Everybody wants to play with a good passer. It might be fun occasionally to have an elite scorer on your team, or to have an electrifying dunker. But, everyone loves to play with a great passer. A player who is a great passer makes his teammates better players. He gets the ball to the right guy, in the right situation, in a position for them to make a play or score. Coaches love great passers. A guy who doesn’t turn the ball over and makes his teammates better, what more could a coach ask for? Don’t think this only applies to point guards either; everybody needs to learn to be a good passer. There have been many big men through the years who were strong, could rebound, and could dominate a 1-on-1 post match-up. But when big games came, and they were double-teamed in the post, they turned the ball over and became irrelevant.
The basics of passing are similar to the basics of shooting, dribbling, and defense. Players must maintain balanced, have vision, touch, and awareness. And just like each of the skills mentioned before…they take practice to develop.
Stance and Vision: You will pass out of a variety of scenarios depending on your position and circumstances you are confronted with; while on the dribble, facing the hoop in triple threat, inbounds pass, back to the basket in a post-up, and many more. Throwing a post-entry pass from the wing is much different than a full-court baseball pass on a buzzer beater inbounds, but a couple things are always constant: You should try to always stay balanced and always have your head up surveying the floor.
Protect the ball: Learning to use your body and footwork to shield passes, and learning to use pass fakes are both required. If you don’t learn how to do these things, you turn the ball over and will be sitting at the end of the bench. Keep your body between a defender when making a pass, step around a defender to pass, or use a pass fake in the opposite direction of where you actually intend to pass to get the defender out of your way.
Make the easy pass: Not every pass needs to lead to a basket, and not every pass needs to be on a highlight film. In fact, it is often the pass THAT LEADS to a pass that results in an easy basket. A good passer can see that if they pass to the guy at the top of the key, he will be able to feed it into the post at a better angle (but if you passed it…the D might pick it off). Here is an easy rule of thumb…if you aren’t sure if the ball can fit through a gap, or you aren’t sure if they can catch the ball, DON’T THROW IT.
Note – we call these passes where you aren’t sure about the result “50-50 passes”.
Shorten the pass: Long passes are dangerous…period. The longer the ball is in the air, the more time the defense has to react and make a play on it. Try to minimize the amount of long cross-court passes thrown, and be careful on long skip passes. If you need to, there is nothing wrong with taking one or two dribbles toward your teammate before passing.
Learn to do it with both: Learn to throw crisp passes with both your left and right hand. Passing the ball with your outside hand gives you extra space from your defender to deliver a good pass.
Take it to the next level
Know your teammates: There is a 3 on 1 fast-break. The 3 offensive players include: the point guard (who has the ball), an undersized 2-guard who is a good long range shooter, but weak finisher, and a 3-time all-conference power-forward. If you are the point-guard, who should you be looking to get the ball to on the fast break? The answer is obviously the all-conference player…but you would be surprised how many times this doesn’t happen. The point guard should dribble to the same side as the 2-guard, creating a 2 on 1 fast break. Then, reading the defense, he should try to get the defender to come out and guard them, then get the ball to the power forward.
Taking it a step further…say the power forward is 6’8” tall. When a player is that tall, it can be pretty tough for them to catch a low bounce pass, so the point guard should try to get him an air pass or lob pass.
Read the defender: If you are trying to make a post entry pass, and the defender is fronting the post, you obviously don’t want to use a bounce pass or chest pass. Know where the defender is, and lob it over his head. A similar situation would be in a pick in roll…If the defender looks to be straight up and will attempt to pick off a lob or high chest pass…use a bounce pass.
Basketball is filled with these types of situations, and it takes a lot of practice, scrimmages, games, and reviewing game film to fully understand what you do right, and what you do wrong. If your team scores, think about why you scored. Was it a good pass? Did the player catch the ball in an easy position to score? If you don’t score, what went wrong? Was the pass intercepted or dropped? If someone misses a shot, was it because they had to move to catch a pass and lost their balance before they shot? If you learn to spot these things quickly, they will become easy problems to correct.