Winning a basketball game can sometimes be as simple as who wants it more. Players must be dedicated and prepared to go above and beyond what they and their opponents are willing to do. In other words, everyone must play hard every possession because, more often than not, the team that consistently does hustle plays come out on top. So, what is a hustle play in basketball, and why is it essential to winning?
What is a Hustle Play in Basketball?
A hustle play is when a player expends a sudden jolt of energy, often to pursue the ball, resulting in a positive impact on the team. Hustle plays require the maximum effort from a player, and oftentimes, it’s not even entirely related to scoring. Most hustle plays are done in a defensive context and could still turn into scoring opportunities.
Basketball coaches often look for guys who sacrifice their bodies and complete a good hustle play every once in a while. This is precisely why the NBA has handed out the NBA Hustle Award since 2017. Because of technology, they could quantify the previously unquantifiable– stats, such as who has the most deflections and who contested the most shots.
In case you’d want to know, Patrick Beverley won the inaugural NBA Hustle Award. Marcus Smart, previously with the Boston Celtics, won it three times.
Examples of Hustle Plays
There is no better way of knowing what a hustle play is in basketball than enumerating these plays. Unsurprisingly, these plays are crucial for the team as they change the game’s complexion.
Here are some common examples of hustle plays in basketball:
1. Picking up the ball full court
This is why Patrick Beverley is one of the most popular hustle guys in the league. PatBev is often called “Mr. 94 Feet” because he guards his defensive assignment the entire length of the court. This requires stamina and effort on Beverley’s part. Not many NBA guards pursue the ball from the backcourt because it can be exhausting.
What results if a defensive player hustles and picks up the ball full court? In best-case scenarios, the defensive team may get a steal or force a turnover. At worst, it shaves precious seconds off the clock, so the offensive team has less time to work with on their sets.
2. Taking charges
Taking a charge is one hell of a sacrifice. This play involves stepping into the path of an offensive player, standing your ground, and taking a direct hit to the chest with all the momentum of the player coming towards you. Whatever the case, taking a charge gives additional possession to the team and disrupts the opposing team’s offensive flow.
3. Diving for loose balls
Winning the 50-50 balls is another play that totally shifts the game’s complexion. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. A player may need to endure the scrapes and bruises, dive into the middle of the play, and secure the ball for his team.
4. Securing offensive rebounds
The league’s leading offensive rebounding team last season was the Houston Rockets, with 13.4 offensive rebounds per game. The Milwaukee Bucks were the league leaders in total rebounds, but they only came up with a little over 11 offensive boards per outing.
Do you see the trend here? Yes, crashing the offensive glass is a prime hustle play, and it’s difficult to pull off. This is because defensive teams are often better positioned to secure the rebound after a missed shot. Therefore, fighting for and securing offensive rebounds requires exceptional grit and heart.
5. Getting back quickly on defense
It says a lot about a player’s character if you see him hustling down the court after a turnover or a missed shot. It says even more if the said player hustles after his own misser or mistakes. Sure, you can’t pull off chase-down blocks on the regular as LeBron James does, but it takes a different mentality to hustle back on defense.
The Best of NBA Hustle Plays
Unless you have the responsibilities of a LeBron James or a Luka Doncic, you don’t get to play in the NBA without showing hustle. In the same vein, the superstars set the example by laying their bodies on the line. Here are the best NBA hustle plays throughout the years:
1. “The Block” by LeBron James
Fans seldom see a nearly 40-year-old LeBron do this, but he was the best at doing a chase-down block. With the hundreds he pulled off over a 20-year career, this one is the best, as it essentially sealed the deal for the Cavs’ 2016 championship.
2. Larry Bird Diving For Loose Balls
If there’s someone to call “the greatest” in diving for loose balls, it’s got to be Larry Bird. Bird was always the first to scrap on the floor and, frequently, the first to come up with it. That pretty much sums up why Larry Bird almost has a near-74% winning percentage in his NBA career.
3. Kobe Bryant is an underrated hustler
Kobe wasn’t exactly known as a hustle guy, but in his younger years, he indeed was. The three plays above show us the different faces of Kobe’s hustle. In the last one, he prevented an alley-oop by anticipating the pass at its peak flight and tapping it to a teammate after the ball flew straight out of bounds.
4. Patrick Beverley creating something out of nothing
The beauty of a good hustle play is you create chances for your team to get possession. PatBev did the play above while his team was up big, so it’s a message to their opponents that nothing will come easy as long he’s in there.
5. Marcus Smart deflects and saves the ball in one play
Smart is a three-time NBA Hustle Award winner, so he should be on this list. On this play, Smart defends Kawhi Leonard, deflects the ball while turning his back, dives to the floor out of bounds, and sends the ball straight to Leonard’s ankles. Ball to the Boston Celtics!
The Best NBA Hustle Players
There is no shortage of NBA players in its rich history. Players like Dave Cowens, Dennis Rodman, and Paul Silas were hustle personified. Following that pattern, here are the best NBA hustle players today:
1. Marcus Smart
As mentioned, Smart won the NBA Hustle Award three times and is currently the reigning two-time awardee. Watch him play, and you’ll see the guy hustle just about every time he gets the chance.
2. Patrick Beverley
PatBev is known as “Mr. 94 feet” because he’s on your grill as soon as you touch the ball. Beverley could sometimes get too excited and pick up fouls, but he earns his money through that never-ending hustle.
3. Alex Caruso
AC is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA and one of its top hustlers. Caruso isn’t afraid to take charges and does not hesitate to chase the ball wherever it’s going. If you watched him play, it seems like he’s consistently winning the 50-50 balls and comes up with a timely offensive rebound.
4. Thaddeus Young
Young may be long in the tooth now, but three seasons ago, he was the NBA’s best hustle guy for the Chicago Bulls. He won the NBA Hustle Award after leading the league in charges per minute and loose balls recovered in the 2020-21 season.
5. Draymond Green
Say what you want about Draymond Green, but that guy knows what he’s good at, and that’s hustling. Green does what it takes to get a W– be it a rebound in traffic, a stop, taking a charge, or diving for loose balls. So far, you can’t argue with the results. He’s been an integral part of Golden State’s four championships since 2015.
Wrapping Things Up: What is a Hustle Play in Basketball?
Basketball is a numbers game, but the score is not always the number you must pay attention to. At the end of the day, the team that hustles harder wins.
That said, what is a hustle play in basketball? It is when players sacrifice their bodies by diving for loose balls, taking charges, crashing the offensive glass, and other momentum-shifting plays that require energy. A good hustle play is always beneficial for the team and directly contributes to winning. If you want to make a difference for your team, you may need to work on putting in the additional effort required to pull off a hustle play consistently.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.