The components of a great handle
Part 2: The NBA’s magical skill
BY DAVID THORPE
The handle of your dreams takes work. It is fair to guess that an elite NBA dribbler like Stephen Curry has spent thousands of hours just working on dribbling. Typically we suggest players do whatever handling drills their team directs, plus five to ten minutes a day, every day, from age five or six through retirement. (Curry does at least this much in public before every game.)
In Part 1 we showed how beautiful it can be when the sport’s seven dribbling moves are elegantly combined to tell convincing stories to the defense. Today, we’ll get more granular and examine some key components of a successful dribble attack.
Hand placement is key
The ball goes where the hand sends it.
Think of a clock face. Twelve is the top of the ball, 6:00 the bottom. Dribbling the ball straight down would require a hand at noon. A perfect side-to-side crossover, standing still, would start at 3:00 or 9:00. Moving forward would be more of a 2:30 or 10:30 start, with the dribbling hand set a little behind the ball to propel it forward. The receiving hand is just as important, it has to immediately put the ball back down where the dribbler needs it. So for a crossover starting at 3, the right hand has to be at 9 when the ball arrives.
Players can only dribble with one hand but it takes both to be effective. Bob Cousy dominated with one hand, but those days are long gone. Nowadays it’s hard for guards to succeed in high school without impeccable two-handed ball control. That takes work.
Defensive demons pounce on these kinds of mistakes. Everybody makes them, sometimes because of intimidation, other times “just because.” Most elite dribblers are not just better at amazing moves, but also minimize careless errors. One of the rewards for all that dribbling practice is the confidence to keep attacking after a mistake like this. Players have to understand that mistakes are baked into the game, but daily work and being mindful of what went wrong allows the greats to push past mistakes.
See the court, not the floor
Give the ball a human shield
Hide the ball at the end
Luka Doncic should either bring his right hand to the ball and keep it on the left side of his body, or gather it in two hands as he extends toward the rim.
Defenders create turnovers by slapping the ball down into the dribbler’s leg and out of bounds. Typically it’s because the offensive player didn’t “hide” the ball well enough.
Never be afraid to innovate
Tim Hardaway had a blistering crossover. Some consider it the best ever. This mix tape has over 3 million views. Another has over 2 million. Millions of young players tried to emulate the way he weaponized what had been a sleepier move. Later, Allen Iverson created what became known as the DC Crossover, explained here by Chris Palmer in 2016: "Picture this: Allen Iverson driving right, then lunging left, carrying the ball way out there like he's got his hand around somebody's waist. Then sweeping the ball low across his body while some fool falls on his ass.” More than eight million views of his famous cross on Michael Jordan tell you how people felt about that.
Who is innovating today? Giannis’s spin dribble is nice but far from original, and it seems every dribble move now was weaponized long ago.
Maybe the innovation has to come BEFORE the actual dribble attack begins.
Just as professional poker players read each other for any kind of “tell,” NBA players read and react constantly to what their teammates and opponents are doing. This, however, is the only story I’ve ever heard about a ball handler in isolation studying his defenders’ footwork.
Meanwhile, defenders try to read Harden. He’s ready to go in almost every direction. His handle is impeccable. His shot is deadly. His legs are split, so quickly dribbling between them can happen instantly. His right leg is anchored, meaning he can explode off it. Or he can pull a “hesi-go” where he pauses momentarily, his hand still behind the ball (rather than under it) then pushes a dribble out forward to beat his defender. Seeing that his hand is behind the ball I’d bet on the latter. Harden is the best in the league at these sudden stops and starts, and because he’s such a willing and capable shooter, his defenders can’t stay off him in anticipation of a drive.
Question: What’s James Harden going to do here? Answer: whatever he wants.
That’s the power of a great handle.
In case you missed it: PART 1 of this story. Thank you for reading TrueHoop! Please share!