Basket Ball Control and Passing

There is 30 seconds left in the game and you need to burn the clock out. This is where you need to protect the ball from being checked from your hand and stolen. If you need to make a pass it needs to be crisp and accurate.

These are skills that once mastered, make you a better player on the court. They often go overlooked for the showboating antics and trash talking. Trust me when I say being able to dance circles around your opponent with the ball is all the trash talking you need to do.

Having control of the game requires players who can control the ball. It is essential that dribbling and passing are fundamentals you take the time to learn, and learn well.

Dribbling

This seems like a grade-school lesson to teach, but like we mentioned before, being a good dribbler is paramount to being the best basketball player you can be. If you watch the top ball control players in the NBA, they have control of their dribble and they can make the ball go anywhere they want. It’s like the ball is on the end of a string – it goes between their legs, in either hand, around the back and it rarely gets away from them, but it’s always out of the opponents reach.

We’ve all played against the point guard who has spent a lot of time making sure his ball control skills were excellent. They frustrate you and force you to make stupid mistakes, simply because they can keep the ball away from you.

So what are the two basics to being a good – no great – dribbler?

Control
The first thing I would suggest is to make sure you are in control at all times. There is nothing worse than a player who thinks he or she can dribble their way around anyone and anything, only to lose it because they lost control and had it stolen.

Always maintain your poise when dribbling. After considerable practice you will be able to execute all of the more advanced dribbling skills without looking and the ball and being worried about losing it to your opponent.

Balance
This goes hand in hand with control. Along with the ball, you have to have control of your body in order to maintain good control of the ball. Work on maintaining good solid footwork and making sure your body is squarely over your feet.

Proper Technique

Depending on whether you are streaking the court or protecting the dribble down near the baseline, one thing you need to consider it just exactly how are you bouncing the ball. Are you bouncing it too high and out in the middle of the court? Or are you bouncing it too far in front of you?

  • Here are some pointers for dribbling:

    When you are running down the court, it is safe to dribble the ball ahead of you, but make sure you are dribbling in stride – don’t chase the ball. Also make sure you are dribbling it at about waist height and no more. The higher the ball has to travel, the easier it is to steal.
  • If you are stationary, try to keep the ball at just above knee height. Place your non-dribbling side foot slightly ahead of your other foot and use your body to shield another player from coming across to steal it. With one foot ahead you are also quickly able to pass the ball through your legs to the other hand. Protecting the ball while standing still is probably the single most important thing to remember.
  • Try to keep your head up. This will take practice in order to become more comfortable with it, but it will pay dividends in the end. Believe it or not, it is easier to steal the ball away from someone who is not looking up, than it is from a player who is watching what you are doing. This also makes it easier for you to execute a quick pass.
  • Practice your advanced moves. This is not showboating and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. Any way of keeping the ball away from an opponent while protecting it and possibly moving pass them is well worth learning and executing.
  • Don’t slap at the ball when you are dribbling. You have no control over where the ball is going. Use the palm of your hand and the fingertips to maintain control of the basketball.

Drills and practice for dribbling:

If you want to be a better dribbler, take that basketball wherever you go. Dribble with it to school, in the driveway, to your friend’s house – anywhere!

Other than shooting, dribbling well takes the most practice out of any basketball skill to perfect. Any chance you get to bounce the ball, bounce it.

At the park
Take some time before you start shooting, just to move around the court at an easy pace, dribbling into different positions. Don’t do it at full speed until you can get the hang of the comfort of dribbling the ball. Go half speed and bounce the ball through your legs to the other hand. Do the same if you want to go behind the back. Maintain your footwork and your balance and before you know it you will be naturally doing these things at full speed when you are playing against your friends in the park, or on the court for a game.

Also make sure you take the time to practice with your opposite hand. There is nothing worse than watching a right-handed player try to drive to the left-hand side of the basketball hoop and have the ball swatted from their reach because they couldn’t protect the ball on the left-side of their body.

Here’s a drill to use both hands and get used to the transition between each of them:

  • Place your legs one in front of the other (whichever side you are the most comfortable putting the ball through first)
  • Make sure you have good balance and a sturdy stance.
  • Bounce the ball twice about knee height, then on the third bounce, without moving the rest of your body, put the ball to your other hand. Bounce twice and on the third bounce return it to your other hand.
  • Continue doing this drill until you can look straight up and ahead of you without looking at where the ball is going. In order for this drill to be successful, you need to be able to dribble the ball without looking at it.

Try switching which leg is ahead and which is behind, because you will likely be faced with the situation where you need to reverse the above drill in the face of game action.

A variation of that drill is to just look straight ahead with your legs one ahead of the other, and just one bounce between the legs each time a hand touches the ball. Another way to do it is to try and walk along the basketball court and with each stride put the ball through your legs.

The hot-potato is another good drill to increase the speed and coordination of your hands. You’ve probably seen the Harlem Globetrotters use this one during the middle of a game.

Dribble the ball low to the ground – I mean real low – and push it quickly to the ground, exchanging hands each time you touch the ball. You should be able to get so quick at this drill the ball will be hitting the ground twice or three times a second.

Passing

We’ve all been guilty of bad passes in our time on the basketball court, whether it was because of bad timing or bad passing. There are a few things that you can work on to make sure you aren’t the culprit when a ball is turned over because of a bad pass.

The basics to being a good passer are accuracy, anticipation and timing. Each one of these is important to master in each of the types of passes – chest pass, bounce pass, the baseball pass, and the ever-popular dish-off.

The chest pass (or push pass) and the bounce pass should be the types of passes you are choosing with regularity, because often times the baseball pass is erratic and costly on the turnover side of the score sheet and the dish is a lower percentage play.

Here are some pointers to help you with your passing:

  • Pass to where your teammate should be, not where they are. If they are moving, it does no good to put the ball behind them. The chance of a trailing defender intercepting the pass is much greater if the passer doesn’t lead with the ball.
  • Try to anticipate where your players are going to end up during a play. If you are trying to get them the ball, they should be keeping their head up waiting for a pass. You might hit them in the head a couple of times before they get the gist of it. Anticipation is one of the most important instincts a guard or small forward can develop for their passing skills.
  • Make sure you are timing your passes to reach your team-mate when they are making their cut. It goes hand in hand with the anticipation. Once you anticipate, make sure the ball gets there when the play develops.
  • Fake with the ball. In most situations you aren’t going to be free of a defender being in your face, or stuck like glue to your teammate. You need to get in the habit of faking a pass before making one. “Fake before you make” is the mantra of a solid passer. Fake a bounce pass before making a chest pass, and vice versa. With the fake you create a clearer passing lane, ensuring the ball will reach your teammate.
  • Always hold on to and pass the ball with two hands. Even with a bounce pass, to avoid having the ball slapped from your hands, keep both hands securely on the ball.

Proper Technique

With all passes there should be a standard positioning to make sure you get the power and accuracy behind the ball when you go to pass.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, one slightly ahead of the other.
  • Both hands should be on the ball.
  • Just like baseball, lead with your feet. It’s just that in basketball, you should lead with the foot on the side you are passing to.
  • Always be looking up. Don’t try to pass the ball with your head buried in the sand.

Chest pass – The chest pass is used primarily to advance the ball quickly from player to player. This pass has to be made swiftly to your teammate because often times the opponent can read where you are passing it to, and they can intercept it.

  • Never make a chest pass with both feet together. Treat it like a baseball throw; have one foot in front of the other in the direction of the pass. For example if you are in the middle of the court and you want to make a chest pass to the left, lead with your left foot. Vice versa if you want to make a pass to the right side.
  • Place one hand on the side of the ball and one hand behind it. Bring the ball to chest height and snap the ball to your teammate.

Bounce pass – The bounce pass is more often used when a player is protecting the ball, or you are passing it to a protected player, or through traffic. This is the easiest pass to execute with a fake prior to making the pass, because you can make it quickly, and the fake draws the defender out of position.

  • Fake first to draw the defender away from your passing lane, then slip the bounce pass around them. The best fake is an overhead pass, then when they are in the air to block it, put the ball to the ground to your teammate.
  •  To ensure the easiest pass reception by your teammate, make sure you try and bounce the ball two-thirds of the distance between you. This will likely present the ball to him at waist level – the easiest place to accept a pass – either on the run or standing still.
  • Don’t put spin on the ball. Most players can’t see the spin of the ball in the heat of a game, and they can be thrown off by a ball that looks like it will appear at one place, then end up in another.
  • Use two hands. Make sure you are in control of the ball. Hold the ball at the side with one hand and push with the other hand. Get used to passing with both hands, so the non-passing side hand can protect the ball.

Here are some drills you can use to improve your passing skills. These drills, because you need a person to pass to in most cases, require more than one person to do. We will also provide you with a couple of drills you can do on your own to improve your passing.

Pig in the middle:

  • Player 1 and player 2 stand 3-4 meters apart. Player 1 has the ball. Player 3 is the defensive player, and stands between players 1 and 2.
  • Player 3 guards player 1 and tries to deflect the pass from player 1 to player 2.
  • Player 1 works on ball fakes and steps through the defense to make the pass.
  • When player 2 receives the ball, player 3 hustles over to contest player 2’s pass to player 1. Player 2 must wait until player 3 is on him before he attempts a pass.
  • Player 3 stays in the middle and defends both passes until he gets three deflections.
  • Players rotate so that all three defend the passes.

Down court passing: Two players stand on either side of the key, about 12 feet apart. Shuffling down the court, every two to three steps the players pass to one another, making sure they lead the other player down the court. You can do this drill with the chest pass, the bounce pass or the overhead or baseball pass. Shuffle from one end of the court to another exchanging passes.

Here’s a drill you can do on your own:

Pass against the wall – You can use a regular brick wall, or anything else sturdy enough to prevent any give when you throw the ball against it. If you have a schoolyard with a brick wall nearby where you can play, or a gymnasium wall, those are the best places to do this drill.

  • Stand about 12 to 15’ away from the wall and get into a standard stationary passing position.
  • Either chest pass or bounce pass the ball against the wall.
  • If you use the chest pass, the ball should come back to you at pretty close to the same height and speed you sent it to the wall. With the bounce pass, make sure you bounce it two-thirds of the way to the wall and with enough velocity to receive the pass in the air at waist height. With either pass, if executed properly in the drill, you should receive the ball at the proper spot you should be passing to.
  • • Just like anything, repetition makes this drill most effective.

The Dish

This is a pass that has been around for decades, and perfected by the best who drive to the hoop.
The dish-off is a pass dropped off to a player by a player driving to the hoop. It is a valuable play in today’s basketball, and for any player who takes the ball to the hole often, they should know how to make sure the success rate of their pass is high.

First, when you drive to the hoop, make sure you take a look at what options you might have before you take your first step. Do you have anyone in the key waiting for a dump-off? Is anyone crashing the boards you can dish to? Are you prepared to take the shot if no one is under the hoop to take the pass?

Going in with a plan is the biggest priority in making sure this pass works. Identify whom you are going to pass to, then drive accordingly. Always be prepared to make the shot. Too many players drive to the hoop looking to dish the ball off, and when the defense reads that there is no intention to take the shot, they sit back and wait for you to dump the ball off to the side. Take the ball to the hoop – hard like you would if you were trying to score.

You need to have a player nearby who knows what you are up to. If they are under the hoop and they are waiting to watch you drive, they are a perfect person to dish the ball off to. It only makes sense that if no one is under the hoop to take the pass, it is going to be stolen.

Never use the dish-off to save yourself from missing a shot. A lot of players who play out of control and drive to the hoop, use the dish-off as a last resort when they can’t get the shot off. If you do this, you risk putting you team in a precarious defensive position because you made a bad play. Always know what you are doing, be in control, take the ball to the hoop like you mean it, but always go in ahead of time knowing if you have the chance to dish the ball to a teammate.

Passing is probably the second most important aspect of basketball, in ensuring a team’s success. You will always hear coaches talk about unforced errors and turnovers costing them the big game.

Don’t be the player who costs your team the game, by not knowing and understanding the importance of passing, and then practicing it.

Other ball control tips:

  • If you or your team is trying to kill extended periods of time, short quick passes will keep your opponent running and keep them guessing. Just make sure to follow the techniques above and you will keep them at bay.
  • Know the rules and how to use them to your advantage. It might be a good idea when you are trying to kill time, if you are hammering a team on the boards, to take a shot or two now and then. The 30-second clock resets every time a shot hits the rim. If you can snag the rebound you bought yourself another half-minute
  • Don’t try to dribble through and around everybody in an attempt to wind the clock down. You teammates are your allies – make the pass.