To hear raptors guard Doug Christie tell it, being an effective NBA double-teamer takes more than long arms, quick reflexes and acute peripheral vision. It also requires skin as thick as the leather on a regulation NBA basketball. "We tried to double-team Grant Hill at half-court," Christie (13, right) recalls of a game last year against the Pistons. "He didn't like us forcing the ball out of his hands, so after he'd pass the ball, he would grab both defenders and fight through us so that he could get it back. He was smacking us in the head and jamming his fingers in our ribs."
Christie, 28, knows all about the dangers—and fun—of playing the role of human wet blanket. With Toronto (6-12 at week's end) short on good man-to-man defenders, he is often deployed as a rover, using his 6' 6" frame to help teammates guard foes. Partly as a result of that harassment, Christie finished among the top three in steals in the league for the past two seasons. This season he's currently ranked third with 2.56 steals per game.
Christie says a good double team starts with a scouting report. "Before every game we have what we call red-shirt guys," Christie says. "Players like Karl Malone or Shawn Kemp, whom we intend to double all night. We also add names to the list during the game. We might be in the huddle, and Coach [ Butch Carter] will say, ' John Stockton is hot, so as soon as he crosses half-court, double him to get the ball out of his hands.' "
Once the target has been selected, Christie says, the Raptors double on either the pass, the catch or the dribble, depending on the target's skills. "For example, when we play Grant Hill, usually we're coming as soon as he catches the ball because we don't want him putting it on the floor," says Christie. "With Charles Barkley, though, you don't want to double on the catch because he's so good at passing out of the post. He'll hit an open man right away, and the next thing you know, Scottie Pippen will be shooting a wide-open three. You want to come at Barkley on his third or fourth dribble, when you know for sure he's going to the basket."
The proper technique for initiating a double team, according to Christie, is to move quickly (but warily) toward the target with arms raised high to block his vision. Upon arrival, the double-teamer puts his foot behind his teammate's, locking legs and forming a wall. "Also, you want to get one arm up and out a bit in case the guy pivots quickly," Christie says. "If a big guy like Shaq swings around and catches you with an elbow, he could knock your head off."
Although a lot goes into executing a proper double team, Christie says it's mostly a matter of hard work. "The two best double-teamers in the league are Scottie Pippen and Gary Payton, guys who are very proud and driven," Christie says. "They fight and claw to get the ball. That's what it's all about."