Who would you pass to?

I recently had a conversation with a young player of mine about passing. The conversation got me thinking a lot, because so much of the Greyhound offense is tied to the idea that at any time, any player is a valid target to receive a non-risky pass. And it takes a special type of player to make that pass – a willing passer. And surprisingly, there are fewer and fewer of those in basketball.

The idea behind hitting the open man is as old as it gets in terms of basketball philosophy. Before there was even a dribble, there was the pass. And even today, when teams like Golden State score 68% of their points off of a pass, when players come out to play, they want to shoot like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant – but never talk about how they are developing their passing games – to allow anyone else to shoot like Steph Curry or Kevin Durant. Do they really believe it is accidental that good shooting and good passing seem to go together?

Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of frustration on the basketball court because passing is a critical component of my game. I don’t LOOK like a basketball player. So I don’t receive passes, and I don’t get the opportunity to make passes. As my defense has tailed off, I get fewer and fewer opportunities offensively all because of a prevailing idea in basketball: “He can’t be any good; don’t pass to him.” It happens every day on playgrounds, at the earliest levels of basketball, and unfortunately, most players never grow beyond this mentality. Don’t believe me? Look at the next streetball game you see going on.

When you take a look at the two highest scorers in NBA history – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone – right away, two other names come to mind: Magic Johnson and John Stockton. Has anyone considered that both of the two great shot-makers played with two people who, at one time, held the mark “Most Assists in NBA History?” And people think this is an accident?

But even more perplexing is the young player’s mentality when it comes time to pass. There is some truth to the idea that if you want to be a good passer, you have to be good at getting the ball to your team’s best player. However, if you want to be a good passer, you have to also realize that continually throwing the ball to one and only one person limits your effectiveness as a passer, as well as the other person’s ability as a pass recipient.

Young passers tend to only throw the ball in two directions: in the direction of the person who they think is the best player, and in the direction of the person they like the most – their friend who is on their team.

As coaches, when we start to practice passing skills, invariably, players start getting sloppy – as if ANYBODY can pass. To find one who wants to make sure that bounce pass hits his target PERFECTLY; who want to make sure the spin and position and placement of the pass is right – well – you just don’t see much of that.

At older levels, isolation plays become more and more common. The idea that the isolation player actually set someone else up? Well, maybe – but it’s not a well-practiced skill. Passing is so – well – EASY. Except that it’s not. It’s something that needs to be practiced, along with communication, receiving the ball, screening, and even diversion.

And without the view that passing is an important skill, which can be and MUST BE developed, the chances of seeing another Steph Curry or Kevin Durant slowly dwindle away.

We now return you to your three-pointers, your dunks, your isolation post-ups, and someone trying to counteract climate change by pounding the ball into the floor enough to shift earth’s orbit. *YAWN*. Wake me when it’s over.