More than just blocks and steals
Blocks and steals are the two tangible basic statistics on defense, and they receive the most attention from casual fans due to their appearance on highlight reels. However, you will notice that top defensive specialists in the NBA often do not notch the most blocks or steals, and that the league leaders in these categories are not considered shoo-ins for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
In fact, coaches do not pay much attention to these statistics when judging defensive ability. On the contrary, these statistics sometimes indicate a lack of discipline or the tendency to gamble through risky defensive decisions. Dennis Rodman did not even average a single steal or block on a per-season basis throughout his 14-season NBA career, but he is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and one of the finest and most versatile defensive players to ever play the game.
What constitutes solid, fundamental defense? For many coaches, everything starts with ball denial. If you do not allow your man to catch the ball, you can effectively eliminate them as an offensive threat. Although this is easier said than done, you can definitely make it harder for them to even receive a pass, and force them out further than they would be comfortable with.
Once you are able to achieve that, dribble containment is the next step. An offensive player with a ‘live’ dribble has many options, making it hard for the defender to nudge them towards a bad decision. By playing offensive players to poorer areas of their game, for instance their weak hand or an unfamiliar region of the court, you may be able to force them into mistakes. This often takes intense defensive pressure at close proximities, making it essential to stay disciplined and not commit a foul.
If you kill off the dribble, the defensive player is in an advantageous position. In this situation, you will usually be able to prevent good shots. If the entire team does this consistently, it rapidly runs the shot clock down and puts pressure on the offense to get a quick shot off. When this occurs, the defense should remain disciplined by challenging shots and passes while staying low and balanced. By allowing the offense to take low-percentage shots or to make difficult passes, the defense may be able to force turnovers through offensive mistakes, rather than excessively aggressive defense.