If you’re looking to become a deadly offensive threat on the basketball court, your ball-handling skills need to be on point. Refine them, and you’ll be the player the coach trusts with the ball during crunch time.
To get the lowdown on what it takes to become a clutch ball handler, we tapped Paul Fabritz, founder of PJF Performance and former Division I basketball player at Northern Arizona University. Fabritz has years of experience training basketball players at every level, including NBA superstar James Harden.
When he’s working with athletes, Fabritz uses SKLZ Control Training balls. These three basketballs come in different weights and sizes, and they’re tailored to boost dribbling speed, velocity, control, and overall ability. The Heavy Control ball is heavier than a regulation basketball; the Lightweight Control ball is smaller and lighter than a regulation-sized ball; and the Official Control ball is smaller than a regulation ball but weighs the same.
Here, Fabritz shares six tips that’ll hone your ball-handling skills and turn you into a nightmare for the defense.
As a star point guard at Santa Clara University, Steve Nash dribbled tennis balls all around campus. Doing so propelled him to become one of the greatest ball handlers in NBA history. Nash’s method could be considered a bit extreme, but it teaches us that dribbling as much as possible is key to boosting your ball handling capabilities.
“Players should work on their ball handling five days per week,” Fabritz says. “You don’t need to do long dribbling sessions, maybe 10-15 minutes per day, but you do need to be consistent.”
Begin every practice with some basic drills to warm up:
- ball slaps – holding the ball center in front of you and smacking it with each hand
- tipping – lightly tossing the back and forth using only your fingertips
- circular dribbling (see left)
- figure-eighting – dribbling the ball between and around your legs in a figure-eight pattern.
The drills are neither time-consuming nor physically taxing, but they’ll dramatically improve your touch, which is crucial for any ball handler.
Switch it up for speed
Fabritz loves inserting the SKLZ control balls into his training sessions because they’re able to do things that an ordinary basketball can’t. “The Heavy Control ball is going to improve the force production of your dribble, which will help increase the speed of your dribble,” Fabritz says.
But you must rotate between the heavy ball and the light ball, which adds and removes resistance, to feel the full effect of the increase.
“What you’ll notice is the nervous system and muscle fibers are still revved up from the heavy ball,” Fabritz says. “So when you go into the lightweight ball, you can operate at a higher speed, and you can actually dribble faster with the lightweight ball than you normally would be able to.”
Dribbling a lighter, smaller basketball also forces you to concentrate on your directional dribbling. That means when you switch to a regular ball, it’ll feel easier to control.
Do 30 seconds of stationary pound dribbling with the heavy ball, 30 seconds with the lightweight ball, and then dribble with a normal ball. You’ll notice a significant boost in your dribble speed and velocity.
In basketball, there are two primary types of ball handling drills: static and dynamic. Standstill dribbling drills, like power crossover dribbles, are great for sharpening technique and hand-eye coordination. They remind you to keep your butt down, straighten your back, and dribble with your fingertips rather than palms.
But basketball is predicated on motion. That’s why it’s also important to do dribbling drills that involve running up and down the court and changing direction.
“We’ll do a lot of cone zigzag stuff where you go to one cone and do a crossover, then get to the next cone and do a crossover,” Fabritz says. The misdirection simulates how you’d move with the basketball during an actual game, whether you’re driving through traffic or leading a fast break.
Changing up the dribbling drills will boost your technique and add to your dribbling repertoire, which will make you a more confident ball handler.
Pass like a pro
When you consider ball handling, the first thing that comes to mind is dribbling, right? Passing doesn’t seem obviously related, but the best ball handlers are typically the best passers: Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash, for example. That’s why Fabritz stresses the importance of developing passing proficiency.
“We use the Heavy Control ball for passing and doing overhead skips across the court,” Fabritz says. “It improves strength, and then when you go back to that normal ball, your passes are going to be a lot stronger and more crisp.”
Practicing overhead, cross-court, and outlet passes with the heavy ball helps build arm, chest, and shoulder strength. It’ll give you that extra oomph on your passes with a normal ball and turn you into a deadlier distributor.
Focus on hand-eye coordination
Remember how we said Steve Nash dribbled tennis balls in college to improve his ball handling? Fabritz tips his hat to the future Hall of Famer, but prefers to use the SKLZ Official Control ball for developing next level hand-eye coordination.
“It’s that same concept of dribbling with a tennis ball and the control ball,” says Fabritz. “You’re dribbling a smaller ball, but the good thing is [with the official control ball], it’s the normal weight of an actual basketball so you’re not limited. With the tennis ball, it’s really hard to do your actual moves.”
Get a few cones and practice between the legs, behind the back, or in-and-out dribbles using the Official Weight ball. Then, do the same thing with a regulation size ball. You’ll be amazed at how much more cleanly you can dribble the ball while keeping your head up.
Step outside of your comfort zone
“It’s important to keep in mind that you should and will mess up frequently,” Fabritz says. “If you are not messing up, then you are training in your comfort zone, and this leads to poor results.”
If you’re looking to achieve elite status on the basketball court, you have to be skilled at everything—no matter your height or position. Gone are the days of specialized labor when point guards handled the rock and big men were saddled in the post.
“It’s really everybody in today’s game, even the big guys, who are expected to dribble the ball,” Fabritz says. “Players must develop their games accordingly.”