For basketball players looking to improve their offensive game, reading and reacting to team defense and individual defenders in basketball is an important skill set to keep the opposition off-balance.

There are several offensive moves or counter moves to get past defenders with dribble moves, like a shot fake, a spin move, or a crossover dribble. Quick and deceptive footwork can also get the job done, opening up a passing lane or rebounding the opportunity to shoot or dunk the ball.

When reading the entire defense, teams on offense are looking to see:

  • Are they playing man-to-man defense, zone defense, or matchup zone?
  • If the defense is sending weak side rotational help, where is the help coming from?
  • How are they defending pick-and-rolls, screens, and other actions? Switching? Hedging?

When reading an individual defensive player, do your “on court” homework and study the person guarding you.  Everything comes down to his/her defensive position, defensive stance, and their body language. Know this:  you can’t direct your defender—basketball isn’t choreographed—but you can watch for cues to predict what they might do next.

  • Learn to read your defender’s balance, position, and intention.
  • Knowing how to identify what they’ll do next in order to exploit it will make you a more versatile and strategic player.
  • Scoring against a defender is all about forcing them to make a decision, then reacting according to what the defender decides.
  • Pay attention to your defender’s feet, hands, and nose: their positions can indicate how you should handle the ball and give you opportunities to create space using jabs, jab steps, and crossovers.