pro sports so who do the kids want to emulate?

Reason two is that it is harder to play defense than offense. All the offensive player has to do is expoit one weakness or mistake. The defender has to protect against many things the offensive players might do.

B these are good points Defense is a team effort in every league bar the NBA Help defense is a strong. as a coach im sure your aware not every kid is going to play in the NBA or be able to drop 20 points a game. its our jobs to teach kids that each player has a role in the team being top scorer is not the be all and end all. I would like to pose this questions to you in the history of the nba how many centres and power forwards have won the MVP? at the end of the season. how many goalies in hockey get MVP? and how many Defensive line man get MVP? Now ask your self this how many games to they win without those players.


coach John says:
5/16/2013 at 6:34:19 PM

Playing defense is the best way to get your players in rhythm and it gives you great conditioning as well as mental toftness...


KKott says:
5/17/2013 at 4:58:48 AM

I agree with the article wholeheartedly, defense wins. The last 2 years our rec league team has made the championship game, we lost this year because we never could get our team to really get after it on D and we got beat by a team that played great D. Last year, we lost our best player to an ankle sprain just as the 3rd qrtr began... best player in the league. We nursed an 8 pt lead home because we played great team D. The kid who replaced him couldn''t score at all, but he was an effective defender and everybody stepped up.

A couple more thoughts on why D needs to be emphasized: 1) it''s harder, and certainly less fun to practice D than O. In our rec league we have limited practice time, so I always give the kids "homework", which is almost always offensive moves or FT''s. The only FT''s in practice we generally shoot are pressure FT''s, beyond that I show them a couple FT games and just ask there scores from the week at practice. 2) Players naturally focus on O, so you have to remind them to work on their D. 3) As has been pointed out, D is an equalizer and gives you a chance if you have a key injury or foul trouble. 4) D is contagious and leads to O. They aren''t mutually exclusive, a good D team can also be a good O team, and certainly an efficient O team. Thanks for the article!


Schoeney says:
5/17/2013 at 12:46:49 PM

Agree that it is important to have balance between offense and defense-- but I value and stress defense more. Why? To me, defense "travels." ie- If you can play good defense, you generally do play good defense--home, away--it doesn't matter. It is more consistent than offense--especially at the younger ages.

Plus, not everyone can be a great shooter, scorer etc. But since defense is largely about desire, concepts and positioning, everyone can contribute.

Just my thoughts.


Joe Haefner says:
5/17/2013 at 2:18:30 PM

Great thoughts, guys. Really enjoy the insights!


Samson says:
5/18/2013 at 4:41:34 PM

Basket ball is all about great defence and maximum utilization of offensive plays. If these two are well combined and balanced then a team must win.


Ken Sartini says:
5/18/2013 at 4:44:32 PM

Yes, balance is important..... but, the ball still has to go in the bakset.

Defense should be a constant.... and offense, well, you can run your stuff well..... but, as I said, you have to score. JMO


Coach Dale says:
5/19/2013 at 9:11:12 PM

A great defense comes first. Why? Because it leads to more (easy) offensive chances to score. You have points on turnovers, fast breaks, and free-throws. I believe lay-ups and free-throws are the easiest to make, right. So why not focus on defense first. Great defensive rebounding stops 2nd and 3rd chance offensive shots, which equals less points for the other team. It can only make your offense better. Not all the time, but usually the team that has more chances will win the game. By all means, you have to practice on offense but more defense. Thanks, Coach Dale.


James says:
5/24/2013 at 8:12:59 AM

When i was younger i found defence easier and i got the most attention from it - also if your a good defender and you hustle, you''ll always find good time on court and less time on the bench!


Muzza says:
11/22/2013 at 9:03:40 PM

I agree with you Joe,I coach young girls for club and representative sides,and my large part of training is working with Defense,individual,then 1on 1, 2on1 and so forth, as a coach when picking my side, I look for players especially that play good defense. As I believe also when you go down to the local park,and watch children just shoot around they are using their basic fundamentals,ie shooting,dribbling,passing and rebounding. But very rarely will you see them practising their defense.


Ken Sartini says:
11/22/2013 at 9:08:21 PM

Muzza -

I'm laughing as I read your post.... practice D in the park?? NO way.... they might work hard at playing D but no one TEACHES them the fundamentals.


mike says:
2/3/2014 at 12:32:47 AM

Offense wins ball games....defense wins championships...we witnessed that tonight with Seattle against the "great" Peyton Manning. Btw...ever watch a Knicks game? Nuff said.


harvey greig says:
11/16/2016 at 8:01:21 AM

when i was playing basketball i saw harvey being left out by brendan he was hanging around with tom


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