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Tips for Better Passing

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook... lots of great basketball stuff. Come on - join us!
Poor passing will destroy your offense faster than anything, resulting in possessions with no shots and breakaway lay-ups for the opponent. This article breaks down passing into details.

You can do specific passing drills. But I also like the idea of treating every drill as a passing drill. Most shooting drills involve making a pass to the shooter, and the same with transition drills, other offense-defense drills, and even rebounding-outlet drills. So in doing these drills, stress the importance of good passing... every drill, every day.

Make a bad pass have consequences, perhaps push-ups or laps for that player. There are two components of every pass - the pass and the reception. The bad pass may be the result of a passing error or a receiving error, or both.

Breaking Down Passing Fundamentals

1. What is a good pass?

Good passes are "on-time and on-target". A good pass is one that is caught in a spot on the court where something good can happen. A pass might be "on target" but if it's too hard for the receiver to catch, it's not a good pass. Or if the pass is caught by the receiver, but he/she is surrounded by defenders, it's not a good pass. Another example is a pass to a back-cutter... we want to deliver the pass early in the back-cut and not wait until the cutter is already near the basket.

2. "On-target"

A good pass needs to be delivered precisely in the right place, "on target", where the receiver can easily catch it and execute. If a pass is a little too high, too low, or a little off to the side, it might be caught, but the brief second required for the receiver to gather the ball allows the defender to adjust, and now the open shot is not there. Teach your players to pass the ball precisely where the receiver can use it to score... "on-target".

Most often the target is the "shooting pocket" where one would place the ball in triple-threat position. However, when passing into the post, we want the target up higher near the post player's face... he/she can usually catch this pass and "chin the ball" with elbows up and out, or go right up with the shot.

Post players have a difficult time catching and using passes below their waist. We used to teach the bounce pass for feeding the post, and it's still a good pass if it's not below the post player's waist. But you now see more and more teams making the air pass to the post player's upper body or head area.


3. "See the defense"

Passers have to develop their court vision and "see the defense", and avoid passing into traffic where there are two or three defenders waiting. We want players to "pass away from the defense". How do you improve court vision? Teach players on the perimeter to get in triple-threat position, and they will see things better.

4. Make the "sure" pass

Players should make the "sure", easy pass... not a risky pass that might not be caught, or might be deflected or intercepted, or has only a 50% chance of success.

5. Keep it simple

Players should always keep things simple... make the easiest pass that will get the job done... usually a two-handed, sure pass. So many players nowadays are throwing one-handed passes and these are often simply not caught, either because the pass is errant, or perhaps because the ball has a sideways spin making it difficult to catch.

Having said that, one-handed passes are good to use for a curl-bounce into the low-post, or when attacking on the fast-break. The behind the back pass is fun and sometimes is the correct pass to make, but most often the best pass is the simple two-handed pass.

6. Use pass-fakes

Players must learn how to make a good pass-fake. This is an often overlooked, important fundamental skill that needs to be taught. A passer can get the defense to move or shift simply by faking a pass in another direction, and this will often open up the intended passing lane. Teaching pass-faking teaches players not to "telegraph" their passes. Good passers can often "look" a defender off to open a passing lane.

7. Don't hurry - patience!

Much bad-passing comes from players being in a hurry, and players must learn to be patient. We want our players to sprint up the court for easy fast-break lay-ups as much as possible. But when the good shot off the break is not there, they have to recognize this, bring the ball back out on top and run the offense patiently and get a good shot. Teach players to catch the ball in triple-threat position and look into the post, look at cutters and see the floor before dribbling or passing.

8. Keep grounded - avoid the jump-pass

How often do you see a player attacking with the dribble and ending the dribble with a leap into the air, and then deciding to make a pass while in mid-air? -- the "jump-pass". I think kids see this on television and think it's a sign of athleticism to make the jump-pass.

It's not a 100% thing, and sometimes a jump-pass can be the right pass, but more often than not, the jump-pass results in a turnover. Teach passers to stay grounded and make good, controlled two-handed passes. We don't want our players making decisions in mid-air. The jump-pass also is often the result of a player being in a hurry.

9. Use the dribble to create a passing lane

A player on the wing can sometimes open up a passing lane into the low-post by making one dribble either left or right before making the pass inside. Or make a dribble-drive, draw in the helpside defense, and then make a kick-out pass to an open perimeter player.

Try the "Bennett drill" to improve your half-court passing and help reduce turnovers.

Catching - Receiving

If you don't catch the pass, it's almost always a turnover.

1. Catch the ball with two-hands!

So often players try to catch the ball with one-hand, and then simply don't catch the ball at all. Sometimes the one-handed catch is the best or only option, but whenever possible, catch the ball with two-hands.

2. Use a hand target

Teach the receiver to use a hand signal, holding a hand up as a target for the pass. This helps avoid the problem of the passer passing the ball out-of-bounds just as the intended receiver starts to a cut in another direction. When the cutter starts the cut, he/she drops target hand down, and puts it back up when ready to receive the pass. Players do not pass to another player unless he/she is showing a hand target.

giving a passing target

3. Get to the ball

Receivers should be moving toward the ball, with hands ready to receive. A post player also has to get to the pass, even if it means giving up the seal or position that he/she has worked so hard to get. All that work is wasted if the pass goes out-of-bounds. It's somewhat like a first baseman in baseball having to come off the bag to catch errant throw.

4. Catch the ball in triple-threat position

Perimeter players must get in the habit of catching the ball and getting right into triple-threat position, rather than immediately starting the dribble. In triple-threat position, the player can "gather" himself and see the court, look into the post, see cutters and see the defense. Triple-threat position helps reign-in a player that tends to rush and hurry things.

5. "Ball in the air, feet in the air"

We like to have receivers catch the ball with a jump-stop and establish a pivot foot.

You can become a better passing team! Players will do what their coaches teach and emphasize, so make it a priority. Every drill is a passing drill!

Related pages:

Helpful DVDs:

Grassroots Basketball: Perfecting the Art of Passing

Grassroots Basketball: Perfecting the Art of Passing
with Ganon Baker, Nike Basketball Training Specialist, Ambidextrous Shooting Coach, World-renowned Instructor and Clinician; and with Boo Williams, Legendary Coach, Clinician, and AAU Boys Basketball National Chairman.

Ganon Baker tackles another basketball building block with this excellent DVD on passing. The lost art of passing is introduced, broken down and drilled throughout the presentation. With the help of Boo Williams and his Youth AAU team, Baker puts the skills and fundamentals of passing on display. A total of 21 drills are explained and demonstrated. Drills are suitable for the individual, partners and teams, and progress from stationary work to full court competitive drills. To progressively learn passing technique and skill, Baker emphasizes form, speed and contact. Players should concentrate on good form to ensure rapid skill improvement. The Sweep series is the backbone of passing proficiency, teaching players to pass around the defense without turnovers. Two ball partner passing, "triple pivot," "Don't Walk" and the Russian passing drill are crucial for proper player development... (more info)

Price: $39.99

Threading the Needle: 50 Tips and Drills for Passing

Threading the Needle: 50 Tips and Drills for Passing
with Ganon Baker, Nike Basketball Training Specialist, Ambidextrous Shooting Coach, and World-renowned Instructor and Clinician.

Ganon Baker is quickly becoming the game's next true "Innovator." In this fantastic DVD, he explores creative and competitive drills for the art of passing. He begins by offering 10 teaching tips for the proper passing fundamentals; Stance, release and catching. Because the game is so quick, passing against pressure is very important. The concept of "Pressure Vision," "Foot Fighting" and the "Sweep Pivot" are all combined with a passer's ability to read the defense. Drills are categorized by one man, two man, three man, four man and team drills. Other drills, such as the Jason Williams Series, the Jason Kidd Series and the Steve Nash Series, are specific to the skills... (more info)

Price: $39.99

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