This defensive maneuver really might get you a game-winning steal someday. Because of the psychology behind it, it has a better chance of working at the end of a game than it does at the beginning when there is no pressure. If you use this play early in a game, you are likely to get out of position, get beaten and get taken out of the game by your coach. It is not good basketball to be lunging for steals early in a game, and since the player with the ball is not likely to be particularly nervous early, this play is not likely to be effective. End-of-game nervousness and that altered psychology of protecting a lead rather than trying to get one is the circumstance under which this works best.
Assume you are behind by a point or two or three, and you are in the closing minutes. At a time like this, you can get away with a steal attempt because the team with the ball is not so intent on taking advantage of a defender momentarily out of position. Their chief concern is running out the clock. So, even if you miss your attempt, you are unlikely to hurt your team, and you may very well get the ball.
SETTING UP THE STEAL
Get far over to the dribbler’s strong side, drift back with him and “influence” the ball to his weak hand without applying pressure.
You know that any player, even an excellent player, would like to have the ball in his strong hand in pressure situations. Therefore, what you want to do, at the end of a game when you need a steal, is to create very suddenly a pressure situation, and you want to know exactly when you are doing it. If you can surprise the dribbler with the suddenness of the pressure, he will not have time to respond intelligently—he will respond instinctively. His instincts will tell him when he meets sudden, unexpected pressure to get the ball immediately in his strong hand. Knowing this, you can prepare a response and perhaps beat him to it.
Try it like this: Let your man get the ball and pick him up full-court. Give him a lot of room, and move far over to his strong side, giving him a safe, wide-open path up the court to his weak side. At first, you are so far from him that he can even advance the ball upcourt with his strong hand if he wishes, but as he advances the ball, you get a little closer to him, so that he dribbles the ball with his weak (usually left) hand. At this point, you are in a “token pressure” situation, applying just enough pressure to get that ball in his weak hand but not enough to give him a cause for worry. You are just close enough that he doesn’t feel safe dribbling with his strong hand, but he still feels very safe dribbling the ball with his weak hand (with his body between you and the ball). It is from this safe, secure position that your steal attempt comes.
At a point you decide on, lunge violently to his weak side. Go from passive to violent in a flash, but don’t go for the ball. This first lunge is only a fake, only to create that sense of sudden, unexpected trouble that makes his response instinctive. After you make the violent fake, don’t wait for his reaction. Throw your body to his strong side while watching and reaching for his strong hand. There is an excellent chance that he will put the ball right out in front of you as he tries to get it in his strong hand.
VIOLENT LUNGE FAKE
Drift back on a diagonal path which takes you gradually closer to the dribbler. But before the logical point of confrontation, surprise the dribbler with a sudden lunge to his weak side. Then go straight for his strong hand.
This maneuver has won games and gotten steals and certainly is worth trying. Usually, even if your fake or your lunge doesn’t work, there will be time to recover since the player with the ball is not primarily interested in taking advantage of a sudden five-on-four.
You can try out this maneuver in pickup games to get a sense of when to fake and how big to make your fake, but remember, without the same sense of pressure, the dribbler in a pickup game is much more likely to see the weak side path you are giving him and take it aggressively in order to pass you. If he does this, all is not lost. (You may even purposely set up this situation by letting the dribbler think you have been badly beaten.) If you are ready to run with him, you can catch up and very possibly get a swipe at the ball when he tries to switch to his strong hand and go for the middle of the court. (See “Gnaw-Pocket Defense,” entry #61.)