There's nothing more mesmerizing than a guard juke-dribbling his way to an open shot while breaking a defender's ankles. The crowd roars as the defender falls and it becomes a fever pitch as the ball drops in the bucket. And you can expect that play to be seen time and time again on a variety of sports shows.
But there is a lot more to dribbling than making top-10 plays. Dribbling is one of the fundamental skills that a winning team is built upon and it is an essential skill no matter which position you play. Even the most defensive-minded center needs the ability to power dribble in order to be a viable option for playing time. In this article I am going to show you different dribbling drills that will significantly improve your ball handling skills.
Different Types Of Dribbling
There are a variety of styles to dribbling. Someone on your squad must be proficient in each of these styles in order to assemble a winning basketball team. Otherwise, your team will have a weakness that a defense can exploit.
Open Court Dribbling
Open court dribbling gives you the ability to get the ball up the court quickly. You often see big guys snatching a rebound, putting their head down and dribbling up the court themselves. That ends badly more often than not, because open court dribbling is a skill that needs a lot of practice and is best handled by guards or skilled forwards.
You need to be able to dribble at full speed, using both hands while still keeping your head up to see your opponents and teammates. It gets especially difficult if the opponent is employing an aggressive full-court press and you need to avoid swiping hands and traps.
Open court dribbling is most easily mastered by shorter players. Being closer to the floor is an advantage in an open court situation because the dribbles are shorter which allows for more control over the ball and quicker cuts. But Magic Johnson was one of the best point guards in NBA history at 6-foot-9, so don't count out the big guys.
Penetration dribbling is much different than open court dribbling. Penetration dribbling happens when you are within striking distance of the hoop. It should take no more than two or three dribbles to get to the front of the rim for an attack.
While open court dribbling is done at different speeds and directions. Penetration dribbling should be as powerful and straight to the basket as possible. You often only have a split second until the help defense will rotate and often times you will be dribbling right into traffic. You need to find the right moment to gather the ball and go strong to the hoop, because close to the basket, it is almost impossible to dribble the ball without opponents trying to steal it.
The power dribble is usually reserved for the taller guys who grab a board and pound the ball on the ground to gather their balance before going back up to the hoop. But the power dribble is a useful skill that can be effectively utilized by any player on the court.
Don't overlook post-play dribbling even if you're the point guard. You may be called into action if you have a few inches on your man.
Create Your Own Shot Dribbling
This ankle-breaking skill is not made for everyone. It takes a special kind of explosive, nimble athlete to master this skill. You need to internalize a whole bunch of fancy dribbling tricks -- between the legs, behind the back, crossover, etc. -- and fuse them with the fundamentals. This skill is often reserved for smaller guards like Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry, who use their quickness and ball handling skill to get the open space needed for a shot.
Create-your-own-shot dribbling is so in-depth that it deserves its own article. We'll stick to the basics here. But, don't worry -- you can't develop this high-level dribbling skill without first mastering the fundamentals.
What Makes Good Dribbling?
You have to know where you're going with the ball in order to be an effective dribbler. Otherwise, a simple double-team will have you coughing up the rock. You'll be an offensive liability.
You have to have a bit of touch to have control over the ball in the open court. If open court dribbling is not for you, penetration and power dribbling takes much less finesse. But control is a requirement no matter which dribbling skill you choose to focus on.
Defending the Ball
You can't leave the ball vulnerable while you are dribbling. Even if you are a master of control, you'll still need to shield the ball from defenders as you dribble up court, into a crowded paint or power dribble under the boards.
Defending the ball takes vision and guile. You need to know where your defenders are, who the defenders are and the best way to shield the ball from all of them. You may be able to get low and dribble low to get around a massive center. You might have to turn your back and box out a guard so he doesn't pick your pocket. You may have to bump a defender during a power dribble to get him off-balance and off your ball.
The easiest way to shield the ball is with your own body. This requires you to learn how to dribble while moving backward or to the sides. This technique is often employed by bigger players who have massive bodys that make it impossible for the opponent to reach the ball without giving up their defensive position.
Another common way to protect the ball is using your off hand to defend swiping hands from opponents. This takes a lot of skill as you need to be in control of the ball while also watching the hands of your opponent.
Using Both Hands
You need to be proficient in dribbling with both hands or you're a liability on the offensive end of the court. This applies to everyone on the court and all types of dribbling. Otherwise, a defender simply cuts off your strong hand to steer you to the corner of the court or waits to pick you pocket the second you try to dribble with your off-hand.
Ambidexterious dribbling is not a luxury or a fancy skill; it is required. If you struggle to dribble with your off-hand, tie your strong hand behind your back because you won't get any playing time until you can dribble left and right.
How To Improve Your Dribbling
You improve your dribbling by dribbling. Legend has it that Pistol Pete Maravich once dribbled a basketball for an entire day. He dribbled through his morning routine, breakfast, school and dinner. He even dribbled in the middle aisle during a movie. But not all dribbling is the same.
The most valuable dribbling takes place in a game against a good defender. The rush of competition should sharpen your senses, and you'll learn the hard way what works and what doesn't work. It'll give you a definitive list of what to work on when it comes to your dribbling skills.
However, it is important to practice your dribbling skills before getting into competition. The drills should mimic game play as closely as possible. After all, you are improving your dribbling skills to be used in a game.
Remember that game application is a skill unto itself. You can run dry dribbling drills for months, but you may find it difficult to transfer those skills to the game right away. This is mental. Once the game itself becomes comfortable, your hard-earned dribbling skills will start to show.
Beginner Open Court Drill
Simply dribble the length of the court with one hand. Try to keep the ball from bouncing higher than your hips. When you have dribbled the length of the court, return using your other hand. As you grow more proficient, increase your speed up the court. The goal is to get the ball up the court in your hands as quickly as possible.
Beginner Penetration Dribble Drill
Pick out any spot on the three-point line. Turn around and dribble as quickly as you can from a standstill at the hoop. The goal is to get to a layup position within two dribbles. If you are shorter, you may need three dribbles.
Try to get to full speed as quickly as possible. The dribbles should be hard and you should always finish your penetration dribble with an under-control hoop. Alternate using your left and right hands to dribble and finish at the hoop.
Beginner Power Dribbling Drill
Throw the ball up, off the glass. Jump off both feet and grab the ball like a rebound using both hands. Land on both feet like you're about to get boxed out or hit by a defender on the way down. Using both hands, dribble the ball straight down in front of yourself with a powerful dribble that bounces back up to you quickly and forcibly. Allow the power dribble to give you time to regroup the momentum of your body. Go back up to the hoop using the power dribble's energy to assist you. Put the ball in the hoop using strength as if you're expecting a foul.
There are three sides to the hoop for this drill -- right, left and center. Move positions every time you perform this drill successfully.
Intermediate Dribbling Drills
Intermediate Open Court Drill
Setup cones or chairs in a straight line about every 10 feet down the court. Dribble as hard as you can with good control to the first cone using your right hand. Weave around the cone while keeping the cone on your left side to protect the ball from the imaginary defender. As you get around the cone, switch dribbling to your left hand and continue sprinting to the next one. Continue weaving around the cones while defending the ball with your body. Switch dribbling hands after passing each one.
Intermediate Penetration Dribble Drill
Setup three to five chairs out on the court. Put one right in front of your starting point at the three point line. Put at least two more in or around the paint. Get your starting point, anywhere around the three-point line, and dribble hard at the hoop while avoiding the chairs. Gather as much speed as possible while dribbling under control and avoiding the imaginary defenders. The goal is still to get to the hoop in two dribbles while being under control enough to score.
Drills to Improve Your Weak Hand
Basketball players will usually start out dribbling mostly with their strong hand. This can become a vicious circle because the strong hand becomes even better making the difference to the weak hand even bigger. Because of that you need to dedicate a lot of work on improving your off-hand. Check out these drills to get an idea:
Advanced Dribbling Drills
Once you have the fundamentals mastered you are going to work on engraining your dribbling so deep into your muscle memory that you can do it in your sleep. The goal is to be so confident in your dribbling that you can use 100% of your attention to focus on other things like your defender, your teammates, the play call from your coach or the expiring shot clock.
Improving your ball handling to this level takes a lot of dedication and a lot of repetitions. This video will give you all the dribbling drills needed:
Bonus: The Steph Curry Dribbling Routine
The pre-game routine of Steph Curry has become absolutely famous in these last few seasons. People are arriving 2 hours before tipoff at the arena just to be able to watch Steph warm up. If you want to become a dribble monster like him, check out this great tutorial:
This should be enough dribbling drills to keep you busy for years, but maybe I missed some great ones? Let me know in the comments!