What is cherry picking in basketball

What is Cherry-picking in Basketball?

        Throughout the NBA’s long history, cherry-picking has remained legal. Cherry picking is also permitted at the high school, college, and other professional levels of competitive basketball. The act of cherry-picking becomes less viable and more risky at the higher levels of basketball. The opposing team would capitalize on any attempt to cherry-pick in the National Basketball Association. NBA players would instantly recognize and take advantage of the 5-on-4 offensive advantage. 

Teams refrain from engaging in cherry-picking as it puts them at a disadvantage. Most coaches see the act as a high-risk and unnecessary gamble. It takes a unique and dominant team to overcome 5-on-4 situations on the defensive end. Though entirely legal, many in the basketball community frown upon cherry-picking. 

What is Cherry-picking in Basketball?

        In basketball, cherry-picking is a strategy where a player stays close to the opponent’s basket to attempt an easy opportunity to score. Often, this involves a player remaining near halfcourt or ahead of opposing players instead of playing defense with the rest of their team. When a player cherry-picks, they hope to receive a long pass once their teammates gain possession of the ball. The basketball community often considers the act of cherry-picking unsportsmanlike.

Which Methods are Being Used?

        Listed below are the three most common methods of cherry picking. Basketball players commonly use these tactics, but there are other methods of cherry-picking. 

  1. A player stays on the offensive side of the court. Essentially, they are hoping that one of their teammates gets the ball so that they can pass it to them for an easy basket. 
  2. The second method involves a player taking off when the opposing team shoots the ball. The player who takes off toward the other goal can catch a pass and score on the fast break. This method is risky as it involves a player running down the court before seeing if the opposing team made or missed the shot. 
  3. Another technique involves a player running toward the other team’s basket immediately after the opposing team scores. The objective is to quickly pass the ball up the court and attack before the opposing team has time to set up its defense. The scoring team can prevent this by getting back on defense and into the proper positions.

Why do Players Cherry-pick?

        Cherry picking is a significant gamble in the game of basketball. Players hope one of their teammates forces a turnover, where they can pass to them for an easy score. In lopsided games, players are more likely to attempt this. When their team has a considerable lead, players don’t have to worry as much about putting their teammates in a 5-on-4 situation. Some players value the reward of throwing down a wide-open fancy dunk more than the costs. A combination of undisciplined players and bad coaching often causes cherry-picking. 

        It is far easier to score in transition if a team already has a player running toward the other end of the court. Teams that decide to cherry-pick face a fair share of risks and sacrifices. These risks include far more than the obvious 5-on-4 situation your teammates are put in on the defensive side. It is far more difficult than it looks to make accurate long-range passes. Further, suppose the opposing team notices a player open down the court. In that case, they will do everything possible to block the passing lane or deflect the pass attempt.

Why It Hurts Your Team

        Cherry picking is a risky maneuver that often fails to pay off. If a defensive player cherry-picks, the offensive team will have a 5-on-4 advantage. A player who decides to take this risk is counting on one of their teammates either creating a turnover or getting an uncontested rebound. Further, after their teammate obtains the ball, they still need to get it to the player running down the court. If the defense blocks the passing lane or has time to get back to defend, then the attempt is thwarted. Moreover, suppose the opposing coach notices that a player is cherry-picking. In that case, they can adjust to nullify and take advantage of it.

        You can see Tristan Thompson cherry-picking starting at the 2:38 mark of this video. This time, it worked out for Thompson, as he finished with a two-handed dunk on the other end. The Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff was livid at Thompson for failing to get back on defense. As a result, the Cavs coach benched him for the rest of the game. 

Why Cherry-picking is Frowned Upon

        The basketball community often discredits baskets made due to cherry-picking. The negativity towards the act is based on cherry-pickers not playing the game the right way. People often regard cherry-picking as an unethical way for players to boost their scoring statistics. Some players need to realize that coaches want to see them show effort on the defensive side of the ball. Recruiters tend to avoid players who choose to cherry-pick in games. You can still generate fastbreak points without running down the court early and potentially leaving your teammates out to dry.

        Though fully legal in the sport, basketball coaches often view cherry-picking as a disrespectful tactic. Many feel that cherry-picking harms the integrity of the game of basketball. Moreover, coaches generally find it even more distasteful when cherry-picking is done in a game where the score isn’t close. There are several reasons why coaches find cherry-picking disrespectful. Most are bothered by the fact that the opposing team’s coach assumes that four defensive players can stop their five players on offense.

Strategic Use

        There are ways that teams strategically use cherry-picking. For example, Team A’s coach notices that Team B’s point guard doesn’t get back on defense quickly enough after a shot attempt. The coach for Team A may instruct one of his quicker guards to leak down the court after Team B shoots the ball. Ideally, one of Team A’s teammates will secure the rebound and throw a long pass for an easy score. Team A may use this strategy until Team B adjusts to stop it. At the very least, Team B will have to quickly drop back one offensive player after the first shot goes up. Since Team B has to drop back an offensive player, they are now less likely to get an offensive rebound or a putback.

        NextBallers is based out of the state of Georgia. There is a shot clock in GHSA or Georgia High School Association basketball games. The shot clock prevents teams from running out the clock with a lead at the end of games. Further, some coaches use a cherry-picking strategy when a team is trailing by a small margin at the end of a game. The coach for Team A may instruct one of his players to run down the sideline toward Team B’s goal when they attack. Team A’s four players on defense should look for the player streaking down the sideline for a quick score after getting a turnover or rebound.

Other Methods

        Cherry-picking may result in more fast-break points, but the defense will also give up more points if put in 5-on-4 situations. If all five players play solid defense, this will lead to more turnovers and stops. When teams have a 5-on-4 advantage, they are unlikely to turn the ball over. The team with the numbers advantage will likely score, especially at the elite level. During games, teams with good defense will have more fast-break opportunities than teams that cherry-pick.

      There are ways to create fast-break opportunities that don’t involve cherry-picking. Instead of neglecting defensive responsibilities, teams can prioritize pushing the ball after securing the rebound. Moreover, after a basket made by the opposing team, players can sprint down the court and look for an easy layup or dunk. Strategically exploiting gaps in the defense is far more rewarding for coaches and players than cherry-picking.

        If you enjoyed this article, feel free to check out our other posts. Recently, we discussed why basketball players wipe their shoes and discuss dead spots on a basketball court. We also have a basketball prospects page where we cover up-and-coming talented players. 

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