What makes a smart basketball player?

What makes a smart basketball player?

Coaches play players they can trust! Every player wants playing time.

A high basketball IQ can overcome a number of deficiencies such as size, speed, strength and even shooting ability. Decision-making is the elusive skill that separate the average player from the very good player. To become a player who consistently makes good decisions and the right play at the right time – a player with a high basketball I.Q. – is to become a player that a coach can trust. This is the player that stays on the court.

Many think of high basketball IQ in terms of the player that makes the right pass, appropriately spaces the floor, makes the right cuts, sees a play before it happens etc. These are aspects that demonstrate high basketball IQ.  The question is how do you become that player. There are four main components that will get you there.

Components of building a high Basketball IQ:

  1. Technical Skills – Execution
  2. Preparation – Confidence
  3. Awareness – Focus
  4. Experience – Demonstrated ability


  1. Technical skills- Execution

The game of basketball is played at a fast pace by long athletic individuals. With that being said reads and decisions must be made in the blink of an eye. The greats think 2 to 3 moves ahead. Once a player receives the ball the decision to shoot, pass or attack must be made in an instant. One of the best NBA teams over the past two decades, the San Antonio Spurs, was built on an implicit rule that no player was allowed to hold the ball for more than two seconds in an offensive set. The key is knowing when and where to make the decision. With no defensive pressure this is not a difficult task, because there is time and space. However, when being guarded closely or even trapped the difficulty increases as the time and space window shrinks. Technical skills increase the ability to execute in these situations. Technical skills are ball handling, footwork, shooting, passing etc. These must be worked on multiple levels.

Related imageMicro Skills– This is breaking down each skill to the smallest part.

Overload skills This is incorporating multiple stressors on the athlete to enhance difficulty level.

Game Speed Repetition This is game situations- game speed, game spots, against game defense.

Without technical skills a players attention will automatically shift from ball security, surveying the court and reading the situation to his/her initial defender. This will narrow the vision field and ability to make a pass or attack a gap.  Elite players have the ability to withstand defensive pressure while keeping their head up, feeling their initial defender, and making the right basketball play. 

  1. Preparation – Confidence


The more prepared a player is the more confident they will be. The better technical skills a player has the more confident they become.  The ability to dribble and pass with both hands along with the ability to shoot will greatly improve a players confidence with the ball. This will improve a players field of vision and space to create plays.  Think about a great player like Chris Paul. He is not extremely gifted physically with speed, size and strength. However he is extremely confident with the basketball. He plays with pace, uses his body and angles to create plays for his team. He does not need to look down at the ball when being pressured or rely on picking up his dribble and making a pass. He surveys the court manipulates the defense and makes plays with little attention to his primary ball handler.

The more times a player has been in a certain situation the more comfortable they will feel. The more uncomfortable a player is made in practice situations through added stressors like double teams, time constraints, score stipulations, defensive pressure etc. The easier live game action will be perceived. 

  1. Awareness – Focus

Once a player has the ability to rely on muscle memory and feel in terms of technical skills (through repetition) it opens up the mind and vision to focus on cues of the game. These cues are aspects like defensive mismatches, weak spots in the zone, knowing teammates strengths and weaknesses as well as time and score.  Other cues are game actions that the team offense utilizes such as ball screens, dribble ats, penetrate and kicks etc. When players are learning these game actions the actual skill is the elementary level. The game application comes from being able to make the reads. For example, when executing a dribble at the ball handler must be able to feel his/her defender, read the cutters defender and manipulate the help defender while still having vision of other teammates that may create an advantage.

Image result for lebron james passesWhen making a read on a dribble at the defender must feel his/her defender to determine if there is an opportunity for a straight-line drive due to the defender overplaying or anticipating. The next read will be the cutters defender. If the cutters defender is overplaying for example this is a great setup for a backdoor cut. However, the ballhandler must manipulate the help side as to not pass his teammate into trouble or turn the ball over. The quicker these cues can be processed the better the success rate. Every millisecond counts in this game. The players that can interpret cues the fastest are looked at as having a high IQ.


  1. Experience – Demonstrated Ability

Beyond picking up the cues of the game and running drills players need game time repetition. If a player tries to learn the game through drill work, film study and coaches feedback alone a “practice player” will be created. These are the guys that look awesome when going through cone drills and can answer all the “basketball questions” but when it comes to the game they just can’t make plays. Players need to experience a variety of situations where they can demonstrate their ability and internalize the feel of the game. This will come with some opportunities to fail forward. To fail forward simply means to learn from ones mistakes. These shortcomings are tough at the time, but in the long run will be invaluable. MISTAKES MUST BE MADE TO IMPROVE.

Many of the anticipation reads can only be made through experience. One will learn how to look a defender off and make the quick backdoor pass because he/she has experienced making this play before. They are seeing plays before the happen.

Image result for nba playoffs

Becoming a high IQ basketball player takes a diverse approach.  Incorporating individual skill development, small sided games such as 3on3, team practice, film study and game play all have a distinct role in becoming a high IQ basketball player

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