William “Red” Holzman (August 10, 1920 – November 13, 1998) was an NBA basketball player and coach probably best known as the head coach of the New York Knicks from 1967 to 1982. Holzman helped lead the Knicks to two NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973, and was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1996, Holzman was named one of Top 10 Coaches in NBA History. [More via Wikipedia]
The following list of 10 criteria to determine whether or not you are a complete defensive player was shared by Butch Beard in his book, Butch Beard’s Basic Basketball. Beard played for and worked under Holzman as an assistant coach.
The player who can’t play intelligent defense is ultimately a hindrance to a team and an embarrassment to his coach. Fortunately, there are ways that you as an individual can work on your defense to avoid these shortcomings, and the best place to start is by measuring your defensive abilities against Red Holzman’s ten criteria. As you read on, keep in mind the old adage: “If your opponent does not score, he cannot win.” Of course, in basketball, opponents do score, but there are ways, both individually and as a team, that you and your teammates can limit an opposition’s scoring potential so that your team can score more points and win, and it’s the purpose of this chapter to show you how. For now, let’s see how you rate defensively.
- Do you have quick hands and feet? Quickness is a must on defense where a split-second can make the difference between a blocked shot and a score.
- Do you have long arms? Players with longer arms have an advantage on defense (and offense, too) over their shorter-armed teammates.
- Are you a quick jumper? The best shot-blockers and rebounders can launch themselves off the floor in an instant—and keep jumping as long as necessary.
- Is your coach defense minded? You’ll know that he is if he spends more time coaching you and your team on defense than he does on offense. If he’s not defense minded, your team is in trouble, especially on those nights when the ball is not going into the basket as frequently as you’d like. Defense, and only defense will win those games.
- Do you know a variety of defenses? Do you know how to play man-to-man defense? Zone defenses such as the 2-3? the 2-1-2? Do you know how to apply the full-court press? The half-court press? If you do, count yourself a student of defense. If you don’t, read on and learn.
- How good are you at making the transition from offense to defense? Do you tend to be the last person up the floor? Is the man you’re assigned to guard always beating you on the fast break? These are just two signs that your transition game from offense to defense needs serious work.
- How intelligent are you as a player? Do you feel you understand the concepts behind basketball and how it’s played? Articulate those concepts to yourself. In a game, do you feel you play under control and understand the situation that each moment in the game presents? Do you possess total player vision—that is, the ability to see and understand everything that’s happening on the floor?
- Do you talk on defense? Not about homework or girlfriends. Do you talk to your teammates about what’s happening in the game? Do you warn them about possible picks the opposition is setting? Do you yell “Switch!” before you switch men with a teammate defensively? Do you yell encouragements to your teammates and yourself? Red Holzman knows that the player who talks on defense is the one he can count on always to have his head in a game.
- Do you know how to position yourself so that you can see the ball on the weak side? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read on and I’ll show you.
- Do you practice the proper defensive stance when playing defense? What is the proper defensive stance? You’d better read on just to make sure you both know it, and can do it!
These are ten of Red Holzman’s criteria for evaluating a player’s defensive qualities. There are others, but as Red used to say to me when we’d talk defense into the night, if a player can honestly answer “Yes” to all ten of the above, then everyone—player, coach, and team—will look terrific. “If a player’s ever going to be good—offensively or defensively—” Red always said, “he’s eventually got to study basketball the way he studies any subject in school.”