Defense: Effort, Passion and Commitment

by Lute Olson (Member of Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame)
Defense: Effort, Passion and Commitment

Defense wins basketball games. Offense only determines the margin of victory.

It’s always interesting to hear people talk about teams that are great defensive teams, as opposed to those that are not. Defense is all about effort, passion and commitment. So why aren’t all teams great on the defensive end of the floor? After all, effort, passion and commitment should be components all teams should possess.

It’s simple. If you commit to becoming a good defensive player then you will become a good defensive player. You have to put forth the effort and have passion. There is no better example of this than Kevin Garnett, of the Boston Celtics.

We often hear analysts say, “He plays every possession like it was his last.” That’s good, but anyone can expend energy. It’s more than just pounding the floor and looking the part. There has to be a purpose behind it all and Kevin Garnett certainly plays with a purpose. But it’s more than just effort and passion. He is committed to being a great defensive presence.

Presence is the key. There are a lot of excellent defensive players, but Garnett brings a defensive presence to the floor that is contagious. He makes those around him better. For the entire careers Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were viewed as outstanding scorers. They were not known as defensive-minded players. Last season they became very good defenders. That is a credit to Garnett. His presence was the foundation for Boston being the best defensive team in the NBA.

Sometimes the message doesn’t come through clearly enough for some players. That thought that we can simply outscore the other team is what dominates their thoughts. But when you see it first-hand it tends to have a different effect. Looking at the NBA landscape this season we find Cleveland is a much better defensive team than a year ago. Defensively they are among, if not, the best in the NBA.

The Cavaliers took a cue from Boston -- Defense wins games and raises banners.

That same message should be received at the college level. In any given year, you will find the most successful teams in March are also some of the best defensive teams. Offensive explosions may help get you to the month of March, but that alone will not get you much further.

We often hear analysts say, “This is important defensive possession.” But why is that possession any more important then the first possession of the game? Time and situation dictate that, but players should remember that all the previous possessions led to this one possession. Had you gotten a stop earlier, perhaps this would not be that most important possession of the game.

It’s simple -- Every possession is important.

It’s important to play every possession as if it were the final possession of the game. What happens in the closing moments is what analysts always highlight, but plays throughout the game will dictate whether it comes down to that proverbial final possession.

Rarely do you hear that the steal in the opening moments was the difference in the game, simply because there are so many possessions remaining. In baseball it could be the failed sacrifice in the third inning and it football it might be the dropped pass on third down in the first quarter that is talked about in the aftermath.

In both cases there is still plenty of time to overcome the failure to execute, but if you don’t overcome it with a victory it becomes the topic of discussion after the game.

But basketball is different. It’s not dissected to the extent of those other sports.

In the final analysis it’s usually a handful of possessions, during the course of the game, that determine how good or bad a team is statistically. Players have the physical ability to be excellent defenders, but they don’t always put forth that effort on every possession.

Add passion and commitment and you have defense.