No. 1 - Ricochet
Best For: All Players
Avoid If: You are in a wide open space (ball can bounce far away)
This is a great little drill, and since it involves only a ball you can do it pretty much anywhere. It trains your hand-eye coordination and gets you familiar with handling the ball, skills that translate to pretty much every area of basketball.
All you need to do is stand with your legs spread a bit wider than shoulder-width apart with your knees completely locked, holding the basketball out in front of you. Bounce the ball at a 45° angle between your legs, catching it as it bounces behind you. Then, throw it back through your legs and catch it in front. As you get more comfortable with the motion, increase the speed and try to develop a rhythm. Start by doing this for 30 seconds, then as you get better increase the time.
No. 2 - Dribbling Figure 8
Best For: Point Guards
Avoid If: You have any nagging knee, hip, or finger injuries
We are in a golden age of NBA point guards, with the likes of Nash, Paul, Rondo and others routinely making the incredible plays look simple. Their greatest asset is their ability to dribble the ball in and out of tight spaces in order to create space for their team, and that is what this drill is meant to train.
Spread your legs apart wide, making sure that you can bend your knees and dip down nice and low. Starting with the ball in your non-preferred hand and keeping it as low to the ground as possible while still maintaining a steady dribble, cross the ball into the center of your body. Once in the middle, dribble the ball back between your legs until the only way you can maintain your dribble is to reach behind with your preferred hand to get the ball. Switching the ball to your preferred hand while maintaining your dribble, rotate the ball around your outside leg until you get back to the front. Repeat the same steps before. Perform continuously for at least one minute.
No. 3 - Sprint/Free Throws
Best For: All players
Avoid If: You have had any leg injuries in the last two weeks, especially a hamstring
As Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard can tell you, free throw shooting is not easy. It involves clean form, consistency and, above all else, practice. However, it’s also important to remember that free throws are rarely taken when you’re feeling 100%. Often, you’ve just been driving to the basket before getting unceremoniously hacked. You might be a little winded, your legs a little rubbery. This is a great combo drill to work on because it gets you ready to take these all-important shots late in games.
Start by sprinting from one end of the court to the other and back. Immediately grab your ball, and using good form take five free throws. For each one you miss, you will need to do one down and back sprint. After your fifth attempt, do all the sprints you owe. You can repeat this sequence as many times as you like, but you should do no fewer than four sets (one for each quarter). Keep track of your make/miss totals for each set so you can monitor your progress!
No. 4 - Mikan Layup Drill
Best For: Forwards and Centers
Avoid If: You have had any recent lower leg injuries
This drill is one of the all-time classics, and there is a reason it has been used at all levels for over 60 years. George Mikan is an NBA Hall-of-Famer and one of the best bigs ever to play the game. His incredible blend of size and athleticism revolutionized basketball, and the Minneapolis Laker finished his career with a then-unheard of 22 point, 13 rebound per game average.
Mikan’s namesake drill is a staple for both big and small players of all ages. From the right side of the hoop, take the ball in your right hand, elevate off your left foot, and lay the ball up and in. Before it hits the ground, collect the ball in your left hand and in one continuous motion elevate off your right foot and lay it up and in off the left side of the hoop. Grab the ball before it hits the ground, and go back to the right side, and repeat. Perform the drill without stopping for at least one minute, alternating hands each time.
No. 5 - Wall Passes
Best For: Perimeter Players
Avoid If: You have any finger injuries
The art of passing is one that doesn’t get much love, but is nevertheless incredibly important. The manner in which you deliver the ball to your teammates can make all the difference in getting your team an easy shot versus slowing down your team’ s offense or even losing possession entirely. The best guards and big men are the ones who make taking care of the basketball their No. 1 priority, and that starts with good, crisp passing.
This drill is quite simple in that all it requires is you, a wall, a little tape and about 15 feet of space. First, place a small “X” made out of tape on the wall at about mid-chest height. That will be your target, and you want it to be at the ideal level for your teammate to grab the ball so he or she can take a quick shot. Then, starting about five feet away, deliver a firm chest pass off the “X.” You want to fire it hard enough so it comes back to you in the air, but not so hard that you can’t catch it. After each pass, take a little step back until you get so far that the ball can’t possibly make it back to you in the air. From there, start taking small steps closer to the wall after each pass. Perform three full sets with chest passes and then three full sets with bounce passes.
No. 6 - Around the World
Best For: All Players
Avoid If: You are in a wide open space (ball can roll far away)
Whether you’re the tallest guy on the court or the shortest, your hands are going to play a huge role in whether you’re going to make an impact. You have to be able to corral a loose ball, maintain possession under pressure and make plays when the other team is careless. It’s no coincidence that Michael Jordan, more known for his offense, also led the NBA in steals three times and is third all-time in total career thefts.
To help improve your own hands, “Around the World” is an excellent and very simple activity. It is done in three stages, progressing from low to high. To start, set your feet a bit narrower than shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. Then, all you need to do is rotate the ball in a circle around your knees as quickly as you can without dropping it. After ten full rotations, change direction for another ten. From there, repeat the same progression around your waist and then around your head. Do each one (knees, waist, head) at least five times.
No. 7 - Defensive Figure 8
Best For: Perimeter Players
Avoid If: You have had a leg injury in the last two weeks
Defense has made a bit of a comeback the last decade, with teams like the 2004 Pistons and 2008 Celtics using stifling pressure to help win NBA Championships. The importance of good team defense is obvious, but there are many things an individual player must be proficient at in order to be able to help the team to the best of his or her ability. Many of these basic fundamentals can be practiced without a ball and in pretty much any open space.
For this activity, you’ll need to set up four markers in a roughly 10 foot × 10 foot square. You’ll also need to set up a “target” in front of your square; don’t take your eyes off of this target the entire time! Starting in the back left corner, sprint diagonally across the square to the front right corner. Once you reach the marker, shuffle to your left until you reach the marker on the other side. As you shuffle, it’s important to remember to keep your eyes on the target, your hands up and to prevent your feet from getting crossed up. Once you reach the front left marker, turn and sprint to the back right marker. Once there, shuffle across to the back left marker (where you started). Perform this sequence five or six times, then rest. You should do at least three total sets.
No. 8 - Self-Shooting
Best For: All Players
Avoid If: You have any nagging finger, wrist, or knee injuries
Kevin Durant and Ray Allen weren’t just born incredible shooters. Making it looks so effortless requires an extraordinary amount of time, patience and practice, and it’s no coincidence that those two are among the hardest working players in the league. Repeating the proper shooting technique over and again is the best way for a player to make sure that when the game is on the line, his or her shot will drop through the net.
To focus on the technique itself rather than the result of the shot, this drill is done with only a ball and no basket. All you need to do is take the ball in your hands, position yourself in a good shooting stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointing toward your target, bend your knees and “shoot” the ball straight up in the air. There are a couple key pieces to be mindful of here. The first is the positioning of your elbows; they should be in close to your body, as flaring out will cause you to lose accuracy. You also should be “following through” with your wrist as the ball leaves your hand; the easiest way to tell if you’re doing this right is by the amount of backspin on the ball (there should be a lot!). Perform the drill without stopping for at least one minute, and repeat at least five times.
No. 9 - Fast Break Shooting
Best For: Shooting Guards and Small Forwards
Avoid If: You have any nagging finger, wrist, or leg injuries
So much of the modern game is played in transition, with guys who can sprint down the court and hit jump shots becoming hugely valuable assets on winning teams. While guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James make it look easy, nailing a transition jumper is one of the hardest moves to pull off on the court; it requires an incredible amount of body control and consistency with your shooting technique.
After you’ve worked on your shooting technique, this drill is a perfect one to test your shooting ability in a more game-like scenario. Standing at roughly half court, lob the ball forward so it lands anywhere in your typical shooting range. Immediately sprint, catching the ball before it bounces for a second time, and shoot. The point of this activity is to practice quick shots, so don’t take any extra dribbles after securing the ball. A key for accuracy here is your body position when you make the catch; you want your hips to be squared up with the basket and your feet shoulder-width apart. Take 15 jump shots then rest, and do at least three sets.
No. 10 - Two Ball Dribble
Best For: Point Guards
Avoid If: You have any nagging finger injuries
The great dribblers in NBA history could dribble as basketball at any time and in any place, whether it was walking down the street, sitting watching TV, while reading a book, or whatever else. The more time spent with the ball increases the amount of comfort with the ball, and when you’re on the court under pressure from the other team that kind of composure can make all the difference.
This drill is another staple of NBA point guards’ workout routines, and while it would never actually occur in a game it is nevertheless a valuable tool to improving your comfort level while handling the ball. You’ll need two basketballs, one in each hand. Start standing on the baseline, and dribble to half court with each ball hitting the floor at the same time. It’s important to go slowly to start; you need to master the technique before you can add speed. Go down and back three times with the balls hitting the ground at the same time, then switch it up and have one hit the ground as the other is reaching your hand. Perform at least five sets. As you get more comfortable, increase the difficulty by going faster and/or adding obstacles.