Getting to the hoop quick in basketball is both a necessary and difficult skill when it comes to driving to the basket. Watching the pro’s cut through traffic with immense power, and confidence is exciting. Easier said than done, so I pulled together the best advice on improving your drive to the basket.
To drive to the hoop effectively in basketball you will need to improve your ball handling and dribbling skills as well as be able to move quickly on the court with the ball. Your main goal is to get past the defenders and to the hoop, crossovers and dribbling technique can help get you there.
Things that also matter is which is your weaker side when driving to the hoop and knowing your defender’s best skills. Going over all the tips and tricks at first may seem overwhelming, but once you put it into practice, the steps make sense.
Basketball Driving Tips
It’s impossible to make long shots or hit the three-pointers every single time you shoot the ball, especially under pressure. When games are evenly matched, it does come down to who can get to the rim and make that drive happen a lot of the time.
Having said that, it’s also one of the more difficult things to do when several people are trying to stop you from completing that mission. Consider having to navigate your way around several defenders instead of one and not trying to foul anyone.
Ideally, you want someone to foul you to get the And-1. But it’s not just about how you drive; it’s also about when you drive.
Below are the most basic and important tips to understand when powering your way through the key and to the basket. It’s not enough to just read it though, you have to go out and practice it on your own.
Make sure you’re practicing with a decent basketball if you can. I like to use this Wilson Evolution Game Basketball (link to Amazon) because it’s the most widely used ball on basketball courts in the US.
It might seem a little counterintuitive, but being respected in other areas of your game as an attacker is important when it comes to driving. For instance, if your range of shooting is only limited to around the key, then the defender doesn’t have to worry about you putting up a lot of three’s. But if you can put it in from just about anywhere in the court, then the defender has to worry about a lot of different ground to cover.
If I knew that my opponent could only drive, then I would spend all my efforts and energy, keeping him or her as close to the three-point line as possible.
If you’re the player that can’t shoot outside the paint, ask yourself, are you getting double-teamed a lot? Chances are the answer is yes, because it’s an easy way to turn the ball over.
Do the work and become a better shooter in general, and you will earn the respect of your opponent to not leave you too much room. With a tighter guard, you’ll find that you have more opportunities to go around and get to the rim quickly.
Check out the How To Shoot A Basketball Guide for tips on upping your shooting game.
Being unpredictable is no surprise in any sport, let alone basketball. Just like a tennis player doesn’t want their opponent to know where they are going to serve, a basketball player on offense doesn’t want their defender predicting their every move. Otherwise, chances are you aren’t getting to the rim often or scoring many points.
So how does one be unreadable on offense? Having more weapons in your tool belt and becoming a triple-threat is the answer to this question. A triple-threat is someone who can drive, shoot, and set up their teammate with ease.
Even if you are great at all three, it’s also important to make sure that you clean up your weaknesses within each one.
If you are always going to your strengths and your strong side, then your defender will guess right nine times out of ten. Even the best shooters, ball-handlers, and players, in general, have their go-to moves, but it’s always important to stay versatile in your game-play.
A Quick First Step
Explosive movement is also no stranger to sports. The faster you can react and move, the better off you’ll be in getting some room. Efficiency is a part of that explosive movement as usually, the first movement is one of the most important of the process.
It’s not unusual for the first movement to be slow because you are either starting a force from little to no movement or changing the direction, which takes a lot of energy. It’s like a car that needs to get up to speed.
If that car happens to be really nice and has a sport mode, it may take half the time than a car that doesn’t have that option. Refining your fast-twitch fibers are like upgrading to that nice sports car. The reason why it’s so important is even if you are quick in general, the first step is what your defender or defenders will first see in predicting your path to the hoop.
If your first movements are incredibly slow, then you become incredibly predictable, and we are back to the first tip of not being readable.
Take this example. You are going to drive to the hoop, and you hesitate a little too much, making a slower first move. The defender has you beat every time and steals the ball. But imagine having such a powerful first step that you can fake one direction and still have time to pass the defender on your strong side. It makes a difference.
Sometimes trick steps can get a bad rep for being a little too flashy and inefficient. That can be true when executed poorly, but when done in the right fashion, it can certainly be nice to look at, and effective.
Getting space from your defender in order to open up a pathway to the hoop can be difficult. That is why developing a few trick-shot types of moves can be helpful in fooling your defender into giving you that opportunity.
Consider the Eurostep, which has become quite popular in the NBA.
Giannis Antetokounmpo did a whole article with ESPN about why a move like this is the deadliest in the game and has caused him to rethink his defensive skills. The move is a two-step fake where the first step is a large step to the right or left of the defender to make them believe that’s the direction the attacker is going. Before committing fully to that side, the other foot goes in the opposite direction, to go around the defender.
Here’s a quick video showing the Eurostep in action so you can see how useful this can be when driving to the hoop. (I could watch this stuff all day)
The reason the Eurostep is such a good move is that it forces the defender to possibly move out of position and increases the chances to foul the attacker as they are not as steady trying to also change direction with the attacker.
The Long Step
This can be a little misleading as some coaches may encourage a long first step when starting your drive. This actually isn’t the time to use the long step. What happens when you use the long step a little too soon is that you become off-balance. You also lose range of motion and power, making you slower.
A good rule of thumb is if your planting leg is less than a 90-degree angle, you probably can’t support that position to well. Maybe think of the phrase “nose over toes,” which means leaning all your body weight forward, so even if you are lunging, there is still a chance for good balance and strength.
The long step can happen when you are going to make a drive for the hoop but are already really close to the basket. Typically, the long step is the last one step or lunge to the basket in a layup when you are trying to cover ground and distance in a speedy fashion without having to dribble too much.
Here’s another quick video showing some layups made by professional players in the NBA. Watch their footwork as they’re making the layup.
We’ve all seen NBA players use this step as their long limbs spread to avoid traveling once they’ve scooped the ball up after dribbling. Following their lead and use the long step in this type of moment at the appropriate time.
Speed is not only important when it comes to the first step but also when it comes to handling the ball. Have you ever noticed that a player will warm up and bounce the ball really quick and real low to the ground with many repetitions?
This is to get better at handling the speed and increase strength in the hand, wrist, and forearm.
This is because quick dribbling when driving to the basket is a lot safer and effective than big drawn-out dribbles. The first issue you come across when dribbling high is the ball is slow, and you can’t move as quickly. The second issue is that you leave room for the ball to be stolen by the defenders you’ll come across.
Quick, powerful dribbles offer a lot more control as you approach the rim quickly. Control is important in case you need to change your route as a counter to the defenders. Practice dribbling with force while maintaining ball control. You can use that skill to make your drive to the basket more successful.
Shoulder to Hip
Standing up tall continues to give you the lack of control, which is why assuming a position that allows you to attack the defenders hip gives you a way to protect the ball and make your way to the basket. Making your defender come down to your level is a lot better than trying to get past a defensive player spreading out as tall as they possibly can.
Shoulder to hip doesn’t mean actually bulldoze them down.
It just means that your shoulder that is not the ball-handling arm should be angled down to the player’s opposite hip. So if it’s your left shoulder, that’s the free arm, then you want to point it to the left hip of your opponent. Opposite in terms of how you are facing them and not opposite in terms of left or right.
Here’s a video breaking down this shoulder to hip move as used by Kobe and Michael Jordan.
Not to mention, when we talk about being predictable, this plays a major role.
Offense and defense is a game of cat and mouse. You go high, they go high, you go low, so do they. The more stamina and energy they have to use the easier driving will become as the clock dwindles down. Evenly matched skill to skill may come down to endurance and fitness, and this is where cat and mouse come into play.
Being flexible with your body has it’s advantages, but that isn’t the type of flexibility we are talking about right now. The type that helps your drive is being flexible with your mind, and in order to be flexible with your mind, you have to be able to have options in your tool belt.
Mentioned above, being a triple-threat is important for being a good driver. But when you have all these tools, you need to know how to interchange them at the last minute by being flexible with your plans.
Being flexible requires another thing. Being alert. The best players in the NBA aren’t just athletically gifted or skilled; they’re smart.
Anticipation and alertness are huge when driving to the hoop. Going back to the topic of cat and mouse, you can also be good at the game if you are aware of what you’re doing and what your opponent is doing. Otherwise, you’re a dead mouse.
An easy team or defender might allow you to zip right by them with your plan A every single time. But make no mistake because a good team will counter your plan A, B, and C. This forces you to continually come up with something new every time to keep yourself…yup, less predictable.
Practicing drills that force you out of a situation that you previously planned, by allowing your teammate who’s guarding you to know your first move, is a great option in training flexibility. If your coach doesn’t allow much time for you to think out several plans, it will force you to react quickly and respond to pressure situations.
Here’s a great video showing some moves you can use to get past defenders and get the ball to the hoop.
When to Drive?
So now that you have a handful of tips on how to drive successfully, knowing when to drive is just as important. Despite it being the shot closest to the hoop, it’s one of the hardest to pull off, given the number of defenders and limited space.
A poorly executed drive can result in an easy block or a steal resulting in a turnover. Or worse, instead of getting the foul your team so badly wants, you ended up being the one to foul and costing your team because of poor decision making.
So how do we know when to drive? Well, there are a number of situations that encourage the right moment to execute getting to the hoop, so let’s go over them.
Briefly mentioned before, tight defending can lead to an opportunity to blow past your opponent. When a point-guard slowly walks up to the middle of the court, it’s not just to scan the court of his teammates and opponents; it’s also an attempt to draw out his specific defensive guard—drawing the defense out of the key leaves for major gaps and openings.
The way you get your defender to guard you tighter is to demonstrate you can shoot.
Another way to get your defender to come close is to have quick passes between your team. This will likely draw a defender out in an attempt to steal the ball. Take advantage once they fall for the bait.
Keep in mind that the first time you maneuver past your opponent because of drawing them out will likely send them back again until they feel like they can read you better as an offensive player or attacker. That’s where you must become unpredictable and flexible.
When You Are Confident
Driving to the net takes a certain level of confidence that not a lot of players have. The reason being, is that once you have chosen to drive, there’s no turning around. Yes, there is room to change your footwork and ball-handling in an effort to keep the ball safe and to the hoop. But the goal remains the same, which means going forward.
This also means that you are going to likely get fouled and knocked down.
If you aren’t confident and get jumpy at the sight of someone stopping, you then driving is not for you. The reason being is that you want to be the one fouled on, but if you are not careful, a bad drive is going to result in a foul. Driving in general is tough, but once mastered, is a deadly threat to your opponents.