What Does Double Teaming in Basketball Mean?

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Basketball is a tactic-heavy sport. It’s a game where small offensive and defensive adjustments could lead to wins. But then again, there are literally dozens, even hundreds, of ways to approach these strategies. However, one basic tactic is the double team. What does double teaming in basketball mean?

This article answers that question while delving deeper into the inner workings of the double-teaming tactics in basketball.

What is Double Teaming in BasketballWhat is Double Teaming in Basketball?

Double teaming in basketball means two defenders cover, or guard, one offensive player. More often than not, the double team defends the ballhandler, but that’s not always the case. For example, in 2008, there was one time when Steph Curry was double-teamed the entire game in college, whether he had the ball or not.

A double team can be a handy defensive tactic when done tastefully and not to an extreme. Double teaming is frequently utilized to disrupt the rhythm and efficiency of offensive players who are particularly skillful or dominant. The primary goal is to pressure and force him to commit turnovers or get rid of the ball. 

For instance, coaches may choose to double-team a player who’s a poor ballhandler, hoping he’d make silly passes or go right into the trap. Or, a team would also want to double-team a dominant low-post player, like Shaquille O’Neal back in the day, allowing his teammates to look for ways to score instead of him dunking the ball every time.

Is Double Teaming Allowed in the NBAIs Double Teaming Allowed in the NBA?

The answer is yes; double-teaming is allowed in the NBA. A basketball double team defense is a common tactic in the league, aimed to stop and limit major scoring threats. 

Nevertheless, double-teaming may just fall into the hands of a well-coached and talented team. Why? Because, more often than not, a contender has different weapons on the floor who can take the pressure off their primary star.

It’s also important to note that the rules on double-teaming have changed over the past two decades. Before 2001, the NBA imposed an illegal defense rule. The tenets of the rule were simple: A team cannot double-team an offensive player if the said player does not have the ball yet. Otherwise, they will get called for “illegal defense.” Two illegal defense infractions result in technical free throws and ball possession for the offense.

After 2001, the NBA eliminated the rule. This means teams can now double-team a player even if the said player does not have the ball. To balance things out, the NBA calls defensive three-second violations to prevent defenders from camping out in the paint for too long. The penalty for “defensive three-second violations” is an automatic free throw and ball possession even after one infraction.

As you can imagine, double teams are essential to defensive strategies in the NBA. Still, it must be done within the bounds of the rules laid out by the league.

When to Double Team in BasketballWhen to Double Team in Basketball

“Timing” is a highly crucial element in executing a double team. The 2008 college game where Steph Curry was double-teamed for the whole duration left him scoreless; however, Curry’s team, Davidson College, still won by 30 points!

What does that tell you? It shows that you need to nail down the timing of a double-team. Do it all game, and you’re leaving somebody wide open. Do it less, and you risk a high-level scorer like Curry going off for 50 points over your team’s head.

When should a double team be mandatory in basketball? Consider some situations:

  • The offensive player has already blown by his defender and has an open lane to the basket. In this scenario, sending two people over to prevent penetration makes a lot of sense.
  • In the NBA, if a superstar starts to find his rhythm, the only way to stop him is to make him give up the ball. The best way to do so is by double-teaming him and live by teammates’ getting open looks.
  • It’s also a decent strategy to double-team the best offensive player during clutch situations. For example, imagine a tied score with only five seconds left. The offense created a play to let their best player receive the ball on the left wing and go one-on-one. As soon as he dribbled, another defender came right over to prevent an open look. The star player could pass the ball to a teammate or take a tough, contested shot. Either way, the double-teaming defense has done its job.
  • If a team employs trapping defenses, a double-team is a crucial part of it. This works well in high school and college games but not so much in the NBA. (The players are too good not to break full-court or half-court traps and presses.) Still, you often see NBA defenders double-team an offensive player if the latter is trapped in the corners. Two defenders can make it tough for him to pass and dribble, and the chance of committing a turnover is high.
  • A double-team may also be effective during “late in the shot clock situations.” If the 24-second shot clock is almost up, sending two people over the ballhandler could mess up the team’s rhythm and may lead to a hurried shot or a turnover.

How to Execute a Double Team StrategyHow to Execute a Double Team Strategy

A coach can make it simple by targeting a player on the opposite side and specifying where the defenders should double the player. But it is more complex than that. Collaboration, communication, and a grasp of your team’s defensive concepts are necessary for successfully executing a double team. 

Here are some things to keep in mind in executing a double-team strategy:

  • As mentioned, you must know who to double-team. This could be the best player on the team, a weak ballhandler, or a dominant post presence. 
  • Communication is key. The defenders should communicate verbally or through some form of sign to initiate the double team. 
  • Timing is also a crucial matter when executing a double team. How do you double team using timing? When the offensive player picks up the ball, has their back to the basket, is close to the sideline or baseline, or is in any other vulnerable position, an aggressive double team a mighty chance to be successful.
  • The defenders should cut off passing lanes, especially when the dribble is already picked up. If it’s not, they should stand their ground with their hands active for a chance to strip the ball away.
  • The rest of the defensive team’s personnel should also be alert. Remember that an offensive player is open somewhere, so you don’t want the double-teamed player to find him. Or better yet, the rest of the three guys may set a trap by letting one player get open. Someone could intercept the ball for a possible fastbreak situation if the pass comes to the open guy.
  • Stay disciplined. A double team won’t always work, so you must be disciplined enough to retreat. Also, avoid getting overly eager and reach in, or you might get called for unnecessary fouls.
  • Always work on these strategies in practice and apply them on the court. It’s the only way to learn everything mentioned in the bullet points above.

How to Execute a Double Team Strategy (2)How to Beat a Double Team in Basketball

Now, get ready to flip the switch and put yourself in the shoes of a double-teamed player. How can you beat or extricate a double team? It’s always a challenge to beat two defenders all at once, but it can be done.

Here are some tips on how to beat a double team:

  • Never lose your cool. It may be a little daunting to see two defenders on your grill, but always remember there’s an open teammate out there. You may not see him at first, but with calmness and focus, you will likely see your teammates’ positioning and make the correct pass.
  • If you can find an open teammate before a double team is set, do it quickly. This will quickly open up other scoring opportunities for the team.
  • Train your peripheral vision. You can’t always see where the double team is coming from, but you can at least train your eyes to identify potential hazards. 
  • When bringing the ball up the court, try to stay in the middle. If you see a double team coming, retreating is not always a bad idea. 
  • Another trick to beat a double team is to focus on one defender, perhaps the slower one, and attack him. This eliminates the other defender’s help and allows you to go downhill on a possible 5-on-3 personnel advantage.
  • Move without the ball. If you’re not the ballhandler, you have a responsibility to help out and make it easier for your teammate by making yourself available. Move to the open spots where your teammate can locate you.
  • Always practice double-team situations so you can improve your decision-making skills.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Double Teaming in BasketballAdvantages and Disadvantages of Double Teaming in Basketball

Double teaming in basketball is not a foolproof way to defend someone. It has pros and cons, and it does not work every time. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of double-teaming:


  • Double teaming in basketball speeds up the ballhandler, which may cause him to throw errant passes or other mistakes.
  • A double team disrupts the team’s offensive flow, especially if the target is the primary playmaker. It makes it challenging for the opposing playmaker to call plays and initiate the offense if he is double-teamed.
  • A double-team also takes away easy scoring opportunities from star players. Instead of scoring, the strategy forces them to give up the ball and make plays for others, something he may not be good at.


  • The most significant disadvantage of a double team is that it always leaves somebody open. If the defense doubles an intelligent, willing passer, the ball eventually finds the open man for an easy scoring opportunity.
  • While a basketball double team defense is not a foul per se, it is prone to committing fouls. Some players may get too aggressive reaching in for the ball and commit a foul in the process.
  • Double-teaming is also very tiring and forces teams to expend much energy. All players must always be on edge and alert on defensive rotations.

Wrapping Things Up: What Does Double Teaming in Basketball Mean?

A command adage in basketball says: Offense wins games, defense wins championships. One of the most common defensive strategies is called a double team. What does a double team mean in basketball?

Simply put, double teaming in basketball means putting two guys on one opposing player. This could be used against potent offensive weapons, weak ballhandlers or to trap a player in corners or tight spots. The goal is to make offensive players play faster than they used to and cause a turnover. For star players, simply getting them to give up the ball is enough. It may not always work, but double-teaming at the right time is an excellent way to make the offensive team make forced decisions.

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

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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