Regardless of the level you play at, everyone can always improve their handle. To be great you must constantly refine your game…identify weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Below you will find a number of tips that are crucial for anyone who handles the ball.
Don’t waste the dribble: For some unknown reason, many players have trouble simply holding the ball. Everyone wants to immediately dribble the ball upon receiving it. However, if you watch the best players at any level, they generally are crafty with jab steps, pump fakes, and other non-dribble moves, long before they ever put the ball on the floor. Even if you are playing at the high school or college level and you have the 5-second violation to worry about, relax; there is plenty of time. If you catch the ball and survey the floor for 4 and a half seconds, dribble for 4 and a half seconds, you can still pick the ball up again and hold it for 4.5 more seconds. That is a total of over 13 seconds with the basketball with no violation called. There should be no hurry.
Don’t pick up the dribble for no reason: Often times players will pick up their dribble with no real reason, which causes them to get stuck, trapped, turn the ball over, or to force up a bad shot. It is much easier to keep the dribble alive and back out of a congested area, or use the dribble to get to the middle of the court to avoid a trap.
Be a threat: The triple threat position is one of the first things basketball players learn. However, it is surprising how many players forget to use it. The stance doesn’t have to be exact, but you need to get into a position that makes you a threat to do multiple things as soon as you get the ball. Many players get the ball, stand straight up, and put the ball over their head. Even if you are running a set play or running your offense, you should always be in a position that would enable you to do something different than what is planned. Great players make great plays when the normal play breaks down. If you aren’t in a position to do so, the opportunity might pass you by.
Use different gears and change speeds: As a player, particularly as a guard, and especially as a point guard, you need to have different gears and constantly change speeds. Just like a baseball pitcher mixes the type and velocity of his pitches to keep the batter off balance and guessing, a basketball player needs to change speeds to keep fool, lull, or work a defender. One player comes to mind when I think about changing speeds. Chris Paul. Chris Paul is one of the best players in the game at flipping gears. At any time in a given possession you might see Chris walking the ball up the court, you might see him in a slow jog…almost skipping down the floor, there are controlled yet hard drives, and there is his full out open court sprint. You may also see him shift gears at a moments notice from walk to sprint or vice versa. Defending Chris is nothing but hard work and constant thinking. As a player you should work to develop “gears”. When you practice be cognizant of these gears and even practice going from 1 to 3, 2 to 4, 4 to 1, 1 to 4…. and so on. The benefits of this will definitely show through on game day (or once the season hits).
2nd moves: This applies mostly for point guards and wingmen. If you are able to break your man down and get past him, often times you will run into a defender stepping up or over to help on defense. You might be able to shoot a pull up jumper before you get to that defender, or even make an early pass, but often times you want to keep going. In order to attack the room you may have to do a 2nd move at the 2nd level of the defense. These moves should be quick and compact as you often times have more traffic coming towards you. A quick inside out dribble, hesitation, spin move, or quick crossover are all viable 2nd moves.
Remember the little things: This applies for all positions…you sometimes see a defender strip a big man that is holding the ball down low, or see a player miss catching a simple pass with little to know defense. There are many unknowns in basketball, but to the extent something is within our control, we should assure it is. As you handle the ball (both dribbling and not dribbling), remember the little things.
Always catch the ball with two hands: This is relevant even for advanced players (college/pro), sometimes you will even see NBA players snagging the ball with one hand then bringing the second hand onto the ball, but you also occasionally see these same players miss the ball on a seemingly routine pass.
Never let the ball hit the floor on a long pass (if you can get it in the air): If there is a long pass thrown and you can catch it before it bounces…DO IT. When a ball travels through the air any type of strange spin can develop. When this happens, occasionally the ball hits the ground, and rather than bouncing right up to you like you thought it would. The ball bounces out of bounds or to the other team.
Secure it at the chest: After a rebound or when holding the ball in traffic, hold the ball firmly and at your chest. As you move up levels of play, players become more and more crafty. When grabbing a rebound, whether you are a guard, forward, or center, be sure to hold the ball firmly at your chest (under your chin) with two hands firmly.
Always keep your head up: Whether you are a post player catching the ball on the block or a guard on the wing. You must have your head up to see the defense, your teammates, and you must look at the basket.
Don’t be lazy with your dribble (or waste the dribble): Wasting your dribble is a huge problem in basketball. It is important that you only dribble the ball if you have a purpose. There are very effective moves that can be made without a dribble, both on the wing and in the post. However, it seems as though many players want to dribble the ball as soon as they touch it. Don’t waste it!
Cover space with the dribble: Particularly when shooting off the dribble you should cover as much apace as possible with the dribble. After a head fake or a dribble to get by someone you want as much space as possible between you and the defender, so make your one or two dribbles count by covering as much ground as possible.
Don’t leave your feet without a plan: Even Michael Jordan got into a bad habit with leaving his feet as a young player on the Olympic team. It worked out better for him than most because he could stay in the air so long, but nevertheless…it’s not a good idea. On a drive to the basket a player should not leave their feet until they are sure of what they will do (finish, draw a foul, or throw a pass over a defender). Instead stay under control, maintain your dribble or use your pivot foot to get yourself into better position. Leaving your feet is a bad habit to pick up. This habit is often picked up when you are the best player on the floor and can simply “out-athlete” everyone else. However, once you play against similarly talented players…you will be in trouble.
Stay calm once the dribble is picked up: I see a lot of younger, less experienced basketball players’ panic once they have picked up their dribble and the defender crowds them. If you want to play at a high level this is something you have to become comfortable with. If you have picked up your dribble and you get crowded, it is important to stay low, get a nice wide and balanced base, keep the ball protected at your waist and away from the defender, and to work your pivot foot around the defense and work to step past or around a defender to make an easy pass. Sometimes you even get lucky when you pick up your dribble and another defender leaves their man allowing you to drop a quick pass to a teammate for an easy bucket. The moral of the story here is…stay calm and composed, protect the ball, and use crisp footwork.