Hoops Rules – Small Men: Keep the Dribble Alive

One of the most common mistakes by small men … point guards and even shooting guards, and, at times, small forwards … is picking up the dribble too soon. Keeping the DRIBBLE ALIVE keeps the PLAY ALIVE. So, why do these smaller players pick up their dribble? One, they may just do it out of habit … a bad habit. Two, they may be not have an open receiver. Three, and most serious, they may be under pressure, by an outstanding defender or a trap … and pick up the dribble to ‘hide’ the ball from the defenders.

Let’s talk about a situation without great defensive pressure, when the point guard picks up the ball while waiting for teammates to get open. What is the result of that? It’s this: his defender, seeing he has picked up his dribble, jumps all over him. The result of that? One, he can’t get away from that pressure because he can no longer dribble. Two, he must now pass under pressure. All this means the point guard was careless, even too cocky, thinking he was free from any sort of pressure. So, he ‘invites’ pressure.

Let’s talk about picking up the dribble while being double-teamed by two defenders, the so-called ‘trap.’ Yes, it’s risky business to dribble into the teeth of a trap. But, if the dribbler has the ability to do it, he should dribble … backwards! That just kills traps. Of course, if he has just crossed the mid-court line, that’s a problem, as he can’t go backwards or it’s an infraction. But, if he can back his way out of trouble and keep his dribble alive, he may just find a wide-open receiver with a killing pass for an assist.

Let’s talk about the correct ‘passing angle.’ The truly great point guards very seldom make a flashy pass. Instead, they make every pass look easy. That’s because, using their dribble, they get in position to make the easiest pass. This is not unlike a great pocket billiards player, who always gets the cue ball in position to make a straight-on shot. Yes, some point guards may make a no-look pass off the dribble … on the fast break. But all other passes are easy passes. That comes from dribbling into a good passing angle.

Let’s talk about making the ‘lead pass’ to start the half-court offense. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, coaches would tell their point guards this: “Don’t pick up your dribble until you have a receiver.” They wanted that ‘flow’ that comes from having the ball in motion. It also puts teammates at ease, as they think, “We’re in good hands.” That adds to the point guard’s leadership qualities and his charisma with his coaches, his teammates and this opponents. The dribble-pass is the calling card of the true point guard.

All through my coaching career, I was lucky to have great point guards. I cannot think of a season when I did not have a solid point guard. Yes, I looked for them and I found them: Art Schwarm, Tom Wheeler, Steve Rymal, Steve Kaplan, Vic Orth, Jim Couch, Ken Helfand, Kiko Valenzuela, Manuel Herrera, Piero Gergati, Charley Caglieris and Mike D’Antoni. I cannot recall a single instance when they picked up a dribble too soon. The Rule: Keep the dribble alive.

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Dan Peterson

Dan Peterson

Long-time Head Coach of Olimpia Milano in the Italian Serie A1