What Is Cherry Picking In Basketball? Meaning + Tips

Have you ever heard the term “cherry picking” in basketball?

In its literal meaning, this phrase means to choose the most beneficial actions or opportunities.

In basketball, a player who “cherry picks” doesn’t play defense. Instead, he hangs around the offensive court for fastbreak opportunities.

While this strategy can work at first glance, especially in pickup games, there are pros and cons.

So, if you’re curious to know what they are, plus the effective ways to counter these players, learn more below.  

What is Cherry Picking in Basketball?

When watching a basketball game, you might hear some people say that a player is cherry picking.

So, what exactly does that mean? Is it good or bad?

Firstly, cherry picking means that a player prioritizes scoring more than defense. So much so that he’d rather stay near their hoop to score easily than get back to defend.

This behavior is seen a lot during pickup games or with new teams that don’t have a lot of chemistry.

As to whether it’s good or bad, we’ll get to it later.

Why do Players Cherry Pick?

We know some players like to do this, but why do they do it? What are the benefits? If there are, are there also downsides?

There are advantages to doing this, but there are also drawbacks.

First, we’ll list down the advantages:

  • It allows for easy buckets due to fastbreak points
  • It saves energy, which can be used for offense
  • It disrupts the momentum of the opposing team

So, the main advantage of cherry picking is to get easy buckets. This is because when one player stays on the court, another can just throw an outlet pass which leads to easy points.

But why don’t all players do this if that’s the case? That’s because there are obvious downsides to it as well:

  • It collapses defense easily
  • The cherry picker might fumble an easy layup
  • This can result in a turnover

The number one downside to this is that if a player doesn’t get back on defense, it means that it’s 4 vs. 5. The opposing team will have a much easier time scoring.

Examples of Cherry Picking in Basketball

At this point, you know that cherry picking is a double-edged sword. But to really show you how this happens in a game, we’ll throw some examples.

Example #1:

An example of cherry picking gone right is when LeBron lays it up on a fastbreak. He scores the two points but falls down due to some contact and losing his balance.

So, he doesn’t get up immediately since Golden State inbounded the ball directly to score on the other end. Seeing that the defense collapsed, a teammate passes a long one to LeBron for an easy layup since he’s still on their court.

Example #2:

An example of a failed cherry picking is when Lamelo didn’t get back in defense and asked for the ball after a steal. The opponents immediately got back and blocked his layup attempt.

Is Cherry Picking Good or Bad?

Generally, cherry picking is not good. Coaches will call you out if you do it all the time.

Cherry picking only happens often during pickup games where everyone plays with random teammates. Plus, they don’t want to run up and down the court since it’s only a game for fun.

But when you’re in an official game, you don’t want to cherry pick all the time because it collapses defense easily. That’s why you won’t always see NBA players doing this.

Plus, mostly when they do it, it’s because they fell or something happened that wasn’t on purpose. So, they have no choice but to stay behind, especially since it can be an opportunity for a fastbreak.

But when they see that the opposing team isn’t going down to score anytime soon, that’s when they’ll immediately run back to defense.  

Practical Tips to Counter Cherry Pickers

Cherry pickers are primarily found during practice games and pickup games. But even pro players also do these but not on purpose and not all the time.

But the question is, how do you defend against these players? While there isn’t a one size fits all formula, here are some tips that can help:

1. Stay with the cherry picker

Perhaps the most effective way to counter a cherry picker is by staying with him. That means that when he’s staying on their court, you’ll stay with him until he decides to go back to defense.

By allowing one man to stay with the cherry picker, the other end becomes a 4 vs. 4 ball game. This way, not one team can easily score fastbreaks.

2. Anticipate the pass

If you don’t want to stay with the cherry picker, you can take your distance from him but anticipate any pass to him.

For instance, you can go back to defense but don’t come down all the way where you’re too far from the cherry picker. Ideally, you’ll stay just under the half-court line and beyond the three-point line. This way, you can anticipate or even steal any outlet pass to the cherry picker.

3. Be observant

Lastly, being observant, in general, goes a long way. This is especially true when you’re dealing with a lazy player on defense.

Cherry picking relies a lot on surprises which is why it’s not always done. So, by accounting for all the players’ positions all the time, you’ll be able to anticipate a fastbreak for a cherry picker.

You might not be able to stop it, but at least you’ll be able to contest. And coaches will even love you for your hustle on the defensive end!


Cherry picking can and should only be used mainly in practice or unofficial games. It’s not a good practice in official games because it disrupts the team’s teamwork and morale.

But it’s not a bad strategy once in a while, especially when you fail to get back on defense on time.

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