As a basketball player, ball-handling ability should be one of your top priorities. Great ball-handling skills reduce turnovers and can even create more opportunities to score. While ball-handling comes naturally to some players, it can be a challenge for others. A taller player must also have expert ball-handling ability to prevent turnovers.
If you really want to become a complete package, try focusing on your ball-handling ability in addition to the other fundamentals. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can improve your ball-handling skills:
Practice, Practice and Practice Some More
Okay, this one seems extremely obvious but like they say: Common sense is not so common. If you’d like to improve your ball-handling skills, spend time on the court practicing your ball-handling specifically. Before hitting the court, make sure to stretch and warm up to prevent injury. Basketball takes its toll on the knees, so if you have sore or unstable joints, look into purchasing a knee brace.
Try dribbling up and down the perimeter of the court while looking ahead, not down at the ball. Get into the habit of dribbling the ball while looking ahead. When you’re in the middle of a game, a defender will be directly ahead of you and they should be your main focus. Defenders aside, you also want to be able to scan the court and see what your teammates are doing and respond accordingly. Also, be sure that you are dribbling the ball against the tips of your fingers as opposed to your palm. You will have much better control of the ball this way.
Mix it up a little bit. Try dribbling and switching hands or focus on one hand while holding your other hand behind your back. After some time practicing simple dribbling with each hand, try walking dribbling up and down the court and switching hands frequently. Practicing these transitions will be useful during a game situation. Once you are comfortable with switches and dribbling with each hand, put it all together and pick up the pace by performing sprints up and down the court while dribbling the basketball. Sprinting causes pretty serious muscular soreness, as it is an intense anaerobic exercise. Be sure to wear your compression gear for this drill.
After practicing dribbling on your own, it’s time to practice with some defensive pressure. Grab a partner and work on dribbling up and down the court while your partner actively attempts to steal the ball from you. An aggressive defender risks colliding with the ball-handler, so make sure both players wear mouthguards to avoid injury.
To make things a little bit more interesting, try to score a layup on either end of the court. Focus on ball-handling, as opposed to scoring, but your focus should be more on how using good ball-handling ability creates opportunities for easy baskets. If your practice is paying off, the easy baskets will follow.
The ‘Double Pound’
Once you are comfortable dribbling up and down the court, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Try using two basketballs. Being able to multitask and dribble both balls will teach hand-eye coordination and improve your ball-handling ability. After learning how to dribble two balls simultaneously, handling one should be a cinch.
Part of good ball-handling is preventing turnovers. A turnover will be less likely to occur if you dribble the basketball forcefully and with good speed, as the opponent’s window of opportunity to swat the ball away is much smaller. Defenders will have a harder time finding their mark if their target is moving quickly.
Growth happens when we escape from our comfort zone. If you play team ball and are assigned to a position that requires less ball-handling, such as power forward or center, you would benefit from switching roles to point or shooting guard. Granted, this tactic wouldn’t go over very well in a league, but if you play pickup games, then try to switch things up and venture out of your regular role. Playing the guard position will require you to become more adept at ball-handling.
It may seem like you’re setting yourself up to fail, but this is exactly what you want. Take every mistake as a learning opportunity. If the defender is able to force a turnover, make sure to take a mental note of what caused the turnover and then strive to not repeat those mistakes. Take it all as a learning experience. We often learn more from our failures than we do from our victories.
Master the Crossover
The crossover is a great ball-handling trick which can be used to mislead your defender and create openings. The world saw an excellent example of this on March 12, 1997, when the rookie Allen Iverson had blown by his defender with a crossover…who happened to be none other than Michael Jordan. Jordan is possibly the greatest basketball player of all time, so to have the rookie Iverson leave him in the dust like that was a pretty special moment. This is just one example of the power of the crossover, but there are many out there. Many great point guards like Tim Hardaway and Chris Paul use the crossover to blow past the defense and get to the painted area for some easy points.
The crossover is also great for preventing turnovers. A pesky defender will continuously swat at the ball to force a turnover. If you learn to time your crossovers well, you can perform a crossover as the defender swats the ball and that should create an opening for either a jump shot, a pass or a drive to the basket.
There are many variations of the crossover that come in handy, too, such as a crossover behind the back. Practice the crossover and its variations and know when to use one over the other, which again you will learn by application and practice.