Want to improve your game? Take a lesson from the pros NBA players, coaches and personalities who have shared their favourite playing tips.

Ball-Handling | Bank Shot | Blocking Shots | Defence | Free-Throw Shooting | Hook Shot | Jumping | Low-Post Play | Moving Without the Ball | Rebounding | Setting Picks | Shooting | Sitting on the Bench | Steals | Triple Threat | Unselfish Play


Former NBA head coach Lenny Wilkens, who was a star NBA playmaker in the 1960s and early 1970s:

Being a great ball-handler means being able to dribble and pass equally well. Being able to dribble allows you to make a play when a guy is open. Being a good passer allows you to complete the play when that guy is open. If you handle the ball well enough you can make that play off the dribble, which is something not every player can do.

I think part of the game is realizing you have to play all 94 feet. It teaches everyone to handle the ball. Some players you don't want handling the ball in the open court. But if it becomes necessary, then they have that skill.

Guard Tim Hardaway, who is known for his "killer crossover":

I used to set up cones in the street and spend hours dribbling between them. I would dribble up and down switching from one hand to the other. Once I got comfortable, I tried to do it more quickly. After a while, you find yourself becoming more and more confident that the defensive player can't take the ball away from you. You still need to have vision of the court and all the other players when you're crossing over. And one thing is important to remember: if you're not under control, then you're out of control.

Return to top of page

Bank Shot

NBA great Michael Jordan, who holds the career record for the most seasons leading the NBA in scoring (10):

If your shot is a little off, then you can still use the glass (backboard) to help yourself out. You don't have to shoot a perfect shot when you use the backboard.

Former NBA head coach Doug Collins, who as a player had a career 17.9 points-per-game average:

One of the easiest and least used shots in basketball is the bank shot. It provides you with a margin of error that you don't have otherwise.

Winnipeg, MB native and Philadelphia 76ers centre Todd MacCulloch, who had a .517 field goal percentage in 2002-03:

Using the backboard is something I've always done; I grew up with it. I was not permitted to dunk in my high school division so that meant finding other ways to put the ball in the rim. I use the backboard for reverse layups and bank shots. It takes some of the force off of the ball; it slows the ball and gives it more of a chance to roll in. I like using the glass myself.

Return to top of page

Blocking Shots

Centre Dikembe Mutombo, four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

Opponents are scared by good defence. Make them change their shots. Make them think twice before challenging you.

New Jersey Nets centre Alonzo Mourning, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

When you block a shot, try to keep the ball in-bounds so that your team is able to score off your defensive effort.

Blocking a shot is as thrilling as dunking.

Return to top of page


Chicago Bulls guard/forward Scottie Pippen, eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team:

Defence is about desire. You have to want to play defence. And you have to work at it.

If you watch the defender's eyes, you'll go for fakes. Watch the defender's waist to see where he really intends to go.

San Antonio Spurs centre/forward Tim Duncan, five-time NBA All-Defensive First Team:

Know your opponent's strengths and weaknesses. That is the most important thing.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team:

The best defenders have focus. So you have to focus on your man and what your responsibility is.

Miami Heat guard Eddie Jones, who led the NBA in steals in 1999-2000 (2.7 per game):

You have to be a smart player to be a good defender. And you have to want to stop your opponent.

Toronto Raptors forward Jerome Williams, who averaged 5.9 defensive boards per game in 2002-03:

Focus on the player, not the basketball and do a lot of barking it's the key to success.

Jerome Williams
Jerome Williams advises defenders to focus on the player, not the basketball. (Ron Turenne/
NBAE/Getty Images)

Stephanie Ready, the first female coach of a men's professional sports team (the NBDL's Greenville Groove) and among the top 10 at Coppin State in points, rebounds, assists and steals:

I was a hustle player. That's the sort of thing coaches love because it ties up so many loose ends. On the defensive end, getting in the passing lanes is important because you may get your hands on the ball and make steals. It also helps the overall team defensive scheme because the offence cannot do what they want to do. They can't swing the ball or reverse the basketball, which makes it hard for them to get into their offence. The offensive team must spread out further away from the basket and often gets frazzled.

One thing I always try to stress is that you should play defence the way you hate to be played. If you can't stand having a hand in your face, put your hand in the offensive player's face. You know it's irritating! You know it's blocking the line of vision and making it harder to pass. If you hate to be bodied up, body up. That's the best way to play defence.

Anticipation is a big, big part of defence. A lot of that comes from understanding the game of basketball and how it works. If you can anticipate the next pass, you can cheat off your man a little bit so the passer thinks the pass is there and then grab it.

Return to top of page

Free-Throw Shooting

Former NBA player Sam Vincent, a career 86-per-cent free-throw shooter, on free throws:

Know you're going to make it. The problem with a lot of players is they are thinking so much about the fundamentals of the shot that they are not confident that they will make the shot. With a free throw, you should be telling the ball there is nowhere to go but in the hoop. Then it will go in.

Return to top of page

Hook Shot

Winnipeg, MB native and Philadelphia 76ers centre Todd MacCulloch, who had a .517 field goal percentage in 2002-03:

A hook shot is always good because it's an unblockable shot if done properly. It's just a matter of if you make the shot or not. The percentages should be in your favour because there is no reason why a defender should be able to get his hand on your shot.

Former NBA head coach George Karl, who has more than 15 years of NBA coaching experience:

This is a shot more players should develop. You have to have the ability to score around the rim. It's important to use your body to protect the ball. You shoulders are perpendicular to the defender rather than facing the defender's shoulders.

Return to top of page


NBA great Dominique Wilkins, slam dunk champion in 1985 and 1990:

Aside from God-given talent, I used to work on my timing and my explosiveness. I used to have a bench, about two feet high and eight to nine inches wide. I used to jump over it back and forth for 50 times. We used to do that when I was in high school four to five times a week. In addition to this, I did leg extensions and leg-strengthening exercises. Stretching when you're tired can improve stamina and strength.

Return to top of page

Low-Post Play

Winnipeg, MB native and Philadelphia 76ers centre Todd MacCulloch, who averaged 4.7 rebounds per game in 2002-03:

The biggest thing is to get low because there is a lot of pushing and shoving in the post. You need a nice low centre of gravity so you can't be pushed off the low block and you can actually make your way to the basket. At this level, if you can get a guy under the basket, most players have the ability to jump up and overpower you to the basket.

Return to top of page

Moving Without the Ball

NBA great Alex English, three-time All-NBA second-team player, on moving without the ball:

I would never stop moving. If the defender can't touch me or cover me, then I've won part of the battle. I would run my defender and never stop moving. When I had a big guy on me, I would just run him take advantage of cutting. I pride myself on not being a selfish player and passing the ball. If the shot wasn't there, I'd give it up. Guarding me, they either had to put a guy that was quick and had leaps like Michael Jordan or a guy that was taller, agile and long like a Kevin McHale.

Return to top of page


NBA great Bob Lanier, who averaged more than 10 rebounds per game, on rebounding:

You have to want the basketball. Wes Unseld, Moses Malone and Dennis Rodman were prime examples of that. Those three players stand out. They had a zealous love and worked hard at trying to get everything that came within their reach. No question about it, it's about desire, not size.

You should always get your butt down because your legs are stronger than your arms. That's the key to getting good position rebounding offensively and defensively.

NBA great Dominique Wilkins, who grabbed 2950 offensive boards in his career:

It's all timing. Go to the glass when your opponent least expects you to. I used to shoot the ball at the top of the key and I'd act like I was going to run back on defence, but instead I'd sneak behind the defender. I got a lot of offensive rebounds that way. If you watch the NBA videos, you've seen me dunk those rebounds back while in the air.

Sacramento Kings forward Chris Webber, who led the NBA in rebounding (13.0 per game) in 1998-99:

Rebounding is just about wanting the ball. It all comes down to being aggressive and making an effort to go get the ball.

Practice boxing-out with a friend. Face the basket. After your friend shoots, let the ball bounce on the ground before you grab it. Try to hold off your friend for three bounces.

Forward LaPhonso Ellis, who recorded 4.3 boards per game in 2001-02:

Always assume the shot will miss. Now you're ready.

The best rebounders always know where the ball is headed. That comes from studying how the ball comes off the rim on every type of shot. So even on the bench, follow every miss.

As soon as the ball goes up, get a body on your man and box him out. Bend your knees and stick your butt into him. Use your elbows to keep your man behind you. If you need to move to the ball, use the slide step.

If you've anticipated well and have position, you'll have a good shot at the ball. All that's left is timing your jump and grabbing the board.

Return to top of page

Setting Picks

Detroit Pistons head coach Larry Brown, who led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001:

I don't get hung up on how you stand but you have to get there in plenty of time so you don't put yourself in the position of fouling. You have to keep in mind what you're trying to set the screen for, which is either to get someone else an open shot or to create an open shot for yourself. People forget about that. But guys that set good screens have a tendency to create good shot opportunities for themselves.

Return to top of page


Alex English, the Denver Nuggets' all-time leading scorer with 21,645 points:

I tried to shoot the ball as high as I could to keep guys from blocking it, and then releasing the ball from the wrist. To keep the defence off-balance, I worked on developing a running one-hander which I would shoot going across the middle, because I knew the defender was still down in a defensive stance. I would pick up the ball off the dribble in stride and shoot it. I would practice that shot. I practiced shooting very high shots over shot-blockers close to the basket. I would work on altering my shot to counteract the defence.

Former NBA head coach George Karl, who has more than 15 years of NBA coaching experience:

Players have to understand the importance of using their legs and fingertips. The great shooters release the ball the same way every time, I always teach younger players to shoot the ball toward the basket as if they were shooting out of the top of a phone booth. You are reaching up toward the rim. The engine of any shot is in the legs; your fingers are the steering wheel or the fine-control mechanism.

Players have a tendency to move out and take shots from spots they aren't physically able to shoot from. If you do that then you end up practicing bad habits. You don't accomplish anything if all you do is become very good at bad habits.

NBA great Jeff Malone, a career 19 points-per-game scorer:

I did a drill in high school that I started with my coach, Don Richardson, where I'd shoot the ball off the glass 10 on one side, 10 on the other. I started right in front of the trim, and then worked my way out. I worked on the extension of the arm, the flick of the wrist after the ball leaves the hand and I exaggerated that motion. I used this throughout my pro career for 20 to 30 minutes a day.

My fall-away J came because Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics were jumping out to block my shot, so I started to lean back when I shot to create more space between me and the defender. The more I shot it, the more confident I became playing the game.

New Orleans Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn, who notched 21.6 points per game in 2002-03:

I had a chance to go to basketball camps and had good coaching, so I had people showing me the right way to shoot a basketball. Then, when I went to the University of Kentucky, Coach Rick Pitino stressed good form. He understood what to do and how to do it. And growing up, I basically watched others to see what they were doing. Then I practiced. And practice does make perfect it you're using the proper form.

Mark Price, former All-Star guard:

You must first learn proper form, so that practice time is productive. You can spend several hours a day practicing, but working on the wrong things is a waste of time.

Preparing to shoot the ball starts even before a player gets the ball. You must work to get to open spots on the floor where you know you can shoot. A player must have his feet in proper position even before receiving the pass.

Utah Jazz guard/forward Glen Rice, who led the NBA with a .470 three-point field goal percentage in 1996-97:

Good shooting mechanics are the key. You want to be balanced, with your weight distributed equally on each foot. Your led foot your right foot if your right-handed shouldn't be more than five inches in front of your back foot. The second thing to remember is your arm positioning. Your upper arm should form a right angle with your forearm like a capital L. Make sure your elbow doesn't slide out sideways. Now flick your wrist up and forward when you shoot, and let the ball roll off your fingertips to get backspin. Without backspin, shots just don't seem to have that touch to roll in off the backboard or iron.

Return to top of page

Sitting on the Bench

Denver Nuggets centre/forward Marcus Camby, scorer of 7.6 points per game in 2002-03:

I tell kids to remain patient and wait on the opportunity. That's exactly what I did. You just really can't go out and blurt things out and make matters worse. You've got to keep working hard in practice and show your teammates and your coaches that you deserve to be out there.

It's not going to be easy. There are a lot of great players in front of you playing the game, but you've just got to remain consistent and keep working hard. There were times during the season where I could have erupted but I knew that wasn't the best thing for the team. I was just patient and waited for my opportunity. And when my opportunity came, I grabbed it.

Return to top of page


Gary Payton
Gary Payton led the NBA with 2.85 spg in 1996 as a member of the Sonics.
(Jeff Reinking/
NBAE/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Lakers guard and 1996 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton:

Stay low and watch out for players cutting to the hoop. That's a tip-off that a pass is coming and a steal is possible.

Anyone who doesn't mind playing hard can play good D. Defence is plain effort.

Return to top of page

Triple Threat

New Orleans Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn, who averaged 21.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in 2002-03:

A player always has to be ready to catch the ball. You have to be ready to get into what they call the triple-threat position. That means you have to be able to catch the ball and either drive to the basket, pass off to a teammate or take a jump shot. And you have to be ready to do those things quickly.

Return to top of page

Unselfish Play

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who has won nine NBA titles as a head coach and one as a player:

If you don't do that (play as a team) then you are jeopardizing the group. You have a responsibility to yourself with respect to the other four players on the court. You owe it to them to contribute to the team effort; that means playing unselfishly and in the best interest of the team.

I played with five Hall-of-Famers, and all of them shared the ball when they were on the floor. That was a trademark of those Knicks teams; they all hit the open man. That's what carried those teams to higher and higher heights. They were all good passers and that rubbed (off) on other players.

Former NBA head coach Lenny Wilkens, who averaged 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game as an NBA player:

When I entered the NBA as a player I really became intrigued with the way the game was played and the team that always came to mind was the Boston Celtics. I wanted to know why they were so good, why they won so many championships in the 1960s and 1970s and then, later, with Larry Bird in the 1980s. What made them so good?

Well, they moved the ball around so unselfishly. They also had six or eight guys that would score in double figures. It was hard to beat them because you could key on one guy but the next one ended up being the guy that beat you. So I always felt that you had to have more than one guy that was an effective scorer, and that's how I modeled my teams. I felt the more we shared the ball the tougher we were to defend. I made that part of my philosophy.

Return to top of page

For more playing tips and expert advice, check out the Ask JT archive at the Basketball U Library.