One of my main responsibilities within our program is to coordinate player development workouts. I spend a lot of time watching video and reading about drills in an attempt to always keep these workouts fresh for our players. We spend 10-15 minutes every day working on one of six different fundamental areas that play into skills work: ball handling, screening, passing, defense (positioning and closeouts), footwork/explosion, and form shooting. During this time all of our players will work on the same concepts at two or three different stations.
Later in practice we will break down into position groups and work on actual skills concepts that fit our system. We try to incorporate what we’ve done in the fundamental block into the skill work as often as possible. Many of these drills come from clinics, past coaches we’ve worked with or played for, and videos that we find online. When I first began working on player development in practice and in an individual setting, I would use the drills as I found them. My thinking was that if these drills helped other coaches who were much more successful than I was, they must be good enough for me to use. I quickly realized, however, that the reason they were successful for those coaches were that they had been designed to emphasize certain parts of a certain system of play. A shooting drill may have good action and reinforce quick ball movement, but if the shots are not applicable to our system, the drill doesn’t do my players much good.
With that in mind I’ve taken a two step approach to creating the player development drills: Imitate, then Innovate. I first heard this concept from Gannon Baker, and have since seen it employed a number of other places. The wording might not be the same, but the idea is. Imitating the drills that can be found abundantly online, at clinics, or on video is great, but you have to invest the time to make them your own in order to produce results in your system. I’m going to take a look at three drills I have imitated with our players, then explain how I took an innovative approach to adjust each to fit our needs.
The first is a drill called St. Anthony’s Tip-Ins. I saw Bob Hurley use this drill at a clinic at Rutgers University. The premise is for a line of players to stand between the free throw line and the top of the key. The first player in line throws the ball off the backboard, approaches the rim, and attempts one of a progression of tip-ins or rebounds. As soon as he’s finished, the next player repeats the drill. Each player goes through the line 2-3 times, then we switch to the next step in the progression. We practice: right-hand tips, left-hand tips, either/two-hand tips, two-hand catchàpump fakeàscore, two-hand catchàpump fakeàstep through. The final step is to catch the ball with two hands and touch it to the net. If the player is able to touch the net, he then works on slamming the ball off the rim with two hands. If he can get the ball on the rim, then the next step is to make it a put-back dunk.
(right, left, either/both, catch + score, catch + touch)
The intensity of this drill is determined by how hard the players push themselves. They can create easy rebounding opportunities and cheat the drill, or they can play at a speed and height that is a little bit uncomfortable. We constantly reinforce our players that if they want to improve they must leave their comfort zone. They need to throw the ball hard enough at the backboard that it doesn’t sit right at the rim and become an easy tip/rebound, especially for the last part.
While I really like how this drill improves hand strength and fingertip control of rebounds, it wasn’t practical for the way our team attacks the offensive glass. We want our bigs to each be on one side of the rim, with our third rebounder going to the middle. As such, we made an adjustment to the positioning of our rebounders. We place one line on the block, which is the “shooting” line and keep the other guys at the elbow. When a shot goes up, they must crash the back side of the rim and rebound there instead of coming right down the middle. We follow the same progression, with players switching lines, so that everyone goes through all of the different tips/rebounds. This allows us to get the same work on offensive rebounding, but at angles that our players are much more likely to encounter during game situations.
The next drill is designed to work on defensive positioning for a post player. I originally saw this from Coach Krzyzewski at Duke. In the drill, there is an offensive play at the point, each wing, one corner, and strong side block. The defender starts up the line with the ball at the point and defends the following actions:
- Dribble penetration from the point, recovering to his man when the ball is picked up
- Pass to the strong side wing, moving to ¾ front position
- Pass to the corner, moving to full front position
- Skip pass back to the top, moving back to up the line position
- Reversal to the weak side wing, jumping to the ball
- Denying a flash cut from the block to the mid or high post area.
1) Stop penetration middle 2) Recover to 3/4 front at wing
1) Full front in corner 2) Up the line on skip
1) Jump to ball on reversal 2) Deny flash
I like the pressure this places on the defensive player and the ability to make him adjust to what the offense is doing at a number of different angles. We position our post player differently, however, so we made some adjustments to the drill in terms of positioning, and also added some different components:
- Dribble penetration from the point, recovering to man when the ball is picked up
- Pass to the wing, defender gets to low side by working over the top of man, not under
- Pass to the corner, defender stays on low side and maintains contact with man
- Dribble penetration baseline from corner, defender must help outside of the lane, then recover
- Pass back to wing, play on low side
- Ball screen for wing, defender must hedge hard – OR
- Reversal to point, defender works underneath to get back to up the line without being sealed out
- Reversal to opposite wing, defender jumps to the ball
- Defend a cut – block to block, flash, L-cut – and play 1 v 1 if a catch is made.
Again, we are using the shell of a drill that has proven successful for other programs, but made tweaks to it in order to make it applicable for our style of play and our rotations defensively.
1) Stop penetration 2) Work over top to baseline on pass to wing
1) Maintain contact 2) Stop baseline penetration on corner pass
1) Recover to man 2) Defend ball screen with hard hedge and recover
1) Work under to up the line position 2) Jump to ball on reversal
1) Defend cut 2) Get 1 on 1 stop
Finally, we used a drill from a video posted by Nike basketball featuring Rajon Rondo to create a transition passing drill specific to our team. In this drill, Rondo uses a set of chairs to create passing lanes and works on making a variety of passes through these chairs to a partner. You can watch the video here:
Taking the principle of designated passing lanes, we created a transition drill for our guards to work on throwing ahead to cutting teammates. One line will start with the ball behind midcourt, and the other will start at midcourt, with both players leaving at the same time. We will place a set of dribbling sticks at various spots on the floor, and tell the passer which spot he is supposed to throw the ball to, and what type of pass to use. The cutter is to run at full speed, forcing the passer to anticipate when he will arrive at the opening. We will also dictate to the cutter what type of shot he should be looking for based on where he catches the ball. For example: if the passer is throwing through first slot in Diagram 5A, the cutter will catch the ball and take one hard dribble to the baseline for a pull-up jumper.
Once again, this drill takes the base concept from another area and adjusts to help our team become better at what we run, not just a general skill.
1) Pass through 1st slot 2) Dribble pull-up
1) Pass through 2nd slot 2) Power layup
1) Pass through 2nd slot 2) Reverse layup
There are nearly limitless sources available for finding new drills to keep your practices and individual workouts fresh and up-to-date. I keep a 3-ring binder with drills that I like, and attach any tweaks I make to the original drill so that I can see what the base concept was if I ever have a question. I also keep a copy of all of our practice plans and individual workouts so that I don’t repeat the same drills too often or in the same order. Using the concept of imitate, then innovate you will find new ways to reinforce the basic concepts of both your offense and defense, in ways that engage not only your players bodies but also forces them into game like situations which will allow for more efficient and effective retention of the skills you emphasize.