Learning To Be An Effective Off-Ball Player
Depending on your team’s offense and the position that you play, it’s not hard to believe that you might not have the ball very often. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to assume that you won’t. If all positions shared the ball equally, then you’d still only have the ball a modest 20% of the time — however, that’s hardly ever the case. Typically, point guards can hold the ball for the majority of a shot clock and power forwards and centers that get the ball in the low-post hardly ever pass up a shot. So where does that leave you?
To grow and mature as an aspiring basketball player at any level, you must, absolutely, no excuses, learn to play without the ball in your hands. Go down to your local pick-up court or low-level game and you’ll probably see much of the same thing anywhere you go: people standing around waiting for something to happen. Ball-watching is a criminally common mistake that players of all ages make — why wouldn’t you want to watch your teammate? It often leads to stagnant offenses and poor shot selection, which is a completely avoidable fate if the non-handling players commit to moving without the ball.
Zig + Zag
The best course of action? Work to get open for easy passes and scoring opportunities. Depending on the offense you run, you may have specific sets, but work to keep moving. Run V-Cuts to keep your defender honest, look for the opportunity to go back door, and set off-ball screens to free up your teammates. Make the defense work, whether they are in zone or man defense. Keep an eye on the ball because you may make a move that allows you to get an open shot. Too often, players make a great cut, but don’t look for the ball and the pass is never made.
Maintain spacing on the floor to limit the defense’s chances for an easy double team or steal. Keeping your head on a swivel to know where the ball and your teammates are is key to proper spacing. But make sure you don’t forget to talk to your teammates!
Post-Up, Not Stand-Still
Post players should first work to seal their defender and get in a post-up position. Be sure to not camp out in the lane and get a three second violation by sliding to the short corner, up to the elbow, or even setting an off-ball screen for another player operating in the post.
Be ready to jump in after loose balls and never become a player that doesn’t hustle. If a teammate loses his or her dribble or gets double teamed be quick to slide to them and help relieve ball pressure.
Know your teammates tendencies, like where and how they like to shoot. This will allow you to be ready to crash the boards, especially if you’re on the off-ball side of the floor. This is a great way to pick up some extra rebounds and shot opportunities. If you’re on the ball-side of the floor during a shot, quickly start sliding back into your defensive set to eliminate the fast break. If your team gets the rebound, get back on offense and be ready to shoot if the opportunity arises.
Monkey See, Monkey Play like The Spurs
If you’ve never seriously watched the San Antonio Spurs play basketball, then, honestly, you’ve never truly lived. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and a handful of other Spurs’ players have made the last fifteen years of professional basketball an art-form.
They’ve got big-time shooters, legendary Hall of Famers, and historical play-makers, but, above everything else? They have a team. They have fifteen guys every year that commit to playing hard and putting in the effort they need to make a deep playoff run. These tendencies most certainly include their ability to change the game while off-ball. If you ever think you’re moving enough, check out this video and get re-motivated. Who knows, it could be your backdoor cut that wins the game for your team — and, at the very worst, it won’t do anything negatively, unlike those who stand still. Simply put, the Spurs should be the model for every team in the world — from youth levels, through high school and beyond; never stop moving!
(Related: Read about being an effective point guard here.)
In the end, not all offensive players must have the ball in their hands to be effective. In fact, for teams like San Antonio, their players are usually more dangerous without it — a truly special distinction. Use these basketball tips to stay active and improve not only how you play offense, but the overall efficiency of your team. If you’re still struggling with your off-ball game, consider booking one of CoachUp’s private trainers to help you out. Our team’s extensive knowledge and hours logged in the gym will help you get on the right track in no time — what are you waiting for?
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