Back to the Basics: Basketball Drills to Sharpen Offensive Footwork

During the season, there is never enough time for anything, let alone everything. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of team play and solid defense, individual improvement and offensive fundamentals are ignored. However, one must always go “Back to the Basics” and work on the fundamentals. Offensive sets or motion offenses are more effective when players possess solid footwork and fundamentals.

This drill builds offensive footwork, one step at a time, by working on seven concepts. Each concept is explained individually and builds in a series of repetitions. Basketball is a game of balance, control and quickness, and this drill helps players develop all three areas.

The drill starts with five lines on the baseline. On the first GO command, the first five players jump into an operational position. On the second GO command, the first five players jog to the free throw line while the second five get to an operational position on the baseline. Drill continues in this manner until every group has stopped at the free throw lines, half court and the baseline. After each stop, there will be a series of commands that teach the different concepts below. However, players must incorporate the concepts throughout the drill; Operational is the first concept, but it should be practiced for the entirety of the drill.

Players know triple threat means the ability to shoot, pass or dribble; however, when demonstrating the position, they tuck the ball on their hip away from the defense, making a shot all but impossible, and limiting the ability to pass or to attack with the dribble. Instead of trying to change a player’s perception of the triple threat position, I use the terminology “Operational.” An operational player has the ability to shoot, pass or dribble, but he has the ball in a position to enable him to do all three. The operational position is with the ball cocked in shooting position between the armpit and the shoulder and eyes on the rim. The first thing any player should do when receiving a pass is immediately position oneself to shoot; the operational position is just an extension of this philosophy.

On the initial GO command, players must get their bodies into a shooting position, with knees bent, butt down, head and eyes up and hands between the armpit and shoulder, imagining a ball in their hands.

Quick Stop
A quick stop is a two-footed stop on a one-count, either when receiving a pass or off the dribble. The feet should be wider than shoulder width, with knees bent and butt down to stop under control. The player’s head should be centered over the body; if the head gets out in front of the body, the body will follow, leaving the player off-balance or worse, traveling. A one-count stop is preferable when receiving a pass, as it allows the player to use either foot as the pivot foot, and allows a quicker shooting motion.

On the second GO command, the first five players jog (sprint) to the free throw line and execute a Quick Stop and hold the position until the next command. When they stop, they should be on balance, and should be in an Operational position. Work only on the quick stop for the entire length of the floor.

Front Pivot
A front pivot is when the player rotates in a forward direction; most coaches prefer front pivots on the perimeter because the pivot takes the player closer to the basket. When pivoting, it is important to keep 60-70% of one’s weight on the pivot foot; this helps reduce traveling, and also allows the player to push off with the pivot foot and make quicker moves. On the pivot, the player must stay low and keep her head level; the goal is to make a quick pivot; when players rise as they pivot, they are slower.

In this drill, players pivot 180 degrees. After mastering the quick stop, add a front pivot. Drill begins in the same manner, but after the player makes his quick stop, there is the added PIVOT command. Players pivot 180 degrees and wait for the next command. After they pivot again, they wait for the next GO command and continue to the next spot. Depending on time and skill and comprehension level, either work on a left foot front pivot the entire length of the floor and then a right foot front pivot the entire length of the floor, or switch the pivot feet during the drill, either by calling RIGHT FOOT PIVOT or LEFT FOOT PIVOT or by having the free throw lines be a right foot pivot, while the baselines and half court be left foot pivots.

Reverse Pivot
While the front pivot rotates forward, a reverse pivot rotates backward; this pivot is preferred when the defense is up tight against the offensive player, crowding him and making a front pivot more difficult. A reverse pivot allows the player to create some space on the pivot, while the front pivot takes the player closer to the defense. However, the idea is the same; players must stay low when executing the pivot, and must also make sure to protect the ball away from the defense.

The drill works the same for a reverse pivot as it did for a front pivot.

Drive Step
The drive step is the first step in an attacking drive to the basket. It is important that the drive step occurs with no negative, or wasted motion. Negative motion is when the player takes a step backwards in order to propel herself forward. Sprinters use the blocks to push off and explode forward; basketball players must use their pivot foot as a push foot to push forward.

Players should work to master six things on their drive step:
1. Low and long: big first step adds quickness, eliminates defender’s angle of recovery.
2. Head/eyes up: see the floor, basket.
3. Chest over knees, chin over toes: big first step.
4. Body up, body in: offensive player’s shoulder rubs past defensive player’s waist. Do not belly out.
5. Extend w/dribble: dribble out in front.
6. Knock defender’s hand away.

After the player quick stops, add the STEP command. Player step forward (no negative motion) with a big step, and check to make sure their chest is over their knees and nose over toes. The player must also take the imaginary ball out in front of his lead foot. Player holds the position until the GO command.

Jab Step
A jab step is a small, quick, hard six-inch step used to set up a move, create space or keep the defender off balance. The jab step must be long enough to make the defender believe that it is a drive step, but short enough to keep the offensive player well-balanced and enable her to take another step in the same direction. Players must stay on the ball’s of their feet, and make the fake believable. Rip the ball to knee on the jab step to fake a dribble and sell the fake.

After the quick stop, add the JAB command. Player must make a small jab step, as the next command is STEP. To avoid the travel, players must step with the same foot. If the player’s jab step is too big, she will be unable to take much of a drive step. Again, 60-70% of the player’s weight should be on the pivot, or push foot, so the player can make a quick jab and go move. Go one length of the floor with JAB, STEP and GO, and the next time with just JAB and GO. However, players must emphasize the big drive step on the JAB and GO.

Rip-Thru, Crossover Step
The rip-thru move is used to get the ball from one side of the body to the other. It is important that players rip-thru strong and quickly to protect the ball from the defense. Also, offensive players must keep the ball out of “The Box.” The Box is the middle of the body between the top of the knees and the chest; this is the area where defenders typically get their hand on the ball.

The commands for this move start the same as the previous move. In this case, the defensive player reacts to the Jab Step, where in the previous move, the defender does not react to take away the drive. So, when the defender reacts, the player must step across her body and attack away from the jab step (if the player jabs with his right foot, she will step again with her right foot, but she will step to the left of the defender). After the JAB command, the next command is RIP. Player must rip the imaginary ball from her right knee (where it should be on the jab step) below her knees and to the left side of her body and left hand. After the RIP, the next command is STEP. However, this step is taken across the body; a crossover step, as the player will be attacking with her left hand now. Then GO.

Shot Fake
The final concept to add is a shot fake. The shot fake is an upper-body fake only, as the legs must stay bent and low. If the offensive player makes a good fake and the defense goes for it, but the offensive player stands straight up as well, there is no advantage gained. So, a good shot fake takes the ball from the operational position to eye level; it is a simple six-inch fake.

The shot fake can be added anywhere through the drill, either at the end, as the final piece, or somewhere in the middle of the drill.

This drill can improve a player’s offensive skills even though there is no ball involved. Also, if time is a problem, ball handling can be incorporated in the drill by using a ball and working on weak-hand dribbling throughout the drill. However, the emphasis remains the proper footwork, enabling players to make better moves, with better balance, control and quickness.

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