If you have ever watched the high-flying, over-the-rim game of professional basketball you may find yourself wondering how these mere humans ever got to the point of being able to generate absolute awe night after night in the eyes and hearts of their many fans. The answer, which has nothing to do with super human powers or alien genetics, is PRACTICE.
To achieve any level of basketball prowess takes hours upon hours of targeted practice—practice that is specifically designed around the various skills and abilities common to the game; practice that begins with learning the basics. In the following article we will cover these basics in great detail, focusing on the three main basketball-specific skills: ball handling or dribbling; shooting and passing.
Ball handling is one of the first skills a new basketball player should learn. That’s because when you move on the basketball court with the ball in your possession, you are required by rule to bounce or dribble the ball. Failing to dribble the ball when it is in your possession (and when you are moving) will result in a violation known as “traveling” and a loss of possession.
High level basketball players make dribbling look very easy—and in many ways it is—but you can bet all of those players once had to master the same basics that you will be required to master. And these basics start with the following steps:
- Use Your Fingers to Dribble. When bouncing the basketball, you should try to spread your fingers out very wide. Making your hands as large as possible will give you more coverage and control over the basketball. It will also enable you to maintain constant contact with the ball using your finger pads, which gives you much more control than trying to bounce the ball with your palms.
- Protect the Basketball. When dribbling the basketball, always know where your defender is. If he is close enough in which to steal the basketball from you, you should always protect the basketball by turning around and placing your body between the ball and the defender.
- Eyes Up. Initially, when you are just starting out with dribbling, your natural inclination will be to look down at the basketball as you bounce it. This is a habit you will need to break. Instead, practice dribbling with your eyes up and facing forward. This will help you see where your teammates are on the court—as well as the defenders who are trying to steal the ball from you.
- Keep the Ball Low. Balls that are bounced high can be hard for you to control and easy for the opponent to steal. Thus, when dribbling, never allow the ball to reach above your waist level. This is a great skill to practice at home.
Shooting the Basketball
As with handling the ball, shooting the basketball is an art that takes a lot of practice to master. And in order to practice shooting in the right way, you will first need to know the proper form.
When you prepare to shoot the basketball, the first thing you want to do is take your dominant hand—the hand with which you write, throw, etc.—and place it underneath the ball in your palm, closer to your fingers than your wrist. This is known as your shooting hand. Your other hand should be placed to the side of the ball. This is the hand you will use to guide the basketball towards the hoop.
With your hands in the proper position, practice pushing the ball straight into the air. As you push the ball you will want to flick your wrist concurrently. This wrist action creates backspin on the ball that will help it go into the hoop more freely. After each push of the ball into the air, follow through with your shooting hand. At the end of the shot, your arm should be slightly bent at the elbow with your hand pointing towards the target. When the ball comes down, try catching it with your fingers rather than your palm. Continue to do this until the entire shot sequence seems completely natural and comfortable.
Now that you’ve practiced and mastered the proper form—without the hoop—it’s time to put the whole shot together. Standing about 5 feet from the rim, repeat the motion you have been practicing. The only difference? Instead of shooting the ball straight into the air, you will now want to push it high towards the hoop, making sure you have enough momentum on the ball to clear the 10-foot rim. Use your guide hand to steer it in the proper direction, and as you follow through, pretend your hand is inside the rim. Keep practicing from this distance until you are making the majority of your shots.
Once you are comfortable with the 5-foot distance, continue to move around to different areas on the court, and shoot the ball from different distances. You may want to spend extra time at the free throw line. These free shots are given to you every time you are fouled by a player on the opposing team, so becoming proficient at these shots can often drastically improve your overall scoring average.
Shooting Drill to Enhance Your Shooting Form
Whether you are a basketball player or coach, there are various shooting drills you can use to enhance or reinforce the perfect form when you shoot the basketball. Here is one such drill that is very effective to do with a team:
Players form three lines just a couple feet out from the basket, and each player is given a basketball to shoot.
How It Works
Once players are lined up, have them take turns shooting. The aim of the drill is to have each player make a swish—a ball that clears the rim and hits nothing but the basketball net as it is going through the hoop. The “swish” is very crucial in this drill, because you are trying to reinforce the perfect arc on the basketball—a skill that is important for shots at any distance. If a player makes a swish, he will then rotate counter-clockwise to the next line. But if a player hits the rim or misses the shot altogether he/she must run to one end of the court and back before getting back in line.
This is a great drill for working on the perfect form, and a superb drill for mastering the pressure one might feel when shooting. Naturally, no player wants to run back and forth rather than continue shooting, so most try really hard to make the swish. As a bonus, this drill will also help with team conditioning.
While handling/dribbling and shooting the basketball are both very important skills to master, so too is the art of passing. If you watch the professionals play, you will notice that most of these players are masters at passing—getting the ball to the open player who can then take the shot. There are many types of passes in basketball, but for those just starting out in the game the two most basic pass types to master are known as the chest pass and the bounce pass.
A chest pass is one of the most basic air passes in basketball—passes that do not hit the floor before reaching the intended target, in this case another player. It is named “chest pass” because the movement is initiated with the ball very close to the chest.
To throw a chest pass you will first grab the basketball with your hands—one hand on each side of the ball—with your thumbs placed directly behind the ball. As you prepare to throw the chest pass, you will need to rotate your fingers until they are behind the ball, with your thumbs facing down towards the court. With the basketball close to your chest, you will then extend your arms and fingers simultaneously as you push the ball to your target. If done correctly, the resulting follow through after a chest pass should have the back of your hands facing one another with the thumbs straight down. And because of the way you rotated and extended your fingers, the ball should have great backspin, which makes it easier for your teammate to catch.
When you throw a chest pass, you are not only initiating the pass with the ball close to your own chest, you are also trying to aim towards the target’s chest as well. At this height, the ball will be easier to receive, as passes that are too low or too high are often difficult to handle.
A bounce pass is one of the most effective passes in the game of basketball. It can be thrown from virtually anywhere on the court, and gives you another passing option when a chest pass just won’t do. Moreover, once you have mastered the proper form for the chest pass that we described above, you are almost halfway there in terms of learning the bounce pass.
The bounce pass is a floor pass—one that hits the court (usually only once) en-route to your intended target. It is basically thrown using the same exact motion we described above with the chest pass. The only difference is that instead of aiming towards your target’s chest, you will aim the ball at the floor in the general direction of your target.
Starting with the ball at about chest level, with your thumbs behind the ball, rotate your fingers behind the ball and push the ball onto the floor by extending those fingers and your arms. You should bounce the ball far enough away from you so that it bounces up to the receiver at about waist level.
A good rule of thumb for beginners just now learning the bounce pass is to throw the ball about ¾ of the way to your target. However, as you get better at the bounce pass—and stronger physically—you will need to experiment with the exact distance. Either way, the bounce pass can be a wonderful weapon to have in your basketball arsenal.