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How to Teach Open Court Finishing Moves

Last week, I resumed workouts with a high school freshman. We started two weeks before try-outs last fall, and he did not make his high school team, so we have trained off and on during the season to prepare for the junior varsity try-outs this summer.

We were working on finishing. If you watch high school games closely, moves are not nearly as important as finishes. Many games are played in transition – they are almost continuous 3v2, 4v3 or 5v4 games, especially if at least one team presses. In these situations, the initial pass beats the first line of defense, and a player attacks a retreating defender or defenders with the dribble.

When the offensive player attacks at full speed at a backpedaling defender, he does not need a great dribble move. Instead, he needs to use his speed as an advantage and put the pressure on the defensive player.

The Teaching Progression

We started with some basic finishes, working first on the footwork and touch without the dribble; then incorporating the dribble; and finally working toward game speed. However, his “game speed” was far less than game speed. He concentrated on doing the drill, not making a game-like move.

I decided to play defense. He started beyond half court and attacked down the middle of the court with a full speed dribble; I waited at the top of the key and mixed up my defense. Initially, as he approached, he slowed down to set up and make a move (crossover, through-the-legs). Any time that he made a move, he had no chance to beat me because we were starting from the same speed. As soon as he turned his hips to cross over, I could read his movement and force him wider, preventing a lay-up.

As we continued, I emphasized speed. Pick a shoulder and attack with full speed – no dribble moves. As he caught on, consequently forcing me to back-pedal to stay in front of him, I emphasized the finishes. I am considerably taller and stronger than him, so he had to find ways to create separation or use his body to finish, just as he will have to do at the junior varsity level where he will be one of the shorter players.

Once at full speed, we were able to practice a Euro-step, the “Steve Nash Hook” (as popularized by Goran Dragic and Rajon Rondo), inside-hand lay-ups, reverse lay-ups and more (for examples of different finishing moves, go here: http://www.trainforhoops.com/category/finishing/).

Initially, he struggled to finish, as he had to deal with the faster speed, a bigger defender and the thought-process of making the right move. However, after about a half-hour, he started to make better decisions and finish more consistently.

The Basketball IQ Component

In the open court, I think we emphasize the move too much and do not spend enough time with the finish. The finish – creating and making the shot – is the most important aspect. When players have different finishes to use, the move is less important – they do not have to make a mind-blowing crossover and completely leave the defender behind. Instead, they can adjust to a defender back-pedaling in front of them or one playing them on their hip or one who steps up and tries to take a charge.

In 1v1 or 2v1 situations, the defender rarely steps up at the top of the key to make his defensive stand. Instead, he back-pedals with the offensive player and attempts to stay in front of the ball for as long as possible. Ballard describes Battier playing defense in these situations and how he covers ground like a defensive back. He keeps his hand in front of the ball for as long as possible and then backs away to prevent the foul. Most players anticipate the foul, and they often take an awkward shot when the foul does not occur. We worked on this with our team this season – avoiding the foul – and teams missed many full-speed lay-ups against us because we forced them to go as fast as possible with our pressure, but we did not bail out the out-of-control player with a foul.

As an offensive player, rather than make a move to beat the defender at the three-point line, the move is the finish. The offensive player needs to go as fast as possible, but maintain his body control; therefore, he is not at a full speed sprint. This allows him to change directions with a Euro-step finish or stop with a stride-stop for a Steve Nash Hook. If he goes at a full-speed sprint, he’ll never be able to stop without dragging his pivot foot.

Finally, the offensive player needs to read the situation and make the best decision. When I demonstrated to the player last week with him defending, I started with a right-hand dribble. As I closed the gap on him, usually around the free throw line, he stepped slightly toward my right shoulder. I picked up my dribble, took a big step past him and finished with an inside-hand lay-up on the left side of the basket. I did not need a crossover dribble or a double move. Just one wrong step by the defender opened a lay-up for me because I drove at him with enough speed to put the pressure on him, but with enough patience that I could read his movement and react with the appropriate decision. I could have used a crossover dribble and attacked with a different finish, but why risk a move and slowing down when my finish can be the move?

Implement Finishing in your Practices

My favorite drill, and one that we did almost every day during the season, is Foster’s 1v1 Drill. The drill is essentially as I described above, with the offensive player attacking from three-quarter court while the defender closes out from the baseline and then defends. The defense’s goal is to prevent the basket, but a great defensive possession is to keep the offensive player out of the key. The offensive goal is to score. The most successful offensive players are those who attack with speed and make the aggressive move. Often, even an incorrect decision done with enough aggression and pace creates a defensive foul or a basket or both, while the correct decision made at a slow speed often results in a contested shot.

When we practice open court moves, we need more emphasis on the finishes, and less on the dribble moves, as speed is the best move in the open court.

Practice in proportion to your aspirations,

Brian McCormick

P.S. Don’t get me wrong, ball handling is an important skill and every player needs confidence dribbling with speed and when pressured. However, to control a defender, less is often more. The more moves that a player uses when pressured, the more opportunities that he gives the defender to steal the ball. Instead, when pressured, use a simple change of direction and/or change speeds to keep the defender off-balance. Then, spend more time finishing shots from different angles and at different speeds.