If you coach varsity, choosing fun basketball games to play in practice may not be foremost in your thoughts - too much to be done, too many skills and strategies to be taught, and not enough time to do it all in. Who has time to worry about whether the drills are fun? I just need to develop better basketball skills!
But basketball practices can't be relentless series of skills and conditioning drills - players will lose enthusiasm and focus. For most players, improving skills is secondary to playing the game, and as much as coaches may want to spend hours tweaking and refining skill sets and plays, we also need to worry about our players' attitudes, drive and determination. The game is as much mental as it is physical.
So basketball players always want to play, but five on five scrimmages are not something you can use a lot of practice time on, especially at the beginning of the pre-season. They take too long to run at a time when your players' skills still need developing. Which is why the drills I refer to as top basketball drills are so good to use - they double as quick, fun basketball games and excellent skill-building drills.
1. They simulate a game-like situation
Not only are many skills required in order to run the drill properly, these skills need to mesh together - maybe players need to pass, run, receive a pass, pass again immediately, run, receive the pass again and then take the ball in to the hoop, all without traveling (the zipper drill); or fast break down the court to play hard three on two basketball, and then switch from offense to defense to fast break in the opposite direction to play hard two on one basketball (the 3-on-2 to 2-on-2 drill)
2. They are controlled drills
Are they fun basketball games? Sure, but they are not free-for-alls,
not pick-up games. The coach is able to stop play to make changes,
adjust what is happening, explain why certain movements are being
performed, so players become better players. Not better technicians but
better players. Because this is a game simulation, and we don't deal
with how to perfect skills, but how to use them in a game.
3. They are excellent conditioning drills
Most of these top basketball drills are fast break drills, or have an aspect of fast break to them, and require players to sprint as in game situations and execute various skills as in game situations. Again, remember the focus of these drills - unlike skills drills, these top basketball drills are designed to simulate game play and provide practice in integrating all the skills players have learned into the game. Maybe players will be sprinting to catch up on defense against a fast break, playing hustle defense, rebounding and then fast breaking themselves down the other end of the court (the 2 on 1 fill in); or fighting for a rebound, outletting the ball and filling the far lane on a fast break, so they can shoot and rebound again at the other end of the court (the 11 man drill - my personal favorite)
That's why they are fun basketball games - players get to go hard in situations very much like a game, but with a skills focus.
These are great drills for pulling together everything players have learned. Some of these drills you won't use much at the beginning of the pre-season, when you are teaching and reinforcing basic skills. But you will need them later on, as the season grows nearer and as your players' skills have improved to the point where it is time to teach them how to use those skills in game situations.
But others you can use almost from the first practice - the three man weave and the 3-on-2 to 2-on-1 drills are fun basketball games to play from the beginning of the preseason, and are a great way to introduce players to controlled game situations.