9 Basketball Fundamentals You Need to Become a Positionless Player
There’s nothing more important for young players than improving basketball fundamentals.
To give you a sneak peak, these include fundamentals like:
Mastering these fundamentals of basketball is the key ingredient for coaches and players who want to see massive improvement.
Youth coaches should spend at least 50% of every team practice (if not more) working on these basic basketball skills.
Why It’s Important to Focus on Basketball Fundamentals
“The fundamentals of the game are the same wherever you go: pass, dribble, shoot, defend, rebound, screen, play hard and together” - Terry Stotts
Focusing on the fundamentals gives your players a solid foundation to build on as they work hard to improve their individual skills.
Here are a few examples to show you what I mean:
- Before Allen Iverson perfected the devastating “killer crossover”, he first had to learn how to execute a regular crossover.
- Before Steve Nash started dishing out mesmerising behind-the-back passes, he first had to learn how to throw a basic chest pass.
- Before Steph Curry began knocking down 30-footers from the logo he first had to learn the basics of shooting technique.
The basics MUST come first.
Also, mastering the fundamentals will greatly increase each player’s chance of experiencing future team success.
A well-rounded athlete who is competent at all 9 of the basketball fundamentals listed below will be able to slot into any team’s offense or defense and instantly be an effective player.
9 Most Important Basketball Fundamentals
“Practice habits were crucial to my development in basketball. I didn’t play against the toughest competition in high school, but one reason I was able to do well in college was that I mastered the fundamentals. You’ve got to have them down before you can even think about playing” - Larry Bird
This isn’t a full list of all basketball fundamentals.
There are other skills which are very important for all players (such as catching and cutting) that could also be included, but I’ve stuck with what I consider to be the 9 core fundamentals.
If you can help your players learn and improve each of these, I guarantee they’ll be an asset to any coach they play for.
Let’s get started…
#1 - Dribbling
One of the most important basketball fundamentals for all young players to learn and improve is their dribbling ability.
(ALL players, not just the team’s point guard)
Dribbling allows a player in possession of the basketball to move around the basketball court without getting whistled for a traveling violation.
This is important for things like:
- Penetrating to attack the hoop
- Advancing the ball up court
- Improving a passing angle
Dribbling is a great skill for young teams to work on during practice because everyone can work on it at the same time.
It’s also simple the easiest skill to work on at home since all that’s required to practice is a basketball and a flat surface.
(1) Players must strive to dribble equally well with both hands. This will dramatically increase the amount of options they have on the floor.
“I learned at a young age to dribble with both hands, and that allows me to be more creative when I go against bigger and stronger opponents” - Steve Nash
(2) It’s important to keep your head up while dribbling the ball. This allows you to scan the floor for open teammates or gaps in the defense.
(3) Start with easy dribbling moves like the crossover and the in-and-out dribble before progressing to advanced moves like through-the-legs and the spin move.
(4) Once players become capable dribblers, encourage players to think about WHEN and WHY they’re dribbling. There must be a purpose each time a player puts the ball on the floor.
#2 - Rebounding
Rebounding is the act of securing the ball after a missed shot.
This is a crucial basketball skill for every player to learn, regardless of how tall you are or what position you play.
Here’s the simple 3-step process:
As soon as the basketball leaves the shooters hands (if not before), all five defenders need to find their opponent.
Once you’ve found your opponent, seek out contact to prevent them from getting close to the rim and grabbing an offensive rebound.
The goal is to increase the space between yourself and the rim so that you have a bigger chance of the ball landing in your territory.
Finally, pursue the basketball.
Don’t wait and let the ball come to you.
Attack the basketball and secure it with two hands before anyone else has a chance to even get close to it.
(1) It’s important to teach players basic rebounding technique, but remind them that rebounding is 90% heart.
“I always laugh when people ask me about rebounding techniques. I’ve got a technique It’s called just go get the damn ball” - Charles Barkley
(2) After securing the rebound, chin the ball and make sure you have a firm grip to prevent defenders from knocking the ball loose.
(3) If you can’t dribble the ball up the floor immediately, look for a quick outlet pass to kick start your team’s offensive transition.
#3 - Shooting
Shooting is the most important skill in basketball.
It’s also something kids LOVE to work on, so ensure you block off a decent chunk of practice for players to work on their shooting.
There are two steps to developing a great shooter:
Step #1 - Technique
First, the player must learn how to shoot with correct form.
That includes things like:
- Correct hand placement
- Balanced base
- Eyes on target
- Elbow under the basketball
- Follow through
An adult who knows what they’re talking about (coach, trainer, or a knowledgeable parent) should help players with this process.
Step #2 - Repetitions
Next, the player must dedicate A LOT of time to working on their shot using the correct shooting form.
For the ambitious players who desire to become great shooters one day, this means YEARS AND YEARS of practice.
Players who are serious about improving their shot must schedule multiple shooting sessions into their calendar each week.
(1) Make sure players are using a basketball that’s the correct size for them and shooting on a hoop that’s adjusted to an appropriate height for their age. Check out Bob Bigelow’s recommendations for both here.
(2) For players to really improve, they must be shooting “games shots, from game spots, at game speed”.
#4 - Finishing
I’ve decided to include “layups / finishing” as a separate basketball fundamental from the skill of shooting.
Players must learn how to score at the rim using a variety of finishes, and most of these are very different to the technique used when shooting a regular outside jump shot.
- Regular Layup
- Underhand Layup
- Euro Step
- Off-Foot Layup
- Reverse Layup
Start with the basics (like a regular layup), and then transition to the more advanced finishes (like a euro step or reverse layup) as players develop.
It’s important to start working on layups early since 90% of the scoring in youth basketball will come from shot around the rim.
(1) Just like the skill of dribbling, players should begin to practice finishing with both their right and left hands.
(2) Players must learn how to use their body to create space to get their shot off without it getting blocked by a defender.
(3) Players will progress fastest by practicing finishing at the rim against a LIVE defender. Use a “D-Man” or a “pool noodle” as a last resort.
#5 - Passing
When most youth coaches start teaching passing, here’s what they do:
(a) They give each player a partner
(b) Set everyone up in two lines
(c) Give one of each pair a basketball
(d) Then ask players to continually pass back and forth using a series of fundamental passing techniques.
- Chest Pass
- Bounce Pass
- Overhead Pass
- One-Handed Pass
- Baseball Pass
This can be an important drill to teach very young players the absolute basics of passing technique.
You must remember that there’s more to the skill of passing than just the technique they use to throw each pass.
“What’s the other important factor?”
Reading the other players on the court and knowing when to pass, where to pass, and which pass variation to use in each situation is just as important as how your players pass the ball.
Make sure you’re working on both passing technique AND the decision making process behind the pass.
(1) One of the best ways to improve passing is to play games with the rule that players aren’t allowed to dribble. This teaches players how to get open and how to pass away from the defense.
(2) The pass fake is one of the best ways to trick a defender. Practice them with your team and teach players how to stay balanced.
(3) “The quality of the pass leads to the quality of the shot” - Pete Carill
#6 - On-Ball Defense
All basketball players must learn how to defend an opponent one-on-one.
The key goal of an on-ball defender:
Stay between your opponent and the basket at all times.
Players must learn the most effective way to defend a quick guard on the perimeter, and they must learn how to defend an opponent in the post.
The reason why is simple…
Being able to contain an opponent without the help of your teammates prevents the team’s entire defense structure from breaking down.
Once the offense can force a second defender to help, all five defenders will spend the rest of the possession scrambling to match up.
On-Ball Defense Tips
(1) Watch the chest of your opponent. Offensive players can’t fake with the middle of their body (they can with their eyes, head, feet, and the ball).
(2) Stay one arm’s length distance away from your opponent on the perimeter. This gives you enough distance to prevent them from attacking the hoop while still being in position to challenge the shot.
(3) Players should be in a low, balanced stance. With one hand mirroring the basketball and one hand in the passing lane.
#7 - Off-Ball Defense
Now let’s take a look at the other half of defense…
Defending away from the ball.
From what I’ve seen in basketball gyms around the world, the fundamentals of off-ball defense are neglected by most youth coaches.
Coaches spend a lot of time teaching on-ball defense, but they forget that players spend 80% of defensive possessions off the ball.
So, let’s talk about it.
The key to great off-ball defense is correct positioning.
As the offensive team moves the basketball around the court, the four off-ball defenders must constantly adjust their location to ensure they’re in the correct position to provide help if needed.
What the correct position is exactly will depend on the coach’s defensive philosophy (hopefully not a zone).
If the team plays man-to-man defense and a player is one pass away from the ball, they’re required to have a hand in the passing lane preventing a pass to their opponent.
While if the team plays Pack Line defense, the same defender would be asked to take a step back into the driving lane to prevent penetration.
Off-Ball Defense Tips
(1) Use the “Shell Drill” to teach off-ball positioning.
(2) Off-ball defenders must be in a low, balanced stance at all times. This allows them to provide help quickly if needed.
(3) Keep your hands wide at all time to take up space. Not only does this increase the chance of a deflection, it also discourages passes inside.
#8 - Footwork
“Footwork is one of the primary prerequisites to becoming a great player” - Coach Krzyzewski
Correct footwork is the foundation every player must build their game on.
It’s an important factor in every skill.
For shooting, footwork is important so players can use either a 1-2 step or a hop depending on what the situation calls for.
For defending, players must use correct footwork to stay in front of their opponent and prevent them from attacking the hoop.
For rebounding, the right footwork is required to box out an opponent and then explode towards the basketball.
It’s a crucial detail for all ages and levels.
Understanding how to perform a legal jump stop, stride stop, pivot, jab step, triple threat, drop step, etc, will prevent young players from committing traveling violations which all result in a turnover.
(1) Footwork is something you should pay attention to in every drill. Don’t allow players to travel during practice or they’ll do it during a game.
(2) Use the 6 Tates Locke box drills to improve each player’s individual footwork.
(3) Balance is the key to great footwork. If a player is unable to control their body, they’ll struggle to master their footwork.
#9 - Screening
Setting a screen is one of the easiest ways to give your team an advantage.
It’s a basketball fundamental that every player should start learning from a young age (but don’t overuse it at the youth level).
I’m not just talking about on-ball screens either…
Screens that are set for players who don’t have the ball are just as important to work on during team practices.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- Back Screen
- Down Screen
- Flare Screen
- UCLA Screen
- Flex Screen
(Click here for the full list of 17 basketball screens)
Your players don’t need to know all of them, but they must learn the basics of screen setting and using a screen during their youth.
(1) Sprint into the screen. This will give the ball-handler an extra second or two before the help defense gets there.
(2) Focus on the screening angle. This is the main cause of young players setting ineffective screens. Lead the offensive player to where they want to go.
(3) The players receiving the screen should never use it too early. Wait until the screener is stationary.
Finally, a Word of Warning…
There are some youth coaches who don’t allow certain players to practice the entire range of basketball fundamentals.
Instead, they only allow them to practice the fundamentals that are associated with the position the coach currently has them in.
(Example - Telling the tallest player on an U12’s team their only role is to stand under the hoop and rebound. Not allowing them to dribble)
This can lead to them lacking important skills if they’re moved into a different position in the future.
Don’t do this.
Encourage all of your players to practice all the fundamentals of basketball.