The Keys to On Court Success: Pass & Defend

By: Michael Aaron Chase Jr.


         The game of basketball is a fairly simplistic sport, with the three main focuses of the game being shooting, passing, and defense. The ladder two of these focuses are the ones that separate the quality teams from the mediocre teams. This correlation can be clearly seen in the NBA today with teams such as the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Boston Celtics. These teams through their motivation to pass and defend at a high level as individuals and as a team, have aided their ability to have a consistent winning culture on the court for their franchises. However the issue is that all teams in the NBA have the ability to do these two keys to the game at a quality level. Some though execute this better than others consistently, and not just because of having better talent. It is because of a lack of desire or effort necessary to do this on a game to game basis. This article will attempt to explain some of the reasons why more teams cannot adopt this pass and defend mentality. In addition it will also depict how if more teams executed these skills consistently, fans would witness a change in the quality of play in NBA games overall.

          First let’s begin with the passing aspect of the game which has always been a key to offensive success. But recently, sharing the ball seems to become an afterthought for teams during NBA games. Thus causing smooth high-quality offensive execution to turn into stagnant and erratic play. With teams like the Warriors, Spurs, and Celtics because of their willingness to pass from player 1 to 15 on their roster they tend to be three of the top offenses in the sport.


This is because by efficiently passing the ball and finding the open man you tend in most instances to get a high quality shot. What makes this even more interesting is that most other NBA team’s offenses tend to be centered-around isolation basketball. As teams tend to put the burden of the play-making and scoring on their two to three top players. Thus what makes the Warriors and Spurs passing bonanza so fun to watch is that everyone who plays has a chance to be play-maker. No one player has to wear themselves out carrying the load of the offense each night because this unselfish style makes life easier for all parties involved.  In the end when everyone touches the ball and involved in the offense in some way when on the floor it keeps every player engaged during each game.

          The secondary effect, and equally as important passing would have on the NBA game is how it would improve the aesthetic quality of the game. With crisp consistent ball movement taking place on a game to game basis my belief is one would see a scoring increase across the league. With more quality offensive possessions executed by teams it would also help the flow of the game become smoother, and more entertaining to watch. This is because when watching most NBA games it is almost a daily occurrence watching as teams after passing the ball well and creating offense early fall back into the isolation ball style. Teams seem to commit early to ball and player movement, but ultimately revert back to isolation ball for extended periods which cause choppy, and uneasy play. During these stagnant stretches the pace of play tends to slow, more fouls and turnovers tend to occur, and the ball sticks in a single players hands with no real action being performed by other players on the court. This is why many NBA highlight packages depict teams blowing large leads, and a good reason for it is the significant offensive lulls due to offenses becoming stagnant because of this terrible habit. Accordingly if teams are willing around the league to commit to more consistent ball and player movement the look of games would be better. As well as coaches won’t have to worry as much about their teams blowing large leads. While also making the game more fun to watch thus presenting a smoother, and more skillful game to its consumer.

          Now to move on to the other key aspect in discussion being defense. Defense as many observers whether it be experts or common fans could tell you defense is not played well and as consistently by many teams. Now certainly some of this is due to the fact not every team has elite to all-star level talent that can defend at a high level each night. Though this is still not an acceptable excuse for the lack of defense played in games.

This is because to a large degree defense is purely about “effort.” As can be seen across the association on a given night there is not always the quality effort expected nor given toward defense. Ultimately leading to teams hindering themselves at times from competing because they lack the effort and execution to defend. This season we have seen multiple 40 point losses by teams, two near 50 point losses, among many other 15 to 20 plus point defeats. In a lot these cases these teams were blown out more due to their inability to get stops than due to their lack of offense. Teams like the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, among others have losing records and struggle in part due to their lack of quality defense executed each game. Even top teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and good teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards have struggled against lesser teams because of the lack of effort they give and execution they fail to perform on defense. There is no reason with the talent and quality individual defenders on those teams they should not be top tier defensive teams. Players like LeBron James, John Wall, Bradley Beal, as well as, Karl Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler on those teams should not be associated with below average defensive teams. Players like James Harden as well do not help this lack of defense issue with at times player’s refusing or ignoring playing defense. But overall defense in the NBA can be fixed with simple adjustments. One, it is just up to coaches in a lot of cases to demand more effort defensively from their players. Then two, players putting it on themselves to execute the game plans better and work harder individually to defend which will lead to winning basketball.

          Now again looking at the game from an aesthetic point of view. Better defense I believe will bring forth more competitive games on a consistent basis. Improvement will lead to more parody in the NBA as well, which is good for the league. Now that is not to say by every team playing defense they will be in playoff or championship contention. It means it will decrease the amount of blowouts around the league because teams are flat out competing. Plus the games will draw more eyes because it could increase more down to the wire, playoff like games bringing more interest and intrigue to the regular season then has been in the last couple years. So it is not to say every team needs to play defense to the level of a Boston, Golden State or San Antonio, but just battle and give effort. Overall better defense means more competition and better products in the end to watch each night.

          Now the NBA is clearly an exciting league even with these two basketball keys not being respected as they should by teams and players. But if the passing increases and defense improves the quality of play heightens. Thus in the end it leads to better basketball, as well as, a product reflective of the high standards the NBA asks for and promises to present. Transitioning us from the lesser product we are given across the association each game to a more competitive and respectable sporting event. Ultimately improving on these fundamental skills in the league will help the NBA look more like “the NBA”.