Most basketball coaches ignore teaching ball handling, concentrating practice time on defense, shooting and team offense, and hoping players develop their own ball handling skills at the park or during the summer. While this may be an appropriate use of practice time, I believe basketball coaches must teach players two important moves to improve offensive play under pressure and in transition.
The first, and most important move, is the pullback crossover. This move can be used anywhere on the court and especially to defeat a trapping defense, to diffuse pressure or to create space against a quicker, aggressive defensive player. The pullback can also be used to attack the defense by luring an aggressive defender to move forward, allowing the offensive player to explode past the defense, using the defender’s momentum against him.
The basic move is a quick change of direction, from forward to backward, using the offensive player’s body to protect the ball from the defense. To execute properly, the offensive player stops his momentum by stepping forward and into the defender with his inside foot. By dribbling near the back foot, the ball handler keeps the width of his body between the defender and the ball, allowing for maximum protection. The offensive player pushes backward with his front foot, shuffling back quickly. The quicker the change of direction, the more separation occurs. Once sufficient space is created, the ball handler opens his shoulders to the court and makes a hard crossover dribble.
To teach a proper pullback, use the Baseline Shuffle Drill. Players start on the baseline and face the right sideline. Players start with a right hand protect dribble: feet wide, knees bent, butt down, eyes up and left arm as an arm bar protecting the ball. Eyes focus on the bottom of the net at the opposite end of the court. While remaining in the stance, players drive forward, pushing off with the back foot in a shuffle. After three dribbles, players plant the inside (left) foot and quickly change directions, pushing off with the front foot to shuffle backward. When the players’ back foot hits the baseline, they change directions and push forward. Repeat. After two minutes, players face the left sideline and work the left hand.
After completing the drill using both hands, add the crossover dribble. Now, when the players’ back foot hits the baseline, they execute a hard crossover dribble. They drop the front foot so feet are parallel and shoulders are directed to the rim. They remain low with eyes up. As the front foot drops, the players use a low, hard crossover. After completing the crossover, they step forward and close their stance, shuffling forward. Continue for two minutes.
When using the pullback dribble, create space with the first step and read the defense. The defense is forced to make a decision: stay back and allow the offensive player space or quickly close the gap and maintain pressure. If the defense remains back, the offense has space to comfortably dribble the ball, to find a passing lane, to attack with another dribble move or to shoot the ball if in range. If the defense attempts to close the gap, the offensive player attacks the defensive player’s momentum. As the defense leans forward, the offense picks a shoulder to attack. If using the pullback to escape a trap, pick the outside shoulder of the middle defender and attempt to turn the corner around that shoulder or look for a new passing angle to pass out of the trap.
The second move, which Jerry West believes is most important, is the in-n-out or fake crossover. Teaching the in-n-out move is difficult, especially for younger players, but it is the most effective move to use in transition, as it does not force a player to slow down; however, it is also a good move to couple with a hesitation move or to set-up another move, like a crossover dribble.
The in-n-out, in explanation, is fairly simple: while your hand remains on top of the ball, move the ball toward the center of your body, to fake the crossover, and then push the ball back toward the same side (When dribbling the ball with the right hand, the right hand will make the letter “C” while executing the in-n-out dribble). With a right hand dribble, take a small, jab step to the left as the ball moves toward the body’s center, at thigh level. Keep the dribble low and tight to the body to protect the ball from the defense and to prevent palming the ball. As the left foot jabs, dip the left shoulder to sell the fake; make the defense believe it is a crossover, and then bring the ball back to the right side and attack the defender’s left shoulder.
These moves increase offensive efficiency, as they make players more aggressive and quicker in transition and stronger with the ball against pressure. One key to being a great offensive player is to keep directed toward the rim; players who go sideline-to-sideline are easy to guard, while players that go baseline-to-baseline are much tougher to defend. The in-n-out move keeps players moving forward and makes it tougher for defenders to turn them toward the sideline. The pullback crossover helps players create space, relieving pressure and allowing the offensive player to stay directed to the rim, and not the sideline. These moves should be implemented in some way to every youth practice until the players have the confidence and ability to use the moves in a game.