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How To Play Off-The-Ball At A Young Age

Everyone wants to be the guy with the ball in the closing seconds.

However, after watching many great teams, I’ve realized that too many

of these “players” can have a significant negative impact for the team

overall. With this understanding, it’s not difficult to conclude that young

players need to develop the ability to play basketball without the ball in

their hands. There are so many situations throughout each game where

this comes into play.

Always Ready

MMA athlete and current UFC star Conor McGregor once said, “I stay

ready so I don’t have to get ready.” Although MMA is much different

than basketball, this concept of always being ready doesn’t change. Both

sports require you to make decisions quickly. This idea relates perfectly

to being a better off the ball player. Even when you don’t have the ball in

your hands, you need to constantly be moving and working. When

players start standing around, the offense quickly becomes stagnant.

Unfortunately, this happens far too often at the youth level. Young

players don’t see a need to move around if they don’t possess the

basketball. Whether you’re an outside shooter, a rebounder or a mid-

range player, keep working and stay ready!

Wings/Guards: Roll Off Screens

When I make the claim that players need to play better off-the-ball, this

statement has different implications for various types of players. I’ll

start off with wings and guards. One of the best actions they can do is

run off screens. In doing so, make sure you run off the screen so there is

no space between yourself and the screener. This will ensure you create

enough space from the defender. Then immediately after running off the

screen, get your head up and create an open passing option for the ball

handler. As I mentioned earlier, stay ready!

A second piece of advice is to cut at different speeds. You don’t want to

create an environment where your defender knows where and how

you’ll cut. This is easy to defend against! Always try faking them out by

taking a step one way before sprinting off a screen. In the end, from each

of these recommendations, the central interlocking element is this idea

that you must be constantly be moving.

Keep in mind that after you receive the pass, you’ll need to be thinking

about getting a shot off if you manage to get open. This video from

former NBA assistant coach, Hal Wissel teaches the basics on shooting

off the catch.

Bigs: Set Screens

Due to the nature of the position, bigs are often asked to set screens for

the wings and guards. Often times, it will result in opportunities for the

cutters and not the screener. All of this goes back to the concept of doing

actions for the greater good of the team. In the terms of the actual

screening process, make sure you stand firm and avoid falling victim to

a moving screen turnover. This will quickly draw the ire of your coach!

Sometimes, the screening process will result in chances for the actual

screener. In these, you may set a screen and then roll. Think of a pick-

and-roll offense here. In order to be effective with this, bigs need to

work on catching the ball, putting a dribble or two down and shooting

the ball. Conversely, it can be useful to take a step back to the three-

point line before executing a catch-and-shoot situation. Again, as was

the case with the wings, you need to always be on the move and ready

to make a play.

Frequent Cuts

As I alluded to earlier, one of the biggest downfall for teams can be too

much stagnation. Players are just standing around and the ball handler

doesn’t have any open passing lanes to find a teammate. Frequent cuts

can eliminate this detriment. When cutting, keep in mind that the ball

handler might not always see you when you get open. Don’t let this get

in your head and affect your game, just keep working and fighting out

there. This is particularly important at the youth level. Young players

might start to get frustrated when the point guard fails to see them

when they’re wide open. Rather than letting this frustration boil, go and

tell your point guard where to look, in what might be a soft spot in the


Better Chemistry Amongst Teammates

Teams filled with players willing to play off-the-ball often possess great

chemistry in the locker room. Even at the youth level, every team will

probably have one or two players that are slightly more talented than

the rest. However, not everyone will possess the skills to handle the ball

a lot and distribute it amongst their teammates. This is why I sort-of

consider great off-the-ball players to be terrific role players. They

understand their role and are always willing to do whatever it takes to

come out of a game with a win. Although, some great off-the-ball players

are truly stars (think of Rip Hamilton, who will be discussed later), you

need everyone on the court to be willing to be a great off-the-ball player.

When players are playing for the greater good of the team, they start to

enjoy playing with each other since there is a greater sense of equality

amongst their teammates.

Rip Hamilton Example

In all my years watching nearly every level of basketball, one player I’ve

always loved evaluating is Richard “Rip” Hamilton. The former Detroit

Piston NBA Champion was a dynamite scorer, amassing a 17.1 scoring

average over his 14-year NBA career. A lot of these points came from

the topics I’ve discussed above. When playing with the Pistons, he had a

point guard in Chauncey Billups who had great vision of the court.

Hamilton was always rolling off screens and creating passing

opportunities for Billups. Upon receiving the pass, Hamilton wouldn’t

hesitate to pull up mid-range for the jumper. You’ll likely never find a

better mid-range shooter than Rip.

Keep Moving!

Playing off the ball ultimately boils down to always being on the move.

Defenses are going to look to get in a rhythm to where they are always

in the right place. Conversely, offenses want to disrupt this and keep

them thinking. Whether you’re a forward, center or guard, there is

always something to be doing. For young players, acquiring this skill

and knowledge can pay serious dividends as you progress in your

basketball career.

Other recommended offensive courses:

Fundamentals & Finishing by Dave Severns

Great Pick & Roll Plays with Lason Perkins

Guard/Wing Workout featuring Coach Rob Moxley