What is Cherry Picking in Basketball 2024? Experts Explain The Strategy

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Unravel the complexities of basketball lingo with my breakdown of cherry picking in basketball. Covering everything from strategic play to the principles of fair play, I provide expert analysis on this tactic’s subtle details.

What is Cherry Picking in Basketball?

Cherry-picking in basketball is a strategy that might raise some eyebrows, but it’s all about seizing opportunities. You’ll see both advantages and disadvantages when you understand this tactic.

Imagine you’re playing basketball, and instead of running back to play defense, one player hangs back near the opponent’s basket. That’s cherry picking. This player waits like a hawk, ready to snag an opportunity for an easy score when their team regains possession of the ball.

Here’s a quick breakdown:


  • Easy scoring opportunities
  • Can catch the opponent by surprise
  • May create a fast break advantage


  • Leaves your team short-handed on defense
  • It is considered poor sportsmanship by some
  • It might not work against well-prepared teams

It’s like having a secret weapon that is as sneaky as it is straightforward. Your team can nab those quick points, especially if the other team is caught napping. However, this tactic might give your opponents a numerical advantage on the other end, potentially leading to a score against your team.

Strategies and Implementation

Players strategically select the best opportunities to score, avoiding defenders. They use quick movements and precise timing to execute their plan

Offensive Tactics and Cherry Picking

Cherry picking primarily involves a player lingering near the opponent’s basket. This tactic anticipates a quick transition from defense to offense, offering a prime scoring opportunity. As your team regains possession, that player receives a long pass for an uncontested shot. It’s crucial here to balance this approach with overall teamwork and not undermine your team’s defense. Consider your team’s strengths and strategy; if you’ve got quick, long passers and a fast player, this could be a productive tactic to catch your opponents off guard during a fast transition.

Defensive Countermeasures

To counter cherry-picking, your defense needs to be alert and poised. One defensive strategy is assigning a player to shadow the potential cherry picker. This means you’ll always have a team member ready to rush back or stay with the cherry picker. This requires your defense to play a man down and calls for solid teamwork to cover all offensive players effectively.

Remember that while this may secure your basket against cherry-picking, it could also open up other scoring opportunities for the offending team. So, adaptability is key in your defensive tactics.

Rules and Legality

Players selecting only advantageous shots, violating rules in basketball

In organized basketball, including both amateur leagues and professional basketball such as the NBA, the concept of cherry picking skirts the fine line between strategy and frowned-upon tactic. You may find that while it’s legal in the professional game, cherry-picking is not always embraced with open arms.

  • NBA: In professional play, there aren’t specific rules against cherry-picking. However, the unspoken rules of sportsmanship often discourage it.
  • Amateur Leagues: Depending on the league, cherry-picking could be considered a violation. Some leagues may penalize the act with a loss of possession or even negate any points scored.

In Practice:

  • Legal? Yes, typically, but league rules vary.
  • Sportsmanship: Often viewed negatively, as it can be seen as avoiding full participation in defense.
  • Professional Play: Not against the rules, but rare due to strategic disadvantages and sportsmanship ethos.
  • Penalties in Amateur Play: Possible loss of possession or points, if league rules specify.

Remember, even though cherry-picking is within the rules in many contexts, part of the game respects the spirit of competition and teamwork. When you play, consider not just what is legal but also what is fair play, reflecting well on your understanding of the game.

Impact on the Game

A basketball player stands alone near the opponent's basket, waiting to receive a pass for an easy scoring opportunity

Advantages of Cherry Picking

You can capitalize on an easy score by staying near your opponent’s basket. When your teammates regain possession of the ball, they can quickly pass it to you for a chance at uncontested points.

Playing this way can be particularly advantageous when you’re trailing behind in the game and must put up scores rapidly. It’s a strategic move that emphasizes quick offensive potential.

  • Quick Points: Staying ahead can lead to fast break opportunities.
  • Surprise Factor: It can catch the opponents off guard, disrupting their defensive game plan.

Drawbacks and Ethical Considerations

Despite the potential to score more points, cherry-picking also has its downsides, particularly regarding team defense. Your absence from the defensive end can put your team at a disadvantage, making it effectively a 4 vs. 5 game. In terms of sportsmanship and ethics, this strategy is often frowned upon.

You might gain points, but it could come at the cost of being perceived as showing poor sportsmanship.

  • Reduced Defense: Your basket is exposed to potential risks with one less player defending.
  • Sportsmanship: It’s seen by many as unsporting and can be considered unprofessional.

Examples from Basketball History

A player standing alone near the opponent's basket, waiting to receive a pass for an easy scoring opportunity

In professional basketball, especially the NBA, cherry-picking has cropped up various times in games, although it’s not as common as in amateur or recreational leagues. This is because the high skill level in the NBA means that leaving your team to defend with a player short can lead to severe consequences.

One famous example comes from Wilt Chamberlain, an NBA legend known for his scoring prowess. In his era, the fast break was a vital part of the game, and while not cherry-picking in the purest sense, his ability to score quickly upon turnover sometimes echoed the strategy.

In recreational games, where formal defense structures are less rigorous, you might see cherry-picking much more often. It’s not unheard of for a player to hang back near the opponent’s hoop, waiting to score an easy bucket. This can frustrate other players who value a team effort in offensive and defensive plays.

  • Organized Basketball: Coaches of youth leagues sometimes see cherry-picking as a teaching moment about the importance of defense and sportsmanship. For young players learning the game, it’s often discouraged but can occasionally be used to teach about capitalizing on scoring opportunities and transition play.

Controversies and Discussions

Players debating over selective use of basketball statistics

When you explore the concept of cherry-picking in basketball, you’ll find a range of opinions. It’s a strategy that involves a player staying near the offensive goal, waiting for an opportunity to score while not actively engaging in defensive play. This tactic can lead to easy points but is often fraught with controversy.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key issues:

  • Unsportsmanlike Behavior: Some view cherry picking as a violation of the spirit of the game. It can be perceived as poor sportsmanship because it eschews the traditional offensive-defensive balance.
  • Team Dynamics: Employing this strategy can affect the unity and morale of a team. Players and coaches might disagree on its use, potentially disrupting team dynamics.
  • Consequences: While it can result in quick points, cherry picking can also backfire. The opposing team, playing 5-on-4, might exploit the temporary numerical advantage.
  • Perception: The public perception of cherry picking varies. For some, it’s a legitimate part of the game; for others, it reflects poorly on the player’s commitment to defense.


Why do they call it cherry picking in basketball?

The term “cherry picking” in basketball originates from the analogy of picking the ripest, easiest fruit (cherry) from a tree. In basketball, it refers to a player staying near the opponent’s basket while their team is on defense, hoping to receive a pass for an easy scoring opportunity.

What is the concept of cherry picking?

The concept of cherry picking in basketball involves players positioning themselves near the opponent’s basket. At the same time, their team is on defense, aiming to quickly transition to offense and score an easy basket if their team gains possession of the ball.

What does cherry picking mean in slang?

In slang, cherry picking can refer to selectively choosing or focusing on the most advantageous or desirable elements while ignoring less favorable aspects. It can also imply exploiting a situation for personal gain or benefit.

What is an example of cherry picking?

An example of cherry picking in basketball is when a player remains near the opponent’s basket during a defensive possession instead of actively defending. If their team gains possession of the ball, they’re ideally in position to receive a pass for an uncontested shot or layup. However, this tactic is often criticized for lacking defensive effort and sportsmanship.

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Fabian Kühar
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