Top 10 Basketball Skills

Basketball dribbling training

Basketball is one of the most rigorous sports you can master because your entire body is moving almost all the time when you’re on the court — or at least it should be.

“To get good at basketball, it takes extremely hard work, and you have to work on it all the time,” says basketball coach Wayne Wharton, who is part of the Sportamix coach team, and a past pro player. “It is important to get good training and find a good coach who motivates you. You have to properly learn all the basic skills.”

Wharton is a coach and trainer in Southern California who worked at the Tarzana Recreation Center in 2004 and coaches in Irvine and around the country. He had to give up playing after many ankle injuries while playing at Calgary. Now, he has developed the Wayne Wharton Basketball Skills Academy and also specializes in helping disabled children learn the game.

Here are the top 10 basketball skills you need to master, with some tips on how to begin.

Coach Wayne Wharton teaches some basic footwork drills.

1. Footwork

Controlling your feet is a good start — there is a lot of running in basketball as you continually race back and forth between baskets. It’s not surprising that most warm-up drills include running, even without ever touching a ball.

“When I’m working with my kids, they could be the best shooter in the world, but if they don’t have good footwork, it doesn’t help,” Wharton explains. “You need to be able to move the ball forward, and keep control of your footwork, and that takes practice.”

Good footwork reduces the need to stop, and avoids calls of “traveling” or “double dribbling” if you are confident in your moves. Perfecting these moves will keep you on balance and allow you to make stronger passes with more range.

Decent footwork can position you to angle around defenders, and gives you effective counter moves.

“You have to put in the effort in the world of basketball,” Wharton says. “And you have to be working on footwork every single day so it becomes second nature.”

2. Dribbling

The way to move the ball forward, is to dribble with the ball, and keep control of it as if it were like a yo-yo on a string. Dribble with your fingertips rather than the palm and keep your head up rather than looking at the ball.

It’s also helpful to keep your body low and use your non-dribbling hand to protect yourself from the opposition.

Learn how to dribble with both hands, and try moves like the crossover dribble, behind the back, low dribble, and between-the-legs dribble.

Wharton uses drills that include using both hands at the same time and dribbling with balls that have extra weight to force you to push the ball harder. Both of these kinds of dribbling drills help with maintaining control of the ball.

3. Passing

A great passing player will be able to see the whole court and be able to anticipate where a fellow team member is clear and closest to the basket.

Try to master a two-handed chest pass, a bounce pass and an overhead pass so you can throw off your defenders.

“It is important to be cooperative in basketball, and passing is an important part of it in the game,” Wharton explains. “You have to be able to take a chance, and try something even if you’re not sure of it, just try it.”

4.  Shooting

It probably goes without saying that knowing how to shoot is an important  part of the game because getting the ball through the hoop is how to score. But, it’s not just any shot: it’s important to learn how to shoot from many different angles and from many different ways.

“Every player wants to improve their shooting, but it’s not just those big three-point shots that are important or a foul shot, you have to be able to shoot from different angles that will throw off the defense,” Wharton advises.

Perfecting a lay-up that leads up to the basket is necessary, but there are very different kinds of shots, like a free throw, a dunk, a hook shot, a three-point shot from outside the key and an alley-oop that will also be good to add to your repertoire.

“Shooting has always been hard for me, and frankly some of the kids are good at dribbling but just can’t shoot,” Wharton says. “It takes practice to put both of them together. You have to be a good ball handler and then keep shooting over and over until you get the feel of it.”

Square you body up with the target, shoot the ball with your fingertips, and keep your elbows from sticking out. Try to put a backspin and an arc on the shot and let your arm follow through completely as the ball flies.

Coach Wayne Wharton demonstrates some drills.

5. Defense

Everyone goes through a shooting slump, but you can always play good defense. Keep your head low and stay close enough to the offensive player to pressure him, but not so close that he can skip past you in just one step.

Anticipate the opponent’s moves and try to force him in another direction.

“To help with defense, I work with a ladder resistance exercise where I have a thick rope that is around the player and I provide resistance for them,” Wharton explains. It looks like he has a student on a leash as he goes through the basketball drills with his students.

“It pushes them to think about quicker responses,” Wharton says. 

A good defense is a good offense.

6. Offense

Good offensive strategy is about teamwork and knowing the strengths of your fellow players. It is the only chance you have of scoring, and it requires some concentration and coordination among the players to do it well.

“Only the strong survive in this quick game, and a lot if it is about consistency, and knowing your fellow players,” Wharton says. “Do you take the shot, or give it to a teammate who is a better shooter, or has a clearer shot? Those kind of decisions you have to make quickly.”

7. Rebounding

When retrieving the ball from the opposite side, it’s important to know what to do with it, and rebound to get it to your own goal.

It helps to be tall and have a great high jump, but rebounding is also about desire and ability as well as keeping an eye open for opportunities to steal the ball. 

There’s a technique called “boxing out” which is key to rebounding, where you block out your opponent and try to regain possession of the ball after a failed shot.

It’s not surprising that team who has the most number of rebounds at the end of the game has more shot attempts and usually has the best score.

8. Assist 

It is important to play as a team, rather than as an individual.

That means, helping a teammate score, or allowing a teammate to use his or her’s best abilities is part of playing, and that means allowing an assist. Whether it’s blocking for someone or passing the ball to another player, learning to assist is important to the game.

“You have to always be moving out there, your entire body has to be moving all the time, and you have to be aware of what is going on all around you,” Wharton explains. “It is a physical game and you have to be active all the time and know how to help your fellow players.”

9. Foul 

A foul can be a strategy, and it’s important to know how to play it.

Usually, it is an accidental contact made by a defender to the opponent, or an aggressive move by the ball handler, but it can also be used to stop the clock.

Or, it may be a strategy to keep the shooting player from scoring easily. It is important to use fouls well, and can be an important part of the game.

10. Rules

“All my kids are highly motivated but sometimes they don’t know some of the basic rules of the game, so it’s important to start from the beginning and teach them the game,” Wharton notes.

He is training students from 3rd to 8th grades and some of them are heavy, and some are shorter than others.

“It doesn’t matter what size you are, you can always find something that you can excel in and make yourself a better player with a certain skill,” Wharton says. “It may mean you have to work a little harder that others, but I’ve seen successes with everyone.”

You should know the full rules of the game, and know the kinds of violations that can be called out. The official rule book is 196 pages, but there are some shortcuts, like Basketball Rules for Coaches.

Watching good players can also help you learn the rules, and learn secrets of the game. Watch how Steve Nash or Derrick Rose can control the ball with a behind-the-back dribble or a no-look pass.

Study the likes of Kevin Durant and Ray Allen who have specific techniques for shooting and watch Charles Barkley’s rebounding moves.

“I think watching Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers) because he is so crafty and gifted in the way he handles the ball,” Wharton advises. “He places his shots on very difficult angles on the court and it is very impressive. He is someone you can learn from if you watch him.”

But Wharton adds, “The best advice is to keep on going, and keep on practicing, because that is the only way you will get better.”