The Importance of Ball Handling in Basketball

After giving up an easy layup, the scoring team runs back lethargically to get their defense into position. The ball is quickly inbounded to the point guard and rolls down the court, before being snatched by the floor general at the tempo of a slow crawl. Should the point guard push to take advantage of a temporary lapse in the defense, or is this lapse a decoy designed for a quick snare? Regardless of the decision, the fate of the play lies in the tempo of the primary ball handler. And the tempo, of course, is dictated by the ball-handling itself.

The Subtleties of Ball-Handling

Often times, ball-handling drills are emphasized but the theory behind why is neglected. One reason for this is that ball-handling is quite abroad category; ball-handling can encompass dribbling, catching the ball, releasing it for a pass, or for flashy purposes to dupe the opponent.  Fundamentally, the main reasons that we work on our ball-handling are to build strength in our hands and to increase hand/eye coordination. These drills also keep the muscles in our hands loose, which helps prevent cramping up in late game situations.  In our quest to get better at basketball, improving in this area will also improve other areas of our game — since hand/eye coordination lends itself to so many facets.

Dribbling

Once we have enhanced the strength in our hands, we move on to one of (if not the most) important factors of ball-handling: dribbling. Obviously, having sound dribbling skills is crucial to a ball-handler’s success. Dribbling allows us to artfully move around our opponent — setting up separation and space to either create our own shot or to set up a play for a teammate.  Our dribbling skills also help us dictate the flow of the game. With dexterous ball-handling, we have the ability to change our pace multiple times when attacking the basket. Introductory handling drills are stressed to be of paramount importance in all basketball training programs.

Inspiration for Ball-Handling

When we look at teams such as the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs, we witness a beautifully constructed system that is similar to a musical orchestra. The source of this soundness lies in a team that has multiple playmakers, and thus, multiple ball-handlers.  The fact is, the game of basketball has evolved quite a bit over the recent years. No longer do all of the ball-handling duties lie in a single point-guard or floor general on a team. Instead, we are witnessing the trend of a positionless game where even centers and forwards will push the ball up the floor to create plays with their ball-handling skills.

Quite simply, ball-handling is important because of versatility. And versatility is an excellent trait to have in our continually evolving game. These skills can be improved at a basketball academy such as Core Skills Training, where players will work on a variety of offensive skills alongside ball-handling.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings Week 12

Photo via CBS Sports

We are two weeks into 2018, and three months into the 2017-2018 NBA season as of the close of this week. The rookie class has spent close to 100 days (regular season) in the league and we are seeing mixed results from an extremely talented rookie group. Some are battling injuries, and some have just been inconsistent, but the depth and long term potential of the group continues to flash itself week in and week out. Let’s jump right into the rankings for Week 12 and see how it shakes out three months in.

1. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell continues to sit on top of the rankings for the third consecutive week, and for very good reason. Mitchell has shown to be the best scorer in the class, as he currently averages 18.8 points per night (22.8 over his last 10), including a 35 point effort against the Hornets on Saturday. While the Jazz have struggled mightily, Mitchell has played like a future superstar and is going to be the franchise player in Utah for as long as he wants to remain there. Mitchell has made the Jazz a must watch on a consistent basis, and for Jazz fans it is only going to get better from here.

2. Ben Simmons – Sixers

Simmons has been phenomenal this season, and will compete with Mitchell until the end of the season for the Rookie of the Year award. He is a tremendous, borderline generational talent and is going to only get better as the season and his career progresses. His biggest weakness is his jumper, and that will have to improve, but he still has plenty of time to work on that. While his performance against Boston in London was underwhelming for him, if Simmons can get back to his November/December form and get the Sixers into the playoffs he should walk away with the Rookie of the Year award.

3. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum got the better of fellow rookie Ben Simmons in their match-up in London, both individually and in the W/L column (114-103 Celtics win). Tatum continues to play at a consistently high level, and providing the Celtics with an elite shooter on the wings with a quickly expanding all-around game. Tatum is averaging 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, and is playing at a pretty high level on the defensive end for a rookie. He also remains the best shooter in the rookie class and one of the best statistically in the league; 49.9% from the field, 45.9% from 3 and 82.2% from the line. Also belated to congrats go out to Tatum for becoming a father this week, and remaining in the top 3 of our Rookie Power Rankings.

4. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

Outside of some time he missed due to injuries in December, Markkanen has been absolutely phenomenal for the Bulls this season. He averaged 22.7 points per game during the second week of 2018, including a 33 point outburst against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Arizona product via way of Finland has also been a surprisingly consistent rebounder pulling in 7.5 a night. The Bulls were on of the worst teams during the first six weeks of the NBA season, and now only stand 6.5 games back of a playoff spot. With Zach Lavine getting healthy and Markkanen continuing to play well Chicago may be able to make a run at the playoffs over the next few months.

5. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

Kuzma’s struggles have continued into 2018, but he rebounded nicely in a win against the Mavericks on Saturday night and looks to have started to get back on track. In seven games in January Kuzma has averaged just 11.3 points per game, and shot 39.5% from the floor, but he contributed a double-double, 18 points and 10 rebounds, in that game against Dallas. Despite his struggles the Lakers have won 4 straight and if Kuzma has truly got his shot back, it only means good things for the potential of that streak continuing towards the end of January. The biggest steal of the draft is going to be just fine over the long haul, and it looks like the previous two weeks worth of struggles are something he is already starting to put behind him.

6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavericks

The fact that Dennis Smith Jr. is not in the top 5 of this rookie class speaks to just how deep the class is as a whole. He was excellent this past week in his two outings and flashed the promise that he holds as a potential superstar point guard. The former NC State lead guard averaged 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists a game while leading Dallas to a 2-1 record during the week. While his shooting has been inconsistent Smith is averaging 17 points and 5 assists per game over his last 5 games and starting to gain more confidence from veteran head coach Rick Carlisle. Smith plays on one of the leagues worst teams, but he alone is worth tuning in if you get a chance to watch Dallas over the next decade plus.

7. Lonzo Ball – Lakers

Ball will undergo an MRI on his left knee today for precautionary reasons, so hopefully it is nothing serious and we will see the UCLA product back on the court at full strength in short order. He held his own against Dennis Smith Jr. on Saturday night, and looked impressive at times against both San Antonio and Sacramento earlier in the week. Ball is averaging 11.2 points, 8.4 rebounds 7 assists and 2 steals per game over the course of the last 5 games, in which the Lakers are 4-1. While the rest of the Ball family makes headlines halfway around the world, Lonzo continues to improve each week, and will prove to be a very good lead guard over the course of his NBA career.

8. Bogdan Bogdanovic – Kings

The swing guard from Serbia continues to impress each week and has found himself at the 8th spot in our rankings during week 12. In 4 games this week (unfortunately for Sacramento all four finishing as losses) Bogdanovic averaged 17.5 points, 4 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. While his averages were impressive, it is more impressive when you look at his shooting percentages and efficiency; 58% from the field, 54% from 3 and 87% from the line. While the Kings currently sport the second worst record in the league (behind only the Hawks), Bogdanovic and backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox have both shown enough promise to give Kings fans a lot to look forward to in future seasons.

9. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox has been starting to see the game slow down for him over the last few weeks and is starting to flash the potential that had some scouts dubbing him the left handed John Wall. He has seen his role expand in Sacramento’s offense over the past couple of weeks and he has ran with the extra responsibility. He averaged close to 13 points and over 7 assists per game in his 4 appearances during this weeks action. While the Kings are amongst the league’s worst, the climb back to respectability is going to run through Fox’s development over the rest of the season and the coming years.

10. Bam Adebayo – Heat

The Heat are surprisingly holding down the 4th spot in the East as of Sunday afternoon, and look to pose a threat to teams not names Cleveland or Boston in the Eastern Conference come the springtime. A big reason why? The emergence of Adebayo, the product of one season with John Calipari in Lexington, Kentucky. He is averaging 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19 minutes a game so far in the month of January. As his minutes have picked up, so as his production and he is showing the potential to turn into one hell of a compliment to Hassan Whiteside in the Miami starting lineup. Bam’s development will be something to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.

Honorable Mentions:

John Collins – Hawks
Jordan Bell – Warriors
OG Anunoby – Raptors
Josh Jackson – Suns
Dillon Brooks – Grizzlies

7 Teams That Have Surprised Us This College Basketball Season

By now it’s pretty widely agreed upon that this season has been crazy in college basketball. Upsets all over, blue chip programs struggling to put it together, and teams that were overlooked, turning heads. You often see teams start hot and fade away once conference play begins, but let’s look at seven teams who appear to be legitimate here in mid January.

Auburn

Take a second to realize just what Bruce Pearl has done this year at Auburn. His program was linked to the FBI report that was released in the Fall. He lost one of his assistant coaches just before the start of the season. And, his two best players are out for the entire season. Recipe for success? For sure not. However, the Tigers have a 16-1 record, and a perfect 4-0 record in SEC play this season. While they played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, Auburn has two strong SEC wins at Tennessee and against Arkansas. This team is playing with confidence and their head coach is coaching with a swagger. Auburn may be the most surprising team so far this season.

Ohio State

Speaking of non-ideal scenarios, take a look at what Chris Holtmann inherited at Ohio State. In June, he took over a team that won just six Big Ten games, and were losing their top four leading scorers. His only option would be to weather the storm and begin making serious changes after what was expected to be a rough first season, right? Wrong. Although they got off to a shaky start, failing to secure any signature non-conference wins, what Holtmann has done at Ohio State so far is fantastic. Behind the All-American play of Keita Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes already have six conference wins, and are tied with Purdue at the top of the standings. And while they may not have been able to secure any resume boosting non-conference wins, they announced themselves as contenders with an absolute drubbing of Michigan State a few weeks ago.

Clemson

The Clemson Tigers were supposed to make the NCAA tournament last season, at least that’s what their expectation was. Jaron Blossomgame was finally a senior and be was going to lead them to the Big Dance before he left. Unfortunately that story never panned out, but Clemson appears to be on their way this season. What losing Blossomgame did was turn them into one of the more balanced scoring teams in the country. They have five players who average 11 points a game or more. They hold wins over Ohio State, Florida, Louisville and Miami. Three of those four wins were at home, a place they defended pretty well this season.

Oklahoma

If you watch a lot of college basketball, you know the Oklahoma Sooners are a lot more than Trae Young. Sure, Young is a sensational player and well on his way to being named Player of the Year, but this team is blossoming after going through many growing pains last year. After being extremely young last season, Oklahoma is seeing a lot of players make big jumps in their game, year over year. Young might be a straw that stirs the drink, but his strong supporting cast is the reason the Sooners are a top 5 team in the country.

Arizona State

Arizona State has had a humbling start to Pac 12 play, but they are still light years ahead of where anyone thought they would be. They have a top 10 offense in the country, though that has slowed down some as well. Despite their conference struggles, the Sun Devils still have wins against Xavier and at Kansas to hang their hat on. They have a favorable stretch coming up that should (hopefully) be what this team needs to get back on track. Regardless, this team is 14-3 and a real threat to win the Pac 12. That is something not many people expected coming into the season.

Texas Tech

If you are unaware, the Big 12 Conference is really, really good. One reason why is the ridiculous play of Trae Young. Another reason is the emergence of Texas Tech and the tenacious defense Chris Beard has instilled in this team. While they don’t generate the turnovers that West Virginia does, the Red Raiders defense is Top 10 in the country in terms of points per game. A mix of strong senior leadership and tough defense can take a team far. This Texas Tech team is good enough to reach a Final Four, just ask Kansas, Baylor, Nevada and West Virginia.

Purdue

The Purdue Boilermakers are tied for first place in the Big Ten. They haven’t lost since the day after Thanksgiving. In that time they’ve beaten Arizona (albeit without Rawle Alkins), Louisville, Michigan and Butler. The Boilermakers made a statement in a 34 point slaughter of a Minnesota team that has some problems. With Purdue, you have another rare exception of a team losing an All-American (Caleb Swanigan) and seemingly being better without him. Despite the departure of Swanigan, Matt Painter still had the pieces to have a successful season. Right now he is getting the most out of all those pieces, with three upperclassmen averaging over 13 points a game, and a sophomore, Carson Edwards, leading them with 16 a game. The Big Ten was supposed to be a bad league dominated by Michigan State. Three weeks into conference play however, it is Purdue that looks dominant.

We’re still a long way from March. That is fortunate and unfortunate news for some teams. And as I mentioned before, there are plenty of teams who have played better than expected. Right now though, these seven teams and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the the job they’ve done in the first half of the season.

Texas’ Andrew Jones Diagnosed with Leukemia, Longhorns Proceed to Upset TCU

Terrible news came out of Austin yesterday when Texas sophomore guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with Leukemia and has begun undergoing treatment. The news came from an announcement from his family on Wednesday.

“After undergoing a number of tests and evaluations over the past week, Andrew has been diagnosed with leukemia,” the family said in a statement released through the university.

Jones was the Longhorn’s leading scorer in the ten games he played this season. He tested the NBA waters in the off-season, but ultimately decided to return back to school for another year. Jones was sidelined a good portion of the year with a wrist injury, but upon his return, felt a low energy in his play. He went for testing, which eventually diagnosed his illness.

After receiving the news of their teammate, the Longhorns had to prepare to take on 16th ranked TCU in Austin. In a game that can only be described as emotional, the Longhorns pulled off the upset, topping TCU 99-98 in double-overtime. While Texas entered the game at 1-2 in the conference, the win meant so much more than improving their place in the standings. As Shaka Smart said post game: “Our guys really wanted to win for Andrew. He’s the one who’s been on our minds and in our hearts.”

Situations like this, as awful as they are, put things into perspective. It shows how much a team is also a family. There’s a bond that often gets overlooked. If you missed any of the game you can see some of the recap below. The support and emotion from the entire Texas Longhorn community, as well as all over is just tremendous. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andrew, his family and Texas as well.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings Week 11

We’re back with the 11th version of our NBA Rookie Power Rankings for the 2017-2018 season. The Rookie of the Year race is shaping up to be a three player race at this stage of the season with the potential for a couple of others to sneak in with a strong finish over the next few months. Some rookies are beginning to get consistent and put it all together, while others are getting healthy and starting to play up to their pre-NBA billing. Let’s get to the rankings for Week 11, shall we?

1. Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz

Mitchell holds onto the number one spot in the rankings for the second straight week. While Utah is struggling to stay healthy, the Louisville product continues to show promise each and every time out, as he is quickly establishing himself as the franchise player that will fill the void left behind by Gordon Hayward. While he had a week highlighted by volume scoring (6-17 and 6-13 performances from the field against the Pelican and Nuggets) he continues to show that he is the best scorer in the rookie class. Utah has a pretty solid core around him and as he continues to develop, learning to make other players better is going to be paramount in him becoming a potential superstar.

2. Ben Simmons – Sixers

As discussed last week, December was not as plentiful for Simmons as the months of October and November were, but the first of week 2018 saw him show signs of bouncing back. The number one spot on the rankings could be in the near future once again. In two Sixer wins, he averaged 22.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds in under 30 minutes per contest. Those numbers would have been much higher if the Sixers/Pistons game on Friday was even remotely close (a 114-78 Sixers win). Simmons returns to action on Thursday in London against the Boston Celtics and fellow rookie Jayson Tatum. He will look to continue to get back to the form he was in during the first two months of the season.

3. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

Kuz has struggled over the past couple of weeks, but struggles happen for rookies. They get exasperated when you play in Los Angeles, you play on one of the youngest teams in the league, and your franchise has parents/coaches clashing. Kuzma has struggled from the field over the last five games (35.8%) and is averaging just 13 points a game over the same time frame. Kuzma is going to find his shot again and he will pick it up, but you have to wonder if the rookie wall and the Big Baller Distraction are beginning to take a toll on the rookie at the same time as we dive into the new year.

4. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

The Celtics keep winning, even with Tatum having one of his quieter weeks as a pro, offensively speaking. He chipped in 15 points and 5 rebounds against Cleveland and 14 points and 6 rebounds against the Nets. However, his 4 points against the Timberwolves are a career low, but my guess is the rookie is more than happy with the win and the overall position that he is in. Tatum has been playing well defensively and it shows the long term potential that he possesses on both ends of the floor. He has a chance to make a statement on Thursday in London against Philadelphia.

5. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

If there is one word to describe the Finnish products rookie season so far, it would be consistent. Markkanen opened up 2018 on a tear, averaging 17.2 points, and 8.4 rebounds a game in his first 5 games of the calendar year. Even more impressive were his shooting averages for the week; 56.1% from the field, 50% from 3 and 87.5% from the free-throw line. While the Bulls have fallen back to Earth after a red hot stretch in December, Markkanen is one of many reasons for Bulls fans to be excited for their future.

6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavs

Dennis Smith has been both hurt and inconsistent at points during his rookie campaign, but continues to show flashes of brilliance. He started the new year strong with 14 points and 8 assists against the Warriors, while also contributing 15 points and 7 assists against the Bulls two nights later. He had 11 points and 5 assists against the Knicks in a matchup with Frank Ntilikina (remember LeBron’s comments about the two after a Cavs/Knicks game earlier this season), however he sat during crunch time. That is a lesson Rick Carlisle will use to teach the young point guard and make hopefully him better in the future.

7. John Collins – Hawks

Collins had a pretty quiet and inefficient week, by his lofty standards if you’ve been following this very column, but he has still had a good rookie campaign thus far. Minus the time that he has missed, he has been one of the the premier rookies and is still leading in PER (21.06) among the first year guys. He is still shooting 58.4% from the floor, while averaging 10.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in just 22 minutes per night. He has a chance to rebound this week against the Nuggets and the Nets, and it will be interesting to see if he can get back on track and move his way up these rankings in the future.

8. Lonzo Ball – Lakers

While his dad made headlines yet again this week for comments about the Lakers and Head Coach Luke Walton, and with the Big Baller Classic debut abroad in Lithuania, Lonzo still found a way to have a good week coming off of an injury. He averaged 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over his first two games back, and continues to handle himself well with the media, despite all the negative attention surrounding his family at the present time. As Ball continues to get healthy it will be interesting to see if he can continue to find his shot, his place within the offense and start to realize the massive hype train that has followed him over the last few years.

De’aaron Fox makes his way back into the Rookie Rankings with a strong week for the Sacramento Kings

9. Bogdan Bogdanovic – Kings

The Serbian product is quietly continuing to have one of the better rookie seasons in the entire league. Older than most rookies (25), he has provided a steady, reliable presence in the Kings back-court to counter the injuries and inconsistency surrounding some of their younger players. He notched double-digits in points and averaged 5 assists per game over his last 3 contests and has all the looks of a guy who is going to stick in the NBA for the next decade. While Bogdanovic does not have the long term potential of his teammate De’Aaron Fox, he can offer a steadying presence that will help the Kings as long as he plays in Sacramento.

10. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox has been notably absent from these rankings for the last few weeks, but now that he is finally healthy he is making a triumphant return. In his first 3 games back against the Spurs, Nuggets and Hornets, the Kentucky Point Guard is averaging 15.3 points, 7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. He is also shooting 50% from the floor over this stretch and looks as if the game is starting to slow down for him (a scary proposition with how fast he is). Fox has tremendous long term potential, but the Kings may have to be patient with his development over the course of the season. The Kings are young and they are bad, but Fox has to give the fans some hope for the future.

 

Honorable Mention

Jordan Bell – Warriors
OG Anunoby – Raptors
Bam Adebayo – Heat
Frank Ntilikina – Knicks
Frank Mason – Kings
Dillon Brooks – Grizzlies
Josh Jackson – Suns
Maxi Kleber – Mavs