Basketball on the Edge – 11 Passing Tips Every Player Should Know

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Passing may be the most underrated skill in the game of basketball. Players spend hours working on their shooting and ballhandling, but even the best players spend very little time working on passing in comparison to other skills. Why is that? I think it is because passing is hard to work on in a drill. Game-like reps are where passing skills improve as players become better at understanding where passes should be going. We know it’s an important skill. Coaches talk to players all the time about being unselfish both as individuals and as a team. Teams that are unselfish usually win more games than teams filled with ball hogs and players that love to dribble. Here are some passing tips that will help you develop this underrated skill.

1. Make the easy pass.

This is so simple and yet so critical at all levels of basketball. If players would just pass the ball to the open man, their teams would be so much more successful. Instead of trying to thread the needle with a “great” pass through traffic to a teammate under the basket that has a 20% chance of being completed make a pass to the next available teammate that is open. If you can train yourself to pass to the open man you will be a better passer than most players.  Sure, there are some “gifted” passers that take risks and get fancy with a lot of success (think Magic Johnson), but even those players are masters of the easy pass.

2. Work on passing under game conditions.

Those “gifted” passers that I just mentioned? I would be willing to bet that they spent time (a lot of time) when they were young playing in games where they focused on passing the ball. There is no substitute for knowledge and experience when it comes to knowing when and where to pass the ball. Don’t always focus on scoring when you play, sometimes concentrate and focus on passing. Spend an entire pick-up game or drill in practice just trying to keep the ball moving with passes and setting up your teammates to score.

3. When you catch the ball, look toward your basket first.

You’ll be amazed how many times a player is open up ahead of you in a full court transition situation. Or how many times a teammate is standing under the basket all alone. If you don’t look up, you’ll never be able to make the pass. Going back to Tip #1, if they are open hit them with a pass.

4. Be a willing passer.

You know this player. He catches the ball. He jab steps 8 times. He dribbles 14 times while his teammates stand and watch. He takes a terrible shot. Anyone who has ever played the game has played with someone like this. They are no fun to play with. On the other hand some players are a joy to have on your team. Every time you’re open they seem to get you the ball. They are willing to pass. Be a player that is a fun to play with – a player that shares the ball.

5. Keep throwing passes.

The best basketball advice my Dad ever gave me was, “Keep passing your teammates the ball even if they can’t catch your passes today, eventually you’ll be playing with players good enough to catch those passes.” You can’t get frustrated when a teammate drops a pass out of bounds or misses a layup after your pass. Know who you are passing to and adjust your delivery or velocity, but never stop throwing those passes.

6. Pass the ball in the opposite direction from which it came.

If you get a pass from a teammate on your right, more often than not the “correct” pass will be to a teammate on your left. Not every time, but more often than not. Why? Because the defense has to shift position when you reverse the ball. The more you can make the defense move and adjust the more likely your team is to find a quality scoring opportunity

7. Practice passing from different angles.

Pass from down by your knee, above your head, across your body, with either hand. The more places and angles you can pass from the more dangerous you will be as a passer. If you can find a partner willing to play catch you can work on all different types of passing angles and release points. I spent many hours as a kid playing catch with the basketball in my basement with my Dad. Thanks again Dad!

8. Don’t jump in the air to pass.

When you leave your feet with the basketball in your hands it should always be with the idea that you are going to shoot. If you jump thinking pass and the passing lane is closed off it is difficult to adjust and take a good shot. If you go up for a shot a teammate breaks open, the adjustment from shot to pass is much easier. Stay on your feet to pass.

9. Shorten the distance between you and the receiver.

A 10 foot pass is much less likely to be stolen than a 30 foot pass. Cut the distance between you and your teammate and you’ll complete more passes. Remember this tip when you are receiving a pass too!

10. Mix in a fake to keep the defense guessing.

Pass fakes are effective in getting a defense moving to block your pass in one space while you attack the opening created by the fake. Pass fakes are critical against a zone defense and when entering the ball into the post.

11. A good pass makes your teammates better shooters.

A pass that hits a teammate in the shooting pocket is much more likely to result in a made basket than a pass by their ankles, above their head, or behind them. Whenever you are in a drill that requires a passer, but passing is not the focus, concentrate on delivering the perfect pass in the perfect location that helps your teammate make more shots. This is great way to practice passing and get in a lot of reps.

Don’t neglect passing. Players that can pass help their teams win and get noticed by coaches and teammates. Play unselfishly, make the easy pass, and be the type of player your teammates want to play with.

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