What is Cherry Picking in Basketball?

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Cherry picking meaning in basketball refers to a player who does not play defense and stays near their basket for a fast break two.

Coaches, players, and fans might not like a cherry-pick play, but what if it is the last resort to catch up with the leading team. A 5-on-4 defense might bait the leading team to take a shot, and the defensive team can get the rebound and pass for an easy basket.

Cherry picking might work in a play or two, and then the opponent will make defensive adjustments. It is a high-risk strategy giving their opponent easy looks at the basket and putbacks.

Read on to learn more about cherry picking in basketball.

Why Is It Called Cherry Picking in Basketball_Why Is It Called Cherry Picking in Basketball?

Cherry picking in basketball refers to a player who does not play defense; instead, he stays deep toward their basket. If the defending team steals the ball or gets the rebound, it would be easier to pass the ball to the cherry picker for a lay-up.

Cherry pickers are players positioned at the top of the zone or the furthest man-to-man defender who leaves their assignment early and streak to their basket for an uncontested shot.

Cherry-picking might work for a possession or two since it might confuse the opponent’s offensive plays. But the coaching staff will wise up, call a time-out, and assign one player on defense.

Coaches would frown at cherry pickers unless instructed because it suggests laziness that will be detrimental to the team.


There are two methods of cherry picking:

Camping out

Count a cherry picker out from playing defense; he camps out near their team’s basket for the offense. The cherry picker waits for a teammate’s heave for a high percentage shot from a fast break.


Once the offensive team shoots the ball, a player automatically bolts or breaks down the court. The breakaway is usually done on jump shots when the cherry picker has enough time to run and position for a good catch while the ball is in flight.

Why Is It Called Cherry Picking in Basketball

Pros and Cons of Basketball Cherry PickingPros and Cons of Basketball Cherry Picking

Cherry-picking is a controversial issue among some coaches, players, and fans. The nays deem it a violation of an unwritten rule, while those on the other side of the fence see it as part of a team’s repertoire.


  • It will be easier to score in transition if a player is positioned near the team’s basket. 
  • A cherry-pick team will disrupt the opponent’s planned offensive plays, forcing them to modify them during the game.
  • Assuming a full-court pass is successful, the opponent has a 5-on-4 play in exchange for your team’s 1-0 play. The cherry-picking team has the advantage in numbers.
  • An easy basket is a nightmare for the opposition.
  • Successful play results from good teamwork between the passer and the receiver.
  • The coaching staff designed a good play executed perfectly by the players.
  • A guard can be assigned to a cherry picker to prevent a successful run, removing a player from the other team.
  • One-upping your opponent will make them feel embarrassed.
  • A successful run gives excitement and appreciation to attendees. 
  • Proper execution demonstrates excellent timing, good teamwork, and athleticism.
  • A difficult and accurately executed cherry-pick play adds another dimension of tactics to a thrilling game between skilled teams in a close match.


  • Cherry-picking takes away the integrity of basketball.
  • A cherry-picking team has to play 4-5 on defense, giving their opponents easy looks at the basket. 
  • A cherry picker has no chance to get offensive rebounds or guard his assignment creating scoring or passing opportunities. 
  • A speedy defender doesn’t take long to get downcourt to intercept the pass or mess up the cherry picker’s shot.
  • Cherry pickers are unpopular among fans, teammates, and opponents.
  • Cherry pickers are irrelevant once their opponents have defense in place.
  • The long court pass is challenging to execute a lousy pass will result in a turnover or an interception.
  • Teammates may not pass the ball to cherry pickers because they are lazy players and don’t contribute to the defense.
  • Coaches frown unless they give instructions to a player who cherry-picks, benches, or removes them from the team.
  • An excuse by a player to run from endline to endline.
  • Cherry-picking is cheating.
  • Cherry pickers don’t play defense.
  • Without defense the excitement of basketball is reduced, and fans shun away from teams displaying less effort in the game.

Pros and Cons of Basketball Cherry Picking

How Do You Protect Yourself from Cherry Picking in Basketball_How Do You Protect Yourself from Cherry Picking in Basketball?

Cherry-picking might succeed in a play or two, and then the opposing team will notice this and make defensive adjustments.

Coaches frown on cherry-pick plays, which means players are lax in defense, and a cherry picker in basketball is deemed a lazy player. Players feel embarrassed when opponents one-up them.

If your team is down and time is not on your side, cherry-pick plays might work – or not. Since the offensive team has an advantage in numbers, they could be tempted to attempt the basket to seal the game, or if they miss, they have more players to fight for the rebound. Or your team might gain possession and result in an easy deuce at your end.

Also, the opponent could run out the clock by passing and dribbling, playing 5-on-4.

It’s vital to have spacing in offense in NBA games. NBA players are tall and wide-bodied athletes who take up space on the court. When the cherry picker is defended, there’s more space for the four players to maneuver.

JA Morant or Kyrie Irving will take advantage of this situation. Both players can dribble and maneuver through traffic, hang in the air to avoid defenders, and swoosh the net with either the left or the right hand.

Getting a rebound and throwing the ball takes time, defense can be set up to thwart a fast break. NBA players can easily catch up with their man with their long strides and athleticism. 

Is Cherry Picking Allowed in NBA_Is Cherry Picking Allowed in NBA?

Cherry picking is uncommon but allowed in NBA. In some amateur leagues, cherry-picking is an infraction slapped with losing possession and scrapping points made.

Is Cherry Picking Allowed in NBA

Kings tried on 4-5 Cherry Picking Idea

In 2014, Sacramento Kings owner Vive Ranadive was reported to have floated the idea of cherry-picking to his coaches. Plays will be designed on a 5-on-4 defense with one player, a cherry picker, assigned near their basket for an easy shot on every ball possession.

Head coach Michael Malone did not buy the idea, which might have played into getting sacked due to philosophical dissimilarities. Interim head coach Tyrone Corbin was expected to give it a shot by designing and executing some plays on Ranadive’s get-easy shots every time and give up points-every time plan.

In a game against the Brooklyn Nets, it seemed that Ranadive’s wishes came to fruition, though perhaps unintentionally.

Guard Ray McCallum committed a palming violation resulting in a turnover in favor of the Nets. DeMarcus Cousins was to sub for Reggie Evans, who went to the bench, but never officially entered the fray. Play continued, the Nets missed an attempt, Evans jumped from his seat and received a pass from McCallum. Evans appeared to have an easy slammer but was rejected by Nets’ Mirza Teletovic.

It was unclear if the Kings executed a cherry-picking play or not. But there were important lessons learned from this experience.

NBA players are physically conditioned athletes who can run down on defense quickly to challenge a shot.

“Easy dunk guy” Evans is a defender who does not have the skills to complete a simple offensive play. A cherry picker should be athletic enough to meet the play. Cousins showed how to do a slam dunk in the fourth quarter. Cousins did a monster dunk against the Nets’ center Mason Plumlee with a high degree of difficulty.

Cherry Picker Tristan Thompson

Cavalier Tristan Thompson lagged in defense in a game between Dallas and Cleveland. Fortunately, teammate Delladova intercepted a Mavericks pass and dished to Thompson for a slam.

The play did not escape the eyes of the coach; Thompson got benched for the rest of the game.

No to Cherry Picking

Some amateur leagues don’t allow cherry-picking and consider it a violation, penalized by losing possession and removing the points made.

One of the game rules of Prestonwood Sports Organization, Plano, Texas, in their Lunchtime Hoops Program is:

“Cherry picking is not allowed.”

Wrapping Things Up: What is Cherry Picking in Basketball?

Players, coaches, and fans frown on cherry picking in basketball. But what do you do if your team is down and the clock is running out?

A 5-on-4 defense is a way to catch up with your opponent. It can lure the leading team to make a quick shot and a miss and an easy two at your end with little time off the clock. It might extend possessions and provide opportunities in a game.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

You might also be interested in our posts about:

> What is a Basketball Foul?

> What is a Basketball Screen?

> What is a Crossover in Basketball?

> What is a Slasher in Basketball?

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