Basketball

7 basketball skills every player should be working on

© Ali Bharmal
Becoming a great basketball player means hard work, discipline, and lots of training. Here are the seven skills every player should master.
Written by Red Bull Editorial TeamPublished on
When you watch pro basketball players on the court, they make some of the most incredible feats seem absolutely effortless. The reality is that every one of those fantastic performances is only made possible by years of working hard to build the skills needed to execute at the highest level. If you're looking to play like the pros, here are the top skills you need to train to take your game to the next level.
To be an elite basketball player, you need to be able to produce on both offense and defense. While all-time greats like Lebron James and Michael Jordan are known for their scoring prowess, they also played shutdown defense. If you want to excel, it's important to develop your talents on both sides of the ball by focusing on offensive skills, defensive skills, and skills that apply at both ends.
Although different roles on the court will place a different emphasis on each skill, the fundamentals of basketball remain consistent no matter where on the court you play. The more well-rounded you are, even in skills generally considered less important for your position, the better situated you'll be to beat your opponents and lead your team to victory. These are the core skills every basketball player should be working on consistently.

1. Dribbling

Players compete on a half court basketball game at the Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals.
Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals
It doesn't matter if you're trying to beat your man from the set offense or leading fast breaks, basketball players always benefit from having strong ball-handling skills. By mastering moves like the crossover, behind-the-back and spin dribble, you ensure your defender can never be confident of where you're going with the ball. Once you have them confused, it's easier to get past your opponent with your skilled dribbling.
Pistol Pete Maravich famously dribbled a ball nearly everywhere he went and it helped him to develop his skilled dribbling, both for crowd-pleasing trick dribbles and practical moves to beat his opponents on the court. You should focus on dribbling with your weaker hand as well, as being two-sided makes you significantly harder to defend.

2. Shooting

Players compete on a half court basketball game at the Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals.
Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals
At the end of the day, basketball is about scoring, and a team without shooters is going to struggle no matter how much they excel elsewhere. In the modern game, shooting is moving away from midrange jumpers, with a focus on finishing around the basket and hitting the deep ball. Even big men are now being expected to develop a threat from long range. In addition to practicing your fundamentals, you should also get reps in working less-conventional shots like hooks or fade away jumpers that allow you to score while contested.

3. Passing

If you want to know how to be a better basketball player to your teammates, improving your passing is a must. The ability to see lanes and thread a pass into them where others would not significantly opens up your attacking arsenal. A great thing about passing is you need nothing more than a wall and a ball to practice. Be sure you're mixing up your pass types to diversify your game.

4. Rebounding

Players compete on a half court basketball game at the Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals.
Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals
A player who dominates the boards can carve out a strong career nearly on that talent alone. Drills like the tip drill, where a player repeatedly elevates to rebound the ball and put it right back off the glass again, teach you to meet the ball up high and look to turn that rebound right back into another shot when on offense.

5. Defending

Players compete on a half court basketball game at the Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals.
Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals
Offense may be flashy, but defense is no less important. Developing fast hands to make steals off the dribble, or an intimidating presence around the rim to deter driving opponents, can make you a terror to deal with on the court. When your defensive skills are strong enough, you can even use them to quickly turn the table and set up fast-break responses.

6. Foot Movement

Although the ability to move at a sprint is always a plus, basketball is unique to many other sports by the need for quick horizontal motion. Running wind sprints with side-shuffles can help you develop the side-to-side motion you need to keep your opponent in front of you on defense.

7. Jumping

Players compete on a half court basketball game at the Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals.
Red Bull Reign 2019 India Finals
Basketball is all about getting vertical, and an increased jump height benefits you on both sides of the ball. Work on building your leg strength with exercises like squats and calf presses. Squats help you to build the explosive power you need to out-jump your opposition.
How to Build Your Basketball Skills
If you really want to know how to get better at basketball, simply working on your skills is not enough. Drilling is important and should not be overlooked, but it's important to do the right things when not drilling as well to ensure you see as much benefit as possible from all that hard work. Combining diligent work off the court with hard work on the court will produce the most growth.
  • Create a healthy diet. There's a saying that an army marches on its stomach, and the same can be applied to a basketball team. A nutritious diet is essential to getting the most out of yourself when you're playing. Eating clean allows you to play at your best and put the skills you've honed into action more effectively.
  • Build your cardio. The better you get, the more time your coaches are going to want to get from you in every game, and that means developing your cardiovascular system until it can keep up with the increased demand. When your cardio fails you, your ability to utilize the skills you worked so hard to develop drops off as well.
  • Set concrete targets. An effective way to build your skills in basketball is to identify a weakness and then pick a measurable target for improvement on that skill. By using quantifiable measures you can track your progress and change things up if you hit plateaus in your progression.
  • Play in small-sided games. No matter how much talent is on the court, there's only one ball, so one simple way to increase your chances to attack and defend is to reduce the players on each team. Tournaments like Red Bull 3X combine elements of organized play and pick-up games to create an exciting style of play, and with only two other teammates you're on the ball far more often than in a full 5-on-5 matchup.