Basketball is a game of reactions.
You need to see the floor and make reactions to what is presented in front of you.
But most people learn and practice their moves against no defender or a stagnant defender (cones, chairs, etc).
So how do we translate that into a game situation?
How do you learn to react when you don't have anyone to play defense?
One tool I was given as a player was to visualize the defender, and subsequently, the other 8 players on the court. With this, I could then visualize the defenders' reaction to a certain move.
Whilst eventually this became a very useful tool as I have grown into coaching I have noticed that there is something prior to the visualizing that must happen first.
A player must first understand what the possible reactions are that the defender would make to the action you take.
Now, an offensive player has a whole variety of possible moves you can make, but, they are still ultimately limited within the direction of motion. You are going forwards or backward, left or right, that's it. The different moves are, in their simplest form, used to create an opportunity to attack.
In the same notion, a defender is limited to trying to stop your attacks in those directions.
But how does that help?
Let's say I have the ball, and I dribble to my right, the defender can either get in front of my path and stop me, or they can't. So now if I jab right the same applies, the defender will shift to get in front, or they won't.
Using that concept you can now predict defenders' movements with a 50/50 chance. So as we build the first layers of our moves we can jab and go, or jab and come back. Easy read right, if the defender shifts across come back, if they don't go go go.
With this, you can now start to visualize the defender in front of you. They either shift or they don't. You can use this to picture the defender in front of you, picture how they would move if you jab right? what do they do as you come back? how about if you pump fake? You can now run a simulation in your mind of the defender whilst practicing. Can you beat your own mind?
The sooner you can get to grips with this the soon the game slows down, because you have been in this situation before, you know how to react, now it's on your concentration levels and ability to execute the right reaction.
As you develop as a player, learn new skills, understand different actions, you need to also be learning what the reads are. Plug them into the simulation you visualize and away you go.
Doing this with a real defender will always be the best way, but, If you can't get on a court with people to run through situations then the next best thing is to visualize the defenders and get to work.