What is a Block in Basketball?

In order to understand the larger parts of a sport, it’s important to first break down the fundamentals. There are plenty of basics in basketball, and understanding them is one of the best ways to get a better idea of the game as a whole.

To do that, the following guide covers what a block is, and why it’s so important. Such analysis will shed light on how defense works in basketball, and look at how defenders can stop offense in a point-oriented game.

Understanding Blocks

A block in basketball refers to when a defensive player legally deflects a field goal attempt from an offensive player to prevent a shot or make. It doesn’t matter if the ball is tipped or fully knocked down. All that matters is that it’s impeded in some way.

Once that happens, regardless of where the ball goes, it counts as a block for the defender. The move can lead to a turnover, it can go out of bounds, or it can even go back to the other team. As long as the deflection prevents a shot, it counts as a block.

Blocks must be made while the ball is moving upwards or at the top of its arc. If a defender hits the ball while it’s going down, it’s known as goaltending as the basket counts.

Goaltending also occurs if a player knocks the ball away directly over the rim, or if they block the ball after it hits or touches the backboard. If the ball gets deflected in any other situation, it goes on the stat sheet as a block.

Seeing the Future

It’s easy to look at blocks and assume they’re all about height or arm length, but they’re actually about timing. Wingspan or extra inches both certainly help when it comes to being able to swat away shots, but there are quite a few smaller players who get plenty of blocks too.

That’s because anticipation goes a long way when playing defense. While some centers and forwards are tall enough that they don’t need to properly react, most players get blocks by going for the stop long before the offensive player has released the ball.

Jumping before the shot gives the defender an edge and enables them to beat their opponent to a specific spot. That’s incredibly important when they’re behind an offensive player or getting a good block on a tough drive.

Such moves are also the basis for chasing down blocks, which Lebron James made famous. Jumping up behind a shooter and smacking their layup against the backboard or into the seats is one of the most impressive blocks in the game. To do that, the defender needs anticipation.

If an athlete jumps right when their opponent does, they most likely won’t be able to catch up to the shot. If they jump before the release, they’ll be able to get their hand to where the ball will be rather than where it’s at. That one second can make all the difference.

Knowing that, it’s easy to see why blocks are so hard to get. Even at lower levels of play, blocking a shot from even a semi-competent scorer is quite difficult without a significant height or size advantage.

The Duality of Defense

Blocks are flashy and a lot of fun to watch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean going for them is always productive. Getting a block will always be a net positive in a game. They stop the offense, give the defense a chance, and typically swing momentum or lead to a turnover.

However, they can be costly as well. That’s because players who love to block or who go too hard into blocks can put themselves out of position. 

Basketball is largely a one-on-one game, with each defender having a set man they need to guard. If someone loses track of their assignment or gets caught out of position, the entire defense will fall out of sync. 

Defenders should never leave their feet to hit a ball unless they are certain the opposing player will shoot. If the offensive player pump fakes, or if the defender is simply too slow, it can lead to huge issues for the rest of the defense and lead to an easy basket.

That’s why players always try to stay on their feet until the last possible second. Anticipation matters, but being over eager can be quite detrimental.

Final Words

Blocks are a big part of basketball. They might not be as important as many other critical stats, but they still are the pinnacle of good, efficient defense. Even if they don’t lead to a turnover, they still are a huge momentum shift and can sway a possession in a big way.

That’s why so many players try to get them, and why teams put an emphasis on players who can block well. It’s a little-recognized skill, but it’s one that goes a long way.

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