Smart and savvy ball handlers like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Steph Curry have the best basketball handles in the world. Their elite ball handling unlocks easier scoring opportunities for their teams, it gives them more control of their offense, and helps them remain cool under pressure.
Smart ball handling, ball control and dribbling skills are essential for every basketball player at any position, but especially for perimeter players like point guards and forwards. The key to running a successful offense is ball protection and ball control by the entire team to keep the defense out of their comfort zone.
Players who can dribble the ball in control with their left hand and their right hand equally well can get to any spot on the court to take or create good shoots.
The problem is most players don’t put in the effort to learn the right basketball drills to develop their ball handling skills. Great ball handling is an art that is learned through years of practice, repetition and experience.
[Related article for point guards and playmakers: how to shoot a basketball better]
Here are the keys to becoming a better ball handler with superior dribbling skills
1. Get comfortable with the ball in your hands
The most important aspect for a young player is to become comfortable with the basketball in their hands. Get comfortable handling and dribbling the ball in a variety of situations and settings. Players do not need a game or practice setting to work on their ball handling. You can practice dribbling in your driveway, basement, sidewalk and on the court.
The secret to feeling in control of the basketball involves while mimicking real game situations:
- run drills with both the left hand and right hand
- stop and change directions quickly
- pretend you’re protecting the ball from the outstretched arm of a long-armed defender like Kawhi Leonard
Comfort boils down to effective hand eye coordination. Years of practice will earn you true ambidextrous ability to dribble the ball. When ball handling skills are perfected with the left hand and right hand, you gain the ability to not only dribble the ball in any direction, but to maintain their court vision and get to any spot you want to create good opportunities to score points.
2) Start with basic basketball drills first for better ball handling
Top NBA superstars are able to dribble in a variety of creative ways while protecting the ball. This includes using quick spin moves off the dribble, dribbling behind the back, and dribbling through your legs. The key, however, for improving is to first learn the basic fundamentals of dribbling and ball handling in stationary positions.
It’s simple: you need to be able to do the between the legs dribble, the crossover dribble, the behind the back dribble, the figure 8 dribble, the pound dribble, and other simple dribbles.
Here are the rules of doing these drills:
- Avoid touching the palm of your hands on the bounce
- Switch between the right hand and left hand to perform each drill one hand at a time
- Don’t look at the ball; keep your head up
- Maintain control of your body as you speed up the drills
- Growth comes from dribbling at speeds and intensity outside of your comfort zone
- Alternate putting weight on the balls of your right and left foot as you cross the ball from waist to waist.
Once a player learns to dribble in a stationary position, you can slowly improve your ball handling skills on the run. Once you can dribble well without looking at the ball, without the ball touching your palm, you can advance to harder dribbling drills and add new moves to your bag. NBA players use behind the back and between the legs dribbling, not to show off, but to make decisive, offensive moves, while protecting the ball.
3) Perfect one “go-to” dribbling move and a “change of pace” move
Once you master the basics and has the ability to handle the ball and see the court with their head up they can master individual “go to” moves. If a player has a quick first step to their dominant hand they should utilize that move until the defense can stop it. Of course many good defensive players will cut off a player’s dominant hand or dominant move. If this is the case it’s essential to have a variety of ball-handling moves to get past the defender for scoring looks or to draw in the defense so the player can find an open teammate for shot. Over time a player will slowly build an arsenal of effective moves they can rely on in different situations. The key is to master a handful of moves and then to build your arsenal of moves over time.
4) Learn, improve, perfect the skill
Watch great hall handlers like Isaiah Thomas, John Stockton and Chris Paul and study their body, from head to feet. Notice how they use their arms – the one hand with the ball and the other without it – to dribble, control, and direct plays. In triple threat, how they angle their feet. Their vision of unfolding play. The spacing between their legs and feet. The speed at which they cross the ball from waist to waist. How hard they pound the ball when they drive to the basket. How they position their whole body when doing a crossover dribble to fool the defender.
Try to study these details, apply them in your dribbling and ball handling drills, and improve them during pickup basketball games at the local gym, at rec leagues, so you can be ready when competing at the highest level games. Even getting practice through one-on-one to learn and improve increases your comfort in real game situations.
Practice on your dribbling skill as much as you would your jump shooting skill, Take pride in omeone who doesn’t turn the ball over, occurs when the player not only is adept at dribbling the basketball, but when the develop and understanding of how to maximize the space on the court.
Last thought: One of the best side effects of mastering your ball handling: your jump shot accuracy increases as you arms develop a better feel for the ball.