Building Basketball IQ

Building Basketball IQ

The first aspect of becoming a high basketball IQ player is to improve your technical skills. The how of technical skills is very important, but even more important in terms of IQ are the questions of what, when, where, and why. So many times we see players in the gym just getting tired instead of getting better. Just because you are sweating and out of breath doesn’t mean you got better. You must train with purpose. Purpose includes learning a progression of skills, but also learning their applications. The what, when where and why address the application. Below we look at those questions.


This is a question that refers to a player’s knowledge of basketball concepts and terminology. Many times I speak with college coaches and they tell me one of the big things that keeps new players off the court and slows their development (outside of the physical demands of the game) is a lack of knowledge of basketball terminology and basic concepts.

Here are a few examples of terminology

Locations: Short corner, nail, elbow, free throw line extended, pinch post, slot, etc.  

Defensive: Gap, front, stunt or bait, help the helper, dig, hedge, over or under, etc.

Offensive: sweep, rip, penetrate and pitch, drift pass, space, split, drag, reject, bait dribble, etc

If many of these terms are foreign to you as a player you need to spend more time studying the game and developing your basketball knowledge. These areas, actions and concepts are huge parts of the game you should know inside and out. Many times, players are able to execute them by accident, but not on command or aren’t able to verbalize them with teammates. For example, on the court a high IQ player playing with other high IQ players can read a cue from the defense and make a simple cut in the correct time/location and get an easy basket. This could happen on the fly or be discussed during a dead ball huddle.


The hardest player to trust is not the player who takes a bad shot. The hardest player to trust is the player who takes a bad shot and doesn’t know it’s a bad shot.  

Time and score! Having situational awareness is a huge part of implementing Basketball IQ. Knowing that the defense is losing the game and time is ticking away in the fourth quarter should adjust each individuals play. Being aware of a run and jump trap should change the ball handlers angle of attack (staying out of corners and keeping the dribble alive with vision of the court). This should also adjust the off-ball players action. Finding passing lanes and shortening passes with an emphasize on ball security.


Spatial awareness on a basketball court is huge. Being able to space the court, fill open lanes, make yourself available when the ball sees you, as well as creating angles and opportunities to score are all huge aspects of high IQ players.

A few easy concepts for high IQ basketball players to create opportunities to score:

  • Drive at your best shooters side (if they help kick, if they stay home attack)
  • Attack the lead foot of your defender (length and angles to drive)
  • Reject ball screens to the open side of the court (zero help)
  • Catch the ball in your scoring range and immediately show shot
  • Look opposite on flashes and drive-and-drops


At any moment you should be able to stop mid play and answer the question why did you do that. Where was your defender? Where was the help? Where was your big? Where was your shooter? What was the cue that you read? What has happened the past few trips that made this a good decision?

As a high IQ player your main concern should not be the initial defender. You must have confidence in your abilities to be secure with the ball and get past your defender to make a play. Always be able to read the cues of the game which include the defense, the time, the score, your personnel, as well as the pace and flow of the game. Great players effect every play down the court with or without the ball.

Here are some ways to affect a play.

  • Sprint the floor
  • Communicate
  • Make hard cuts
  • Draw a help defender
  • Set a screen
  • Make the extra pass

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