All Shots Are Contested to a Degree

Contesting shots is an underrated and under-coached skill. Little attention is paid to it, considering it’s the defensive action most directly linked to the offensive scoring actions. For the discussion to be useful, we must define the key terms.

This applies to all basketball discussions. So, to begin with we should make sure that we roughly agree about what we mean by the basic terms: basketball, practice, coaching, and so.

So, precisely what does contesting shots mean?

“To contest” has several different meanings. The one most fitting here is “to oppose especially in an argument”.

Given this, contesting a shot simply means opposing it. Or putting pressure on the shooter so that she can’t shoot the way she would ideally shoot if there was no defense. This is done to lower expected value of the shot.

There are two types of this pressure:

  1. Temporal pressure.
  2. Spatial pressure.

As is often the case in space/time issues, spatial pressure and temporal pressure are two sides of the same thing.

Temporal pressure is a condition where in order to avoid or ease the spatial pressure, the shooter abandons her preferred timing and/or movement patterns. In other words, as the defense closes out on the shooter, she in some way rushes her shot.

Spatial pressure affects the movement patterns of the shooter and/or the motion of the ball. This can happen in two ways: directly and indirectly.

Indirect spatial pressure means that to avoid a defender’s touching the ball, the shooter goes away from her preferred movement patterns. A defender can create indirect spatial pressure with hands or with the body.

  1. If he’s trying to reach the ball – or to tag it – she’s pursuing the ball.
  2. If she goes so near the shooter that the indirect spatial pressure is primarily due to her body position and/or raised arm, she’s jamming the shooter.
  3. To fly means to jump as in order to block the shot after the shooter has released the shot.

Direct spatial pressure means that the defender touches the ball during the FGA and affects its motion.

  1. If this happens while the ball is still in the shooter’s hands, we call it tagging.
  2. If the shooter has already released the ball, it’s a swat. (We don’t call it a block because a tag may also be something that’s usually called a block.)

This implies that all FGA’s are contested to some degree. “An uncontested shot” is an oxymoron. The effectiveness of contesting is a continuum, not an on/off thing.

That is because the shooter always perceives the defense in some way. At the very least, there is always some temporal pressure on her. Even if there are no defenders anywhere near her right now, they just might start closing out on her.

The actions mentioned are inter-related – or one action often leads to another. For example, tagging the ball is often proceeded by pursuing it. The chart below shows this continuum.

Contesting may happen even where no FGA is taken. For example, flying may make the shooter stop an FGA and pass instead.


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