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How to: Pass the Ball


This basic but oft-overlooked art is a key to winning basketball games


As beautiful as basketball can be from an individual’s standpoint, true artistry lies in the endless combinations and puzzles of team play. The top teams throughout the League’s history have relied on teamwork to push themselves to the trophy podium, even though they possessed supreme talent. This applies as much to the all-conquering Golden State Warriors of today as it did to the original world-beaters in Red Auerbach’s Celtics. 


Yet despite the successes that ball movement brings, and despite the sublime beauty that it adds to the game, most players are happy to do it only on an occasional basis. Many claim to have little knowledge of the lost art of passing, yet it can often be such a simple thing.


Pass first: As legendary coach Pete Carril (inventor of the famed motion-heavy Princeton offense) put it, “A pass is not a pass if it is made after you’ve tried to do everything else.” Whenever you receive the ball, you should be thinking ‘pass’ as your first option, and not the last resort. This habit encourages players to see the entire floor, rather than just the man in front of them.


Pass to the open man: Despite the allure of the highlight reel passes, the best pass is usually the one to the open man. Any hesitation slows you down, and a good pass is dependent on good timing. The ball can move faster than even the fastest players.


Pass into space: Basketball is not played at a standstill pace. With the speed of the game, it is essential to look for open paths and not just open players. This will encourage your teammates to cut into space as well. As veteran players know, when you are tightly guarded, you do not move towards the ball. Instead, it is usually easier to cut backdoor.


Pass more: Simply passing the ball more often and more quickly can be effective. This helps in maintaining good spacing while forcing the defense to keep moving. When everyone is moving and touching the ball, the defense needs to do more, and cannot simply focus on your best player.