We ALL were WRONG when we first learned how to pass the basketball!
What did we all learn first?
How to make a PERFECT chest pass!
Then, a PERFECT bounce pass.
We ALL remember the checklist for both chest and bounce passes:
- Put your legs and chest into it!
- Put backspin!
- Shape your hands like a diamond!
- Bounce it two-thirds of the way there (obviously only for bounce passes)!
But let’s be honest.
Are you EVER going to have the time to make a “perfect” pass in the game?
Let me prove my point…
I tracked how many two-handed chest passes were made in over six minutes of an NBA game.
Guess how many two-handed chest passes were made?
Only six! Out of at least 30 passes thrown. And ALL the chest passes were used ONLY to initiate the half-court offense.
The NBA players NEVER threw a chest pass when they tried to get their teammate a bucket!
I have also tracked passes for college, high school and youth games. And I find the 2-hand chest pass is one of the least frequently used passes!
So why do most players and coaches spend the majority of the time practicing the “2-handed chest and bounce pass” when they happen so rarely in games???
If there were NO defenders, yes the perfect 2-handed chest pass would be the ideal choice!! But with defenders out there, and in todays game where most defenses extend farther out trying to dictate, that pass is very rarely an option.
Here’s what YOU should do instead…
At the end of the day, the goal of passing is just to get the basketball from point A to point B. Against defensive pressure, you MUST learn how to pass the ball when pressured – you will NOT be able to make a perfect pass most of the time.
So what’s the fastest and most accurate way to get there?
In addition to the basic chest pass, learn these four types of passes that WILL get your teammate the ball on time and on target:
- One-Handed Push
- The Pocket Pass
- Dribble handoff
You will use these four passes MUCH more often against defensive pressure.
But so many times, you tried making these passes but they have led to turnovers.
Why is that?
Learn how to make those passes!
Pass #1: The Push Pass
The push pass will help you get the ball to where it needs to go against pressure. You will often need to make this pass to initiate your half-court offense when you first pass it to the wing from the top of the key.
Here are some tips before practicing the push pass:
- Control the ball with your fingers BEFORE you pass the ball
- Take a dribble towards your intended target before making the pass
- Use your opposite shoulder and hip to shield your defender from guarding the passing lane
- “Post” up your man before making the pass to control the passing angle
- Pass the ball a few inches higher than where you want the ball to go (at first, your push passes will be too low)
But what about when you’re NOT setting up the offense?
You can also use the push pass while breaking a full-court press and/or pushing the ball in transition if you do not have enough time to bring your off arm over to make a chest pass. And against pressure in your half court offense:
As a rule of thumb, you want to make a one-handed pass to throw it to a teammate on the same side (to get the ball out of your hands more quickly); make a two-handed chest pass if you are passing it to the opposite side (for extra power and touch).
Pass #2: The Pocket Pass
Sometimes, there will be too much traffic to make a pass in the air. Or too little time to make a two-handed bounce pass.
So what do you do?
Make a pocket pass!
You will almost always use the pocket pass while dishing it to your teammate for an easy layup.
Because the whole point of the pocket pass is to pass the ball between the pocket of defenders to your teammate.
Unfortunately, your coach may not like the “flashy” aspect of the one-handed bounce pass.
But almost no coach will complain if the ball is on time and on target.
Let me explain how to make a strong one-handed bounce pass.
It’s the exact same way you make a strong two-handed bounce pass.
The fundamentals remain the same, such as:
- Putting both hips and legs into it!
- Slightly winding your arm and shoulders back to generate backspin (or the sidespin needed if the passing angle is very complex)
- Placing the ball on the floor approximately two-thirds of the way to the intended target
As always, use your eyes to fake the defender. If needed, put your hip on your man to create a better passing angle.
In other words, the guy collapsing on you is leaving the guy moving away from you open.
Another tip: take a glance at where your intended target is but still keep your eyes at the basket. You fake out defenders most often not by moving your arms but by keeping your eyes on the hoop.
Pass #3: The Overhead Pass
You will almost always need to use the overhead pass when:
- Throwing a skip pass against a zone
- Passing the ball to the middle against a zone press or half-court trap
- Splitting the middle and side zone defenders when passing the ball to a teammate on the opposite block
But if you have yet to put the ball on the floor, you can also use the overhead bounce pass to hit a teammate cutting to the basket in stride even if you are 25 feet away from the basket.
Lakers center Marc Gasol is known for his overhead bounce passes to find cutters – who would otherwise not be open if he elected to make a traditional bounce pass.
Pass #4: The Handoff
If you watch an NBA game, you will see almost as many handoffs as you would in an NFL football game.
There are two scenarios where the handoff will most likely come from in an NBA game:
- A stationary post player at the elbow
- A guard dribbling on the perimeter to set up a dribble drive
Given how many offenses require dribble handoffs, mastering HOW to handoff the ball to a teammate is crucial to becoming a great passer.
So the key is to read the defense as you are handing off to your teammate.
Oftentimes, there are three scenarios that arise out of a dribble handoff:
- If your teammate’s defender is over-helping on you, dribble into HIS man and pitch it back to him for an open shot.
- If your teammate’s defender is anticipating the handoff, tell your teammate to slip the handoff and cut hard to the basket.
- If your man is anticipating the handoff and is switching onto your man, fake the handoff and attack the basket.
Perfecting when and how to use the dribble handoff is going to up your total by AT LEAST two assists per game.
Basketball has changed dramatically over the years, as has learning how to pass the basketball. Instead of just practicing basic chest and bounce passes, prioritize learning these four passes to elevate your playmaking skills and make your teammates score easily.
Your teammates will thank you later!
I have been preaching the perfect pass is the one that is received and controlled where the passer wanted it to be. When doing coaching clinics I tell this apperent fib…”The only time a chest pass is the right pass is after the other team scores.”
Hey Eric. Thanks for the comment. I like the quote about how the only time to make a chest pass is right after the other team scores. The only pass that can be defined as “perfect” is one that results in when our team scores.
Out of curiosity, where do you do your coaching clinics?
You don’t by chance know of any longer term tracking on what percentage of pass types are used (particularly in NBA)? I’d like additional objective information on what effort is worth applying to practicing each pass type, buy I’ve been unable to find any so far. Thanks!
Hi Kobie – I could not find a definitive metric to chart specific types of passes thrown per game. The total number of passes per game does not necessarily correlate to total wins, however. It is the intent and purpose of these passes that matter most (e.g. Golden State always moves the ball with purpose).
I would emphasize one-handed chest/bounce passes off the dribble as those will be the most commonly made passes at any level. Handoffs and backhand passes are also worth spending time on.
Speaking of the NBA, Nikola Jokic led the league in total passes thrown per game this season (besides Zavier Simpson, who only played 4 games this season). I would estimate that 5% of Jokic’s passes are a traditional chest pass. Most of his passes are either one-handed passes off the dribble or backhand passes to backdoor cutters when he is at the high post.
Perhaps this link will help.