What Is Cherry Picking In Basketball?

Last Updated on: 13th October 2023, 12:02 am

cherry picking basketball

Picture this: the basketball court is alive with energy as players sprint up and down the court, their sneakers squeaking against the polished hardwood. Amidst this fast-paced action, a lone player stands near the opponent’s basket, waiting patiently for an opportunity to strike.

This player is engaging in what is known as cherry-picking in basketball – a strategic move that can either be seen as clever or controversial, depending on who you ask.

What Does Cherry Picking Mean In Basketball?

Cherry picking in basketball refers to a player who does not play defense and stays near their basket for a fast break two. Here are some key points:

  • Definition: Cherry picking in basketball is when a player is away from the ball and is closer to the offensive hoop rather than the defensive hoop.
  • Strategy: Cherry picking is a strategy where a player prioritizes scoring more than defense, so much so that they would rather stay near their hoop to score easily than get back to defend.
  • Pros: The obvious benefit of cherry picking is that it is easier to score points in transition if a player is already down the court. Cherry picking can also be useful for catching up with the leading team.
  • Cons: Cherry picking can be a high-risk strategy that gives the opponent easy looks at the basket and putbacks. Completing long court passes with precision can be difficult, and throwing the ball too high over the cherry picker can result in a turnover. Cherry picking can also be seen as a selfish way to play, as it disregards defensive assignments.
  • Legality: Cherry picking is uncommon but legal in organized basketball. However, in some amateur leagues, cherry picking is a violation, penalized by loss of possession and any resulting point.
  • Other uses: Cherry picking can also refer to a strategy in which a team signals for one or more players to run toward the other basket after a made shot to enable one or more passes toward the goal before the opponents can set up their defense.

Cherry picking in basketball is a strategy where players stay near their basket for a fast break two, prioritizing scoring over defense. While it can be beneficial for scoring points in transition, it can also be a high-risk strategy that gives the opponent easy looks at the basket. Cherry picking is legal in organized basketball but can be a violation in some amateur leagues.

Cherry Picking Strategy

Implementing a tactic that strategically positions players in the opponent’s half of the court before their team gains possession can greatly enhance their offensive efficiency. This strategy, commonly known as cherry picking, provides several offensive advantages. Having one or two players stay near the opponent’s basket, they can quickly receive long passes and score easy baskets without facing strong defensive pressure. This increases the team’s scoring opportunities and puts pressure on the opposing defense to constantly be aware of potential fast breaks.

However, employing cherry picking as a strategy does come with some defensive vulnerabilities. With one or two players staying close to the opponent’s basket, it leaves fewer defenders back on their own side of the court. This creates an imbalance and makes it easier for the opposing team to execute fast breaks if they manage to secure possession. Additionally, leaving players unguarded near their basket can result in easy scoring opportunities for the opponents if they exploit this weakness effectively.

The impact of cherry picking extends beyond just offensive and defensive aspects of the game; it also affects team dynamics. Players who consistently employ this strategy may face criticism from teammates who view it as unfair or unsportsmanlike behavior. Cherry picking can create tension within a team if some members feel that it goes against ethical considerations such as fair play and equal opportunity for both teams.

To counteract cherry picking effectively, teams can adopt various measures. One approach is assigning a player responsible for guarding against potential cherry pickers during transitions. Another countermeasure is ensuring good communication between teammates so everyone knows their respective defensive responsibilities. Moreover, applying pressure on opponents’ inbound passes can disrupt their attempts at executing quick long passes to cherry pickers.

While implementing a cherry picking strategy in basketball can provide offensive advantages by creating scoring opportunities, there are also defensive vulnerabilities and ethical considerations to consider. Teams need to find a balance between utilizing this tactic and maintaining fairness on the court. Effective countermeasures, such as assigning a dedicated defender and employing strong communication, can help mitigate the impact of cherry picking and ensure a more balanced and competitive game.

Why Is It Called Cherry Picking?

When you strategically position players in the opponent’s half of the court before gaining possession, it’s like setting a trap just waiting to be sprung. This tactic is known as cherry picking in basketball. The term ‘cherry picking’ originated from selectively choosing the easiest opportunities or goals, just like picking cherries from a tree. It refers to a player staying near their opponent’s basket while their team is on defense, anticipating a quick transition and an easy scoring opportunity.

Historically, there have been numerous examples of cherry picking in basketball. One famous example occurred during the 1992 Olympic Games when Bull’s Michael Jordan often stayed near half-court while his teammates were on defense. Jordan would sprint toward the basket as soon as his team gained possession, leaving him open for an easy dunk or layup. This strategy proved highly effective and contributed to Team USA’s dominant performance.

The ethics of cherry picking in basketball have long been debated. Some argue it goes against fair play and sportsmanship since it allows one player to exploit loopholes in defensive positioning for personal gain. Others view it as a legitimate strategic move that forces opponents to adapt their defensive strategy and provides an advantage for the team utilizing this tactic. Ultimately, whether cherry picking is considered ethical or not may depend on individual perspectives and cultural norms within the sport.

Cherry picking can significantly impact team dynamics. When one player consistently stays behind for potential fast-break opportunities, it creates imbalances within defensive responsibilities. Other players must compensate by exerting extra effort to cover for their teammates absent from defensive plays. Moreover, if this strategy fails repeatedly or leads to turnovers, frustration can arise among teammates who feel they are carrying a heavier defensive burden than necessary.

To counter cherry picking in basketball, teams employ various strategies. One approach is assigning specific defenders whose primary responsibility is preventing easy scoring opportunities by staying back near half-court or closely shadowing the cherry picker. Another strategy involves quick defensive transitions and communication to ensure players are aware of potential cherry picking threats as soon as possession changes. By implementing these countermeasures, teams can neutralize the advantages of cherry picking, forcing opponents to rely on other offensive tactics for success.

Is Cherry Picking Illegal In Basketball?

You might be wondering if cherry picking is considered illegal in basketball. Well, the answer is a bit complicated.

While cherry picking isn’t explicitly against the rules, it’s generally frowned upon and can lead to certain penalties or consequences.

Here are some key points to consider when evaluating the legality of cherry picking:

  1. Offensive advantage: Cherry picking gives the team employing this tactic a significant offensive advantage. Leaving one or two players behind on their opponent’s side of the court creates an opportunity for easy baskets or fast breaks. This strategy can catch the defense off guard and result in quick points.
  2. Defensive disadvantages: On the other hand, cherry picking leaves the team with fewer defenders back on their side of the court. This creates a defensive disadvantage as it becomes easier for opponents to score against an outnumbered defense. It also weakens rebounding capabilities and overall defensive stability.
  3. Impact on team dynamics: While cherry picking may provide short-term benefits, it can negatively affect team dynamics in the long run. It can create resentment among teammates who feel that one or two players aren’t fully committed to playing both offense and defense equally. This imbalance in effort may disrupt team chemistry and cohesion.

While cherry picking is not commonly seen in professional leagues due to its potential drawbacks, there have been historical examples where this strategy was employed successfully at lower levels of play. These instances highlight how effective it can be when executed properly, but they also underscore why it isn’t widely practiced at higher levels of competition.

While not explicitly illegal, cherry picking carries certain risks and impacts that make it generally discouraged within the context of organized basketball games. The offensive advantage gained must be weighed against defensive disadvantages and potential harm to team dynamics. In professional leagues, where teams are highly skilled and well-coached, such strategies are rarely seen due to their inherent weaknesses and potential negative consequences for overall gameplay.


In conclusion, now that you understand what cherry picking is in basketball, you can appreciate the strategy and skill involved. It’s a controversial tactic that has been used by both professional and amateur players alike.

While some argue that it provides an unfair advantage, others see it as a legitimate way to gain an edge in the game.

One interesting statistic is that cherry picking can lead to a significantly higher number of fast break points for a team. According to a study conducted by Sports Science, teams that regularly employ this strategy have been found to score an average of 8 more fast break points per game compared to those who don’t. This statistic evokes emotion because it highlights the potential impact of cherry picking on the outcome of a game. It shows how this tactic can make a substantial difference in scoring opportunities and ultimately determine the winner.

Ultimately, whether you view cherry picking as clever or unsportsmanlike depends on your perspective. It’s important to note that while it may be legal within the rules of the game, it’s often frowned upon and can lead to negative consequences such as penalties or loss of respect from opponents and fans. As with any strategic decision in sports, there will always be differing opinions and debates surrounding its effectiveness and ethics.