I'm working with Legendary Coach Rick Majerus one day on a drill and out of nowhere a ball flies in and hits me on the side of the face. I didn't know where it came from at the time. I shook it off and kept going.
3 minutes later another ball comes in from seemingly out of nowhere and peppers me in the side of the face again. This time I stopped and looked around and saw another player standing there that had thrown the ball at me.
At this point Coach Majerus says "are you going to keep standing there getting hit in the face or are you going to put your hands up?" I've never forgotten that. Sadly, that day I probably got hit in the head or chest at least 10 times with passes when my hands came down.
Coach had instructed the player to throw the ball at me each time I put my hands down. Keeping your hands up and ready is a key to moving without the ball and something that I want to focus on throughout this article.
Coaches often refer to basketball position and you hear it said often. Basketball position starts with your feet being shoulder-width apart. Not too close together and not too far apart either. Any one of those can really cause you to be off balance. Next, make sure your knees are bent. The most non-athletic position is standing straight up with your knees locked.
Have you ever seen an Olympic sprinter start by standing straight up with his knees locked? No chance. You are nearly useless like that. Keep your hands up and be ready to catch the ball at any time. I've touched on that enough and the memory still stings a little. I learned my lesson. I wish it didn't take me ten Wilson Jet basketballs across my chest to get the point, but that's ok.
Once you are in basketball position you are ready to be a basketball player. Have you ever had the privilege of guarding a player who doesn't move without the ball? Isn't it nice? They pass the ball and kind of hover around the 3 point line or stand on the block opposite of the ball. They usually stand straight up and require very little attention if any. DON'T BE THAT GUY.
On the flip side, have you ever guarded the guy who is non-stop running you off of picks and everywhere on the floor at once, constantly cutting to the basket? It drives me crazy. That's the guy you want to be on offense. My best example to give for young players is to take the time to watch Richard 'RIP' Hamilton. This man is incredible to watch without the ball. He's everywhere and the guy guarding him just gets ran all over the floor the entire game.
Take some time and watch him play offense. He goes from side to side and when he passes he cuts or comes off another pick. He's an amazing example of someone to watch who demonstrates how it's truly done.
Some of the keys in moving without the ball are, understanding what each player's role is in the play, the purpose of every play and keeping a strong eye on maintaining proper spacing. It doesn't do any good to run around just to run around. Bad idea, you'll just make people mad. It has to have a purpose. When making a cut, make sure nobody is already at the spot you are heading towards. Don't cut at the same time as another player. Have a purpose behind each movement.
In college we ran a series of backdoor cuts that worked at a high percentage. It was amazing how often it worked. I look at it now with hindsight and understand why it worked. Our backdoor was done against the right defense, no post players were blocking the play and the spacing was correct.
Let's break that down a little bit. Is a backdoor going to work against most zones? No, of course not. So call the right play first. Second, make sure that the purpose of the play is laid out. The purpose of every play is to get the best shot possible. Third, spacing must be maintained. Good offensive players understand that they should never be in a position where 1 player can guard 2 offensive players.
Spacing has to be maintained and understood at all times. The destruction of every little league offense is a lack of understanding spacing. It drives me crazy at times when coaches don't teach spacing. Then youth basketball becomes like youth soccer where a big huddle runs all over the field. If proper spacing is understood and maintained your players will get easier shots, better shots and gain more confidence. Anyone would rather go 1 on 1 as compared to 1 on 2.