Reinforcing fundamental movements on offense By Chris Wellman, North Idaho College, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

A couple years ago, I decided to coach a young girls basketball team. I was happy to see that these kids were athletic, eager to learn, and understood the value of teamwork.

basketball passing fundamentals
Photo: Nate Pesce, Flickr

Defensively, they were strong, playing a switching man-to-man defense. Our offense was limited by a lack of perimeter shooters. If we were going to score, it would come from lay-ins and getting the ball to shooters 8 to 16 feet from the hoop. But we would not get high-percentage shots without better passing and receiving skills.

Rather than spending practice time on plays, we drilled to improve our passing, receiving and decision-making on offense. I referred to our offense as “the passing game.”

‘The Passing Game’

There are seven important principles for teaching the passing game.

  1. Players get in immediate triple-threat position after receiving a pass. The body must be balanced, and the player’s dominant hand and elbow are behind the ball for quick release of the shot or pass. Practice pivots are necessary to protect the ball and pass under defensive pressure.
  2. Learn to recognize the defender’s position within the passing lane, and how and where can you move to become an open receiver.
  3. See the floor, with the eyes up constantly.
  4. Work to understand good spacing on offense.
  5. Maintain composure when passing under defensive pressure. Move the ball in a vertical plane.
  6. Put up a hand target to indicate you are an open receiver.
  7. Move into or toward the ball on most passes.

Periodically test players on their abilities to demonstrate and explain these skills and positions:

  • Triple-threat.
  • Passing lane.
  • Defensive denial.
  • High post, low post.
  • Front, reverse, rip pivots.
  • Blocking out on rebounds.
  • Screen and roll.
  • Read the floor.
  • V-cuts, backdoor cuts.

1-on-1 closeout drillPlayers must constantly improve. Here are seven drills that will develop their skills.

1-on-1 closeout

DIAGRAM 1: The purpose of this drill is for the offensive players (O) to recognize the defender’s proximity and choose to shoot or drive to the hoop.

The defender (X) stands on the baseline and passes the ball to the offensive player, who immediately gets into a triple-threat position. The offensive players must quickly decide if they will shoot or drive to the hoop. The offense is allowed five seconds to score.


keep away no dribble drillKeep away, no dribble

DIAGRAM 2: This drill is designed to improve passing and receiving without a turnover.

  » ALSO SEE: ‘Offense Wins’ drill teaches movement without the ball

Two teams of three or four players are set up in the half court, and the teams take turns being on offense for 20 seconds. Emphasis must be on immediate triple-threat position for receivers, pivots, hard passes, movement and seeing the floor.


wisconsin passing drill‘Wisconsin Pass Drill

DIAGRAM 3: This helps players develop the ability to pass under tight defensive pressure.

Divide players into groups of three. Two offensive players (O) face each other about 12 feet apart. The third player (X) acts as a defender between the offensive players. The two offensive players attempt to pass the ball back and forth with the defender up close, trying to deflect the ball.

Emphasize the triple-threat, correct pivots, vertical ball fakes and composure. Switch positions every 40 seconds.


man in the middle basketball drill‘Man in the Middle’

DIAGRAM 4: The purpose is to practice reading the defense, strong pivots and ball fakes.

Divide players into groups of five, one ball. Each group forms a small circle, players 8 feet apart. One player is positioned in the middle of the circle as a defender. The defender scrambles to steal or deflect the ball as it is passed around the circle. Switch defenders every 45 seconds.

Make sure to emphasize ball fakes, quickly reading the defense, hand targets and hard passes.


2-on-1 no dribble basketball drill2-on-1, no dribble

DIAGRAM 5: This drill allows players to practice passing and cutting to the hoop. It also helps them read the defense, post up and improve shot selection.

Two offensive players try to score on one defender. No dribble is allowed and the defender works hard to get the ball. The offense has 10 seconds to score and may shoot multiple times if the defender does not get the ball.


3-on-2 no dribble basketball drill3-on-2, no dribble

DIAGRAM 6: The purpose of this drill is to find the open receiver, read the defense, and get a high-percentage shot.

Three offensive players work against two defenders. The offensive players practice passing the ball until they get a good open shot. Live play continues until the offense scores or the defense gets possession of the ball.

Focus on reading the defense and moving to the open space.


2-on-1 screen and roll basketball drill2-on-1, screen and roll

DIAGRAM 7: The purpose here is to practice the correct form, along with the use and recognition of screens.

Two offensive players practice screen and rolls on one defender. Decisions to shoot or pass are dependent on reading the defense. Check to see that the screener is seeing the ball as they roll correctly with a hand target. Players change positions after a score.

Coaches can create other drills that involve reading the defense and players trying to make correct decisions on offense. At the same time, players work on defensive fundamentals and rebounding.

The passing game is an effective system for teaching fundamental offensive basketball movements. The system promotes teamwork and spacing of players. It is useful for learning more complicated offensive systems. Players develop more self-confidence on offense with practice in reading the floor and making their own decisions.





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