Appreciating Kevin Garnett's use of angles, footwork and body control on defense

Jared Wickerham

Why does Kevin Garnett remain one of the league's best defenders at his advanced age? Because he has the technique of a master craftsman.

The Brooklyn Nets traded for a package that included Kevin Garnett this summer. Their offense was above league average last season, but their defense was outside of the top 15. Even at his advanced age, Garnett can be the anchor for the Nets defense, giving head coach Jason Kidd a centerpiece to scheme around.

When Garnett was on the floor, the Celtics' defense allowed just 96.2 points per 100 possessions last season, per NBA.com. When he was off, that number shot up to 104.2 points per 100 possession. In previous years, the difference was much greater.

How does he make such a great defensive impact? His great foot speed, body control and use of angles.

Here, Tyson Chandler sets a high ball screen for Carmelo Anthony. Garnett doesn't give Anthony space, instead meeting him near half-court and challenging him as a ball-handler. Anthony dribbles into Garnett and eventually re-sets on the three-point line:

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Somewhat counterintuitively, Garnett opens up his defensive stance and allows Anthony a clear driving lane to the rim. Why? Because the Celtics have a help defender (Brandon Bass) in place to rotate in front of Anthony. This reduces the chance of Garnett fouling Anthony, cuts off his passing lanes to the perimeter and funnels Anthony into the converging Bass:

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Garnett doesn't force contact and allows Bass to step in front of the play. Anthony tries to finish at the rim, but misses because Bass contests the shot without fouling:

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Video of the play:


Garnett opening his stance in order to funnel the ball-handler into the teeth of the team's defense does open the possibility of a player taking an immediate jump shot because of the space he leaves when he isn't crowding the ball-handler. But that shot must be taken over one of the longest defenders in NBA history, so he's usually fine with it.

Here, Garnett switches onto Raymond Felton after Chandler sets the screen. He slides in front of Felton's lane:

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Garnett opens his stance to shade Felton into Paul Pierce if he drives. Instead, Felton picks up his dribble and attempts to shoot over the top of Garnett. Garnett recovers and contests the shot. He is able to challenge Felton's shot because, while he gives him space to drive, he still has the length to make up for the space. Felton's shot is an air-ball:

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Video of the play:


Garnett is great at crowding ball-handlers on the perimeter, but if they drive full speed past the screen and he doesn't have time to challenge them, he can use his footwork and body to angle them out of the paint.

Here, Felton drives straight into the paint from beyond the three-point line and Garnett can't stop the initial penetration:

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Instead, he gets an angle on Felton, opens his stance and slides with him to the rim. Felton isn't able to get a clear look at the rim and is forced to reset the play:

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Felton now has Garnett isolated on the perimeter. Garnett opens his stance to funnel Felton into Pierce if he drives and is in position to contest the shot otherwise. Felton decides to drive and is unable to finish over both Garnett and Pierce:

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Video of the play:


Garnett's ability to use his body to force his man into tough shots or into help defenders also translates against opposing frontcourt players.

Here, Andray Blatche has Garnett in isolation at the elbow. Notice that Garnett is crowding him. He has the agility to recover, so he can play Blatche tighter than most players. Because of that, Blatche attempts to drive to the rim around Garnett:

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Garnett turns his body with Blatche and forces him baseline and under the rim. Blatche attempts a reverse layup but Garnett blocks the shot:

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Video of the play:


KG's interior defense remains as good as ever. Garnett ranked 16th overall in the league in post defense, allowing just .64 points per possession, per MySynergySports.com. Opponents shot just 34.5 percent when defended by Garnett in the post. Garnett is great at pushing his opponents out of their spots before they catch the ball, using his upper body and footwork. He uses his length to pester them while angling them away from the rim.

Here, LaMarcus Aldridge attempts to back down Garnett in the low post, but Garnett pushes him out to the three-point line before he can receive the ball:

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Aldridge works hard against Garnett once he catches the ball, but because he started from so far away, the furthest he can get is 16 feet from the hoop. Garnett challenges the off-balance mid-range shot and the Celtics grab the defensive rebound:

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Video of the play, which gives a clearer view of Garnett forcing Aldridge to the perimeter:

Here's another example of Garnett using his body and pushing 7'2 Roy Hibbert out of the paint to force an air-ball from the post:


***

Kevin Garnett can still make an transformative impact on defense some five years removed from his lone Defensive Player of the Year award in 2008. The 18-year veteran knows how to be the anchor of an elite team defense, which immediately improves an area where the Nets struggled last season. It's easy for any basketball junkie to appreciate his fundamentals.

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