What is the Most Important Offensive Skill to Teach a Player?

What is the most important offensive skill to teach a player?

This question is proposed to me very frequently. It’s a GREAT question that has many layers, but to truly be clear and correct, the question has to be more specific. I even did a recent poll and received some interesting answers. Before we start to answer, the question has to be more precise. The question should be: 

What is the most important INDIVIDUAL and TEAM SKILL? 

The question could also be broken down into specific parts:

1) What is the most important individual offensive physical skill to teach players?

2) What is the most important team offensive physical skill to teach players?

3) What is the most important individual offensive mental skill to teach players?

4) What is the most important team offensive mental skill to teach players? 

**Hang in there with me as I explain my opinion on this topic.*

In many instances, grassroots coaches only have their players for a limited time, or college coaches have to WIN right away, so they don’t focus on  individual skills as often, rather implement team systems. Also, the NCAA rules now limit practice off season work and in general team coaches don’t have the time to work with all 12-15 players in a season. Yes, it’s a long season, but there is an abundance to to cover during the season.

An individual skill coach could only have limited time with players due to the available time or cost of training. That being said, their are different factors and different types of coaches, WHAT SHOULD WE TEACH?

      You need to get right to the important stuff to help make the players game more efficient. During  your player development time, you must be efficient with your time and “tight” with your concepts. Knowing what the most important skills are is an asset for you as a coach.

What is the Most Important Individual Offensive Physical Skill to teach a Player?

The easy answer is ALL OF THEM! Every skill is important to be a great player. If you are not working to be the BEST you can, then you’re not really working! 

  1. Creating space with the dribble (driving)
  2. Shooting
  3. Finishing
  4. Passing
  5. Catching 
  6. Getting open with & without a screen
  7. Reading the defense (making the right play)
  8. All the footwork to execute the above 
  9. ALL THE SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT!

BUT……..

If I had to pick just one, it would be creating off the dribble (footwork to accompany). We could easily say shooting is the most important and I agree with that too, but in my opinion at least half of the shots are set up by the dribble. Why the dribble? Below are the reasons why I think creating off the bounce is the most important skill. 

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1) The game is started (after the jump ball is tapped to a player) with a dribble (or pass) but 95% of the time the game is started with a dribble and offense is initiated  with the “bounce.” We need to teach players to dribble and advance the ball with both hands. 

2) The ultimate goal on offense is to get the ball as close to the basket as you can. You can do that easily by driving down hill to the paint. The majority of teams at every level, try to drive the ball downhill (and create space off the dribble for a pass or shot.) 

I encourage you to record the possessions on how many times your team tries to:  

Drive, rip, back down ISO the dribbler downhill to the rim

VS.

Ball reversals (which are great), screens (which are fantastic), passes to cutters or post which is phenomenal). If teams can’t drive downhill, they try to drive up hill for DHO’s (dribble handoffs) or pitches. Ultimately, if teams get paint touches they have a higher % to win. Many teams in the NCAA and NBA chart paint touches. That is how many times the ball touches the paint. I know Billy Donovan’s team charts this stat. Why? If the ball gets to the paint, four things will occur:

  1. More fouls occur
  2. Higher FG %
  3. More receivers will be open because you drive and bring two defenders to the ball
  4. More offensive rebounds occur because by bringing two to the ball, it’s hard to box out of help and when the shot goes up the defense is scrambling.

3) The other skills are important too but most actions are set up with a player DRIBBLING to create space for a PASS to a SHOOTER. 

Shooting is important but a player who rips and drives or uses a dribble move and drives, must get space to pass to the shooter. The shooter will now have an easier spot up shot, off a drive and kick rather than using effort getting open and then effort getting the shot off. 

A player can’t pass unless they have space. A shooter can’t shoot unless they have space. The dribble is an effective and FUN weapon to do that with. To start a fast break, you have to elicit a dribble. Sometimes more dribbles than passes, (although a great fast break is to kick it ahead) therefore, you have to teach all five players to handle the ball. 

CHART ALL THE SKILLS IN A GAME FOR EACH OFFENSIVE POSSESSION FOR BOTH TEAMS. You will find players dribble and drive the basketball more times and get more reps in a game than shooting, passing, cutting, setting screens or reading. 

That being said, IF YOU ONLY HAD TIME TO TEACH ONE SKILL IT SHOULD BE CREATING OFF THE DRIBBLE! WHY? If no one on your team is a good ball handler and driver it’s gonna be hard to score and find the open shooters. 

4) FUN! DRIBBLING IS FUN! IT’S THE EASIEST SKILL TO LEARN because you can do it by yourself and all you need is a ball! I have seen $5 basketballs at Walmart. For shooting you need a basket, for passing/catching you need a partner or wall, for cutting you need a court and three players. All those skills are significant, YES, but what do kids who really want to play do FIRST AND THE MOST? DRIBBLE DRIVE, DRIBBLE CREATE. What do kids want to work on the most? Dribbling. Why? It’s fun and they love to break down defense to score. To score you need space. To get space you have to create it from the bounce.

Learning is addictive. If a player has success in dribbling and driving, then they are more likely to work on their shooting by themself, passing by themself. They will stick with basketball and not quit it. That’s a huge deal. We want to grow our game and have young kids continue to play the game. 

5) Dribbling and driving is the most used skill we see in games with teams on every level. The TREND today is drive and kick, creating off ball screens (initiated off the bounce), DHO’s(dribble hand off) to ball screens, pushing the rock on the fast break. We tend to see at the end of the shot clock or end of quarters/halves, it’s one on one, creating off the bounce or high ball screen. It’s the most used and probably overused skill that players use today. No question that shooting is super important. Maybe it’s a tie on what’s most important. But to me, I just don’t think you can find shooters, get to angles on the floor to deliver passes to cutter, and create lanes unless you have creativity and efficiency off the bounce. 

Lastly, I try to teach players to be universally skilled, without a doubt. My argument here is if you just had to pick one, dribbling and driving plus the footwork is the foundation that leads into shooting, passing, making reads, cutting, etc. It’s the trend today so we have to honor that. Many teams on every level have players and utilize players that can create off the dribble. I promise you, the work ethic, confidence and resilience that a young player learns from their dribbling workouts will transfer over to the rest of his game, IF you are teaching them the right way! 

Next blog topic: What is the Most Important Physical Offensive Team Skill? 

Please email me your thoughts on this at [email protected]

I would love to hear from you, because I never STOP learning!

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