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Fundamental Basketball Skills:
Getting to the Ball

Strong offensive basketball skills are essential for any player who wants to put points on the scoreboard. I don't mean the ability to dribble, or pass, or shoot the basketball - all of which are terribly important as well. But I'm referring to the ability to move, to get open, to get the ball.

Basketball is a man to man game - even when they are set up in a zone, a good defensive team will always play tight defense on the offensive players. If an offensive player wants the ball, he's got to move for it. He's got to shake his defensive player, and move quickly to the ball or to an open space on the floor. And to do this, he needs to know two fundamental basketball skills: how to cut hard and how to fake well.

Tips for this Basketball Skill: Making a Good Cut

  1. Timing is very important to a good cut. The player making the cut needs to get rid of the defensive player and arrive at the open spot ready to receive the pass. This means two things:

    1. The player cutting needs to make a quick cut that leaves the defensive player several steps behind him, so that he arrives at the receiving position alone

    2. The player passing the ball needs to know that the move is going to happen (e.g., if it is part of a set play) or see the floor and realize that it is happening, so that he can pass the ball to the cutter as the cutter arrives at the spot - and before the defensive player catches up. If the passer waits until the cutter sets up at the spot before he passes, the defense will have caught up by the time the pass is made.

  2. Good fakes are extremely important to a good cut. Occasionally an effective cut can be made without a fake to precede it, but most of the time the fake is necessary to misdirect the defense and get that one or two steps head start.

  3. The cut must be quick. The fake doesn't need to be - in fact, sometimes a slower fake helps to draw the defense in, to lull the defense into a bit of false security before the offensive player takes off. But the cut needs to be at top speed.

  4. Players need to make some contact. The offensive player needs to stand next to the defensive player, making contact at the shoulder and arm. The offensive player pushes in against the defensive player, just hard enough to get the defensive player to push back. Then when the offensive player sprints off to make the cut, pushing off the defensive player to start the cut, the defensive player isn't properly grounded and ready to push off - the offensive player gains a good second or two in head start.

Tips for this Basketball Skill: Making Effective Fakes

When we teach other basketball skills like passing, we tell our players not to stare at the player they're passing to - don't telegraph the pass. Telegraphed passes get picked off by the defense. See the floor, look at a spot just below the net and use peripheral vision to see where all the players are. You don't want to prepare the defense for where the ball is going.

Same is true for cutting. You need to misdirect the defense - make them think you are going one way when you actually intend to go the other.

A player's first step is his most important step. To push away quickly, he needs to plant one of his feet - if the push-off foot isn't planted, the player doesn't have the stability to move quickly. That's what we need to do with the defense - get them off their push-off foot, so they aren't able to get that quick burst of speed at the beginning of the movement that will let them keep up with us.

If we telegraph where we are going to move - by staring at the spot we're moving to, for example, or by moving slowly in that direction - the defense will keep pace and stop us. But if we misdirect the defense - make them think we want to go one direction but in fact we are going to go in the other direction - so that they "un-plant" that push-off foot, then we can get free. We want to fake them out.

Tips for this Basketball Skill: How to Fake

  • Look in the opposite direction. Good defense dictates that the defensive player watch his mark's chest so he can't be faked out. Unfortunately - or fortunately, for the offense - many defensive players don't do this. They watch their mark's eyes instead. If the offensive player looks away, often enough the defense stares after him and loses concentration for that second or so - enough time for the offensive player to start his cut and get ahead of the defense.

  • Jab in the opposite direction. Only one step, but it needs to be a quick one, and the step needs to be aimed an inch or so outside the defensive player's foot, close enough for him to instinctively move back. If the jab is wider, nobody is fooled. One hard jab step in the opposite direction will get the defense leaning in that direction, and then the offensive player uses that jab step to push off in the opposite direction, to the spot he wants to go.

  • Body fake in the opposite direction. Using the upper body, the offensive player dips his shoulders or head in one direction - the defense will often react without thinking, shifting their weight in that direction - and then the offensive player pushes off in the opposite direction - the direction he wants to go to get the ball.

  • Pretend to be winded. The offensive player leans over, hands on the upper thigh or at the waist, pretending to catch his breath. He waits for the defense to relax (thinking the player is running out of steam) Then the offensive player sprints, making the cut hard and quick.

Players that don't understand the fundamental basketball skills of how to cut and fake are at a great disadvantage. No matter how great a shooter he is, or ballhandler, or how great his drive to the hoop - if the player can't get the ball, it won't mean a thing in the game. And he's not going to be able to score with a defensive man clinging to his arm.

Too many players depend on a play that sets a pick for them to get free. Picks are good strategy - another important basketball skill that we deal with on a different page - but they are only one strategy. Players need to be a threat in several ways, not just one way.

Check out the practice drills to use for cuts and fakes, and incorporate them into your practices so that your players are ready and able to use these important basketball skills at game time.

More on Fundamental Basketball Skills here

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