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Basketball Decision Making: Recognizing and Creating Opportunities to Drive

When it comes down to winning basketball games, decision making (team/individual IQ) is a huge determining factor. If a player can improve their decision making, they can improve both their play and the play of their team.

In this series, we'll explore the thought process in a wide range of game situations. A player can practice these game situations by themselves and they should always remember to visualize defenders and teammates while working on the timing of their reads/decisions.

Driving the Basketball - Overview

Driving the ball is something many players want to be able to do, but have a hard time with beating their defender, getting past gap defenders, making decisions when they do get through the perimter defense and a help defender cuts them off, or maybe all three. Players who have a natural speed advantage should spend a lot of time working on penetrating, getting into the paint, and passing/decision out of their drive. They should have an understanding of:

1) How to anticipate and see opportunities to drive early, and how to create driving lanes when they're not there.

3) Passing when the defense helps on you (i.e. post defender help giving us the dump-down option, helpside defender leaving the opposite wings open for a basketcut or spacing for a corner/wing kickout, Gap defender opening the kickout or backdoor)

4) Secondary moves to get by help side (jumpstop into a ball fake, Euro-step, counter move etc.)

In this first post we'll focus on reading/creating drive opportunities.

Recognizing & Creating Opportunities to Drive

A player's best opportunities to drive are usually on attacking closeouts. Teams force players into closeout situations by moving the ball quickly and getting full reversals. This makes players have to move back and forth between 'on-ball' and 'help' so they're constantly closing out and spending energy.

1) Wing spots will have great opportunities to attack closeouts on nearly every quick reversal. Use a shot fake or a jab on good closeouts. If the closeout is not a good one and the player is out of control (i.e. too aggressive or they jump stop into it instead of chopping their feet) then the drive should be immediate, with no fakes.

2) Top spots will have to be quick to drive against gap defenses and will have to make an early read on their defender and their gap defenders before their catch and while squaring up. Use a non-dribble move like a pass/shot fake or jab step to freeze the defense. Dribble needs to be kep low through the gap if it's tight space, anticipate defenders reaching.

3) High Posts will catch with their back to the basket and should look to attack off of their 'Face-up'. If they feel an aggressive defender on their back right after the catch, they'll lower their level and front pivot away from whichever side they're feeling the most pressure and drive hard right off the front pivot. If they catch and they're defender is not on their back, they should reverse pivot on their inside foot while reading where their defender is. If he's on the outside, they'll continue off the reverse pivot right into their middle drive. If he's middle, they'll reverse pivot into a hard rip/jab middle, and then drive straight down the lane-line. If he's sagging off it will be a jumper or a great shot fake to draw him into the air.


Player Instructions when working on game scenarios and decision making: First of all, ywork on just one situation with one decision at a time. Give it enough full speed reps and it won't take long before it starts to feel like a natural read and easy decision. You can then change the defense's reaction in your mind and work on a new decision. Maybe it's the same situation, but this time the help defender is more aggressive, or you get doubled on the baseline drive instead of just cut off (be creative but use realistic scenarios based off what you've experienced in your games). Take as much time as you need before each new situation and visualize every defender and how they're playing. If you do this properly, and play at game speed, you'll realize a couple of things: First, there's not much room for thinking about shooting and passing mechanics, or looking at your dribble if you're going to be a high IQ player. This is why skill work is so important and should be combined with IQ work. Second, you'll notice the games getting much easier and 'slowing down' because you've prepared and been through these scenarios.

Here's a Real Life Example: The player is a very quick quard who can usually beat his defender but has trouble knowing what to do next against help defenders once he beats his man. He also has trouble using his quickness effectively when he faces gap defenses.

So, he talked to his coach and received the following advice:

1) When facing disciplined gap defenses, make quicker drive decisions. Anticipate whether the gap will be open on the pass and see it on the square-up. This will help identify the best opportunities earlier. When a defense is playing in deny, a player can take longer to read and pick their spots to drive. When teams play gap, a player should attack while the defense is still jumping to the ball. This means quick ball movement and quick attack decisions.

2) Set-up the drive with jab steps, pass fakes, and shot fakes more often. Players don't have the luxury to use an East-West probing dribble or banana cut their drive; they must be able to get by their man with the 1st dribble on a hard line to the basket. If they freeze the defense with a good fake before your dribble, most of the time it will help you get by your defender on the 1st dribble.

With this in mind, the first scenario the player comes up with is designed to simulate the team he hates playing against the most. A team that plays extremely aggressive on ball and has very disciplined, athletic wing defenders who can both guard the gap and put pressure on the passing lane. Before he starts repping it out, he takes a few minutes to fully visualize the game situation he's working on and how the defense will react. Here's the defense jumping to the ball as he receives the pass.

Right, now the player is solely focusing on how to get his drive against gap defenders. For all situations, he's using a big self-spin (with the ball) from the side to simulate the game pass across the top from his teammate. He's also taking his coach's advice and visualizing his defender and the gaps jumping to the ball as he squares up and working on specific scenarios bsed on this. He's visualizing people aggressively poking at the ball and slapping his arms as he's hitting his driving lane.

Some examples of his different scenarios:

A) His defender does not jump back to on-ball in time, and he has a drive immediately off of the catch and rip. He can work on a variety of secondary reads (i.e. counter moves, Euro steps, post dump-downs, wing kickouts) when he gets good at anticipating and attacking his drive opportunities.

B) His defender gets back to the ball and he needs to freeze him with an explosive jab step to set up his drive opposite.

C) The jab step is working and now his defender has gone for it a couple of times. Now it's time to jab, then sell the shot fake, then drive visualizing the defender slightly leaving his feet but recovering slightly behind him on his hip.

D) The defense is really disciplined at jumping to the ball while the ball is in the air (just like they should) so now maybe the player will use a great pass fake to try and shift the opposite gap into help or the strong side gap back to ball before ripping and driving.

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