For the love of the game. That’s why anyone should play any sport, right? Because you love it. And when you love something, you should obsess over why it’s so important to you and how you can make it even better. Basketball is one of those sports that a player can get by on his or her natural abilities, but they cannot excel without practicing the skills necessary to be outstanding.
While a lot of practice is physical, a majority of it is mental. Mentally preparing for situations in real games you may not be able to foresee when or how they will exactly occur, but you can damn sure do your best to be as ready for them as possible. Drills to help you take the element of surprise out and put the element of reaction in is what separates those just getting by from those wanting to master the game they love. Grab a couple teammates, some basketballs and a trashcan because , no matter your age, these are 10 Basketball Drills Every Player Should Master.
Words and GIFs by Nick Grant
No. 1 - Cutthroat (1 on 1 Closeouts)
Who it benefits: Guards vs. guards, big men vs. big men
One-on-one is a lost art. Now it’s merely a game of wonderment with no real-game situations applicable. Too much dribbling. Ridiculous shots that can only be taken in a one-on-one matchup. One-on-one via “Cutthroat” with closeouts is your best real-game experience with rules implemented to challenge the scorer and the defender. This isn’t your normal “check ball.” Multiple players take turns rolling the ball from under the hoop to the offensive player at the top of the key and closeout, forcing the offense to go one way or the other and forcing the defender to react quickly. Allow only two dribbles per possession (three max) because if it takes you more than that to get from the top of the key to the hoop, you aren’t taking a direct path and another defender is likely to come into play in a real game. You score, you stay on offense. You get scored on, back of the line and let the next defender have crack at it until the defense gets a stop and then goes to offense. First player to 10 wins. This is as real-game as it gets when you don’t have 10 players to form two teams.
No. 2 - Curl, Fade, Cut
Who it benefits: guards/small forwards who are constantly on the move and want a better basketball IQ.
A great way to know if a player is smart or not is if they can read how a defender is guarding them off of a screen. There should only really be three options a decent defender is giving the offense coming off of a screen. If the defender is following behind the offense, you should curl. If he goes over top of the screen, but is still in good position, you fade. If he’s completely overplaying and gambling on a potential pass, give them the ol’ backdoor cut for a layup. That’s only half of it though, as you must learn how to shoot off of these three moves. Have the defender mix up their defense coming off of a screen (which can just be a trashcan) while the offense determines the best course of action to get the best possible shot.
No. 3 - Two-Ball Dribbling
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Who it benefits: Anyone looking to vastly improve their ball-handling with both hands
Everyone needs to dribble the ball. Everyone needs to be able to dribble the ball with both hands to be successful. While one-ball dribbling drills allow you to concentrate on perfecting your handle with one hand, two balls force you to concentrate, even with the distraction of using both hands at once. There are a variety of different drills you can do within this one, usually starting from stationary simultaneous dribbling, then moving to a variation of stationary and moving drills from alternating dribbles to uneven dribbles (one ball bouncing high, one ball staying low.) All while keeping your head up so you learn where the ball should be at all times without looking at it so you can concentrate on other in-game decisions you’ll need to make.
No. 4 - Full Speed Shooting
Who it benefits: Guards/Small forwards who want to shoot better in transition, especially when they’re getting winded.
Warming up and shooting around the top of the key is a good way to get loose and it helps you visualize the ball going into the basket as you shoot. But you won’t have the luxury of nonchalantly moseying around the arch with no defender and no sense of urgency. Full speed shooting teaches you to shoot while on the run and have a need to stop-and-pop and it teaches you the necessary energy needed to shoot when you are beginning to get tired. Run in full speed from half-court to anywhere on or right inside the arch to shoot. After your shot, backpedal to half court and do the same thing. You can mix-up whether it’s stop-and-pop or one dribble pull up, but you must make 20 shots before you can stop. This may seem easy when you start off and get that first 10, but then your legs don’t give you as much lift and your arms aren’t giving you the consistent stroke you’re needing to complete the task. Learn to perfect this drill and your ability to push through that last minute in the fourth quarter when everyone else is dog tired will be the difference between a body on the floor and a game-changer.
No. 5 - Post “Crab” Dribble Moves
Who it benefits: Big men who are sick of guards coming in a stripping the ball in the lane or defenders easily blocking their shot.
Big men need love too, right? They provide that body in the lane who can be a terror on defense and a force to be reckoned with on offense. But if they have soft moves in the post, guess who’s touches down there will slowly dwindle? This move teaches you to make strong moves over both shoulders with the one dribble every big man should perfect; the post-crab dribble. You know, that two-handed power dribble you take before you go up off two-feet and try to yam it on someone? THAT dribble. The passer feeds the ball to the big man in the post and, based on which hip their defender is playing closest to, they give one low, but strong crab dribble to the opposite side. Sometimes that will be straight to the basket for a layup. Sometimes it will be into the lane for a baby hook. Once you’ve go both directions, an added bonus would be to practice the same move but with a pump-fake, un-and-under move. Remember; strong crab dribble and strong finish from a low position will ensure you get fed in the post as much as you can take.
No. 6 - Two Ball Passing
Who it benefits: Everyone, especially Carmelo Anthony.
Passing is one of the most fundamental components of basketball. Even if there are players on your team who refuse to learn it. Learning how to give a basic chest or bounce pass should be elementary procedure, but taking it to the next level and throwing in other forms of passing and adding in an additional ball is another drill that tests your concentration. One player bounce passes while the other simultaneously chest passes, catches and repeats. You can throw in variables of speed, types of bounce/chest passes (one player gives a low-post at one’s side to the left while the other gives the same pass to the right) that force you to learn the correct way to pass from every angle and direction.
No. 7 - Full Speed Dribbling
Who it benefits: Guards who want to improve on full-speed dribble-to-pull up moves.
Shooting of the dribble is difficult. It can be trained and engrained into our games, but it’s hard to perfect. Coming up the court full speed and making a move on a defender to shoot is damn near impossible to perfect, but once you get this drill into your workout, it will at least feel like a natural way of doing things. All this drill takes is a basketball and a trash can as a defender. Learning to run full speed at something and stopping to make a move one way or another, while tough for an offensive player to do right, is even tougher for a defender to defend. Switch up the move; crossover, in-and-out, even a spin every once in a while (with caution!) will allow you to make a split decision as you come at the defender, forcing them to make a decision in even shorter time. After the move, you can give a strong move to the whole with no more than two additional dribbles. Or learning to pull up off of it gives you a dimension to your game that coaches go gaga over. In-between game (outside the lane, but inside the 3-point arch) is a precisely commodity as a basketball player. All you have to do is look at Michael Jordan to understand this.
No. 8 - Defensive Lane Slides
Who it benefits: EVERYONE!
Lane slides are one of the simplest drills to do, but one of the hardest to perfect. And that’s really only because it’s damn near impossible to perfect the defensive slide, especially in real-game situations. There are a lot of factors that force players to freestyle their defensive moves, but lane slides will do three thing; it will force you to stay low, keep your feet apart and learn how to pivot. Those are the three constants in defensive maneuvering at all levels and this drill will help the muscle memory you need to be consistent, so if you’re doing lane slides that teach you to go side-to-side, front-to-back and back-to-front, you are learning all of the basic moves while in a defensive stance that will help you become a better defender.
No. 9 - Mikan/Reverse Mikan
Who it benefits: Big men and guards who want to learn how to finish around the
basket without have to drop the ball down below their shoulders.
Thanks to one of basketballs forefathers, George Mikan, we have one of the greatest warm-up drills ever. The Mikan drill involves shooting close-up layups off one foot, alternating from one side of the basket to the other in a fluid motion. While it may look easy, there are rules. You must keep the ball above your shoulders, which is the easiest rule to break because your natural inclination when jumping is to bring your arms, and the ball, down so you have more propulsion when going up. By keeping the ball above your head, you’re keeping it closer to the basket, allowing you to get to the basket quicker. Another rule is that, once you miss, you have to start your count over. You could start easy and make 10 in a row from each side of the basket, but once it’s become a regular warmup, try and make 25 in a row. Hell, go for 50 if you’re ambitious. Oh, and then you have to do the same thing, but with reverse layups. Muscle memory and discipline can lead to easy buckets under the hoop.
No. 10 - Muscle Memory Shooting
Who it benefits: Anyone who’s ever shot a basketball
You walk in the gym and you stretch. What should be the next thing you do? It isn’t take a dribble. It isn’t a few laps. It should be muscle memory shooting. One-handed shots, starting as close of range as possible and progressively moving out, keeping a rhythm as the ball drops through the hoop and go through the motion again. That ball going from your ball to your fingers and off your fingertips is one of the purest motions in basketball, even if some players have different ways of displaying it. No matter the case, they’ve perfected whatever motion they shoot in because of muscle memory and this drill is your introduction to it.