Developing Perimeter Players

By Peter Lonergan

ITCP Head Coach, Victoria Country (Australia)

As the athleticism and skill of basketball players continues to increase, the term “multi-skilling” is more prevalent and the concept of teaching all players all skills is universally accepted as vital in developing players.

Watching the international game and various professional leagues, it is evident that the teams that enjoy success have a high percentage of players who have the skills to play multiple positions and execute a wide gamut of fundamentals.

Feedback from senior coaches at the 2002 World Championships for men and women indicated that most players had the ability to shoot from range and are comfortable on the perimeter or exploiting advantages in the post.

While there remains a place in the game for “specialists” such as point guards and post players, there can be no question that the biggest challenge facing coaches is the challenge of “multi-skilling” their players.

Developing perimeter skills takes repetition, patience, time and precise instruction. There are no short-cuts, “quick fixes” and easy answers – practice makes permanent.

Perimeter offense –

To successfully play on the perimeter, a player needs to be able to execute the following skills –

Pass & catch on the move
Lead to get open
Pivot (both feet, both pivots)
Non-dribble moves (ball & foot fakes)
On-side and crossover moves
Use of dribble to penetrate or create a pass
Post feed
Catch and shoot
1 dribble jump shot
2 dribble jump shot
1 and change jump shot (counter move)

This checklist looks quite simple at a glance, but the above skills take time to teach, drill and master and often provide coaches with more significant challenges than team aspects and principles of play.

The first three areas – passing & catching, leading and cutting – are often under-taught, but yet remain vital for players if they are to effectively play on the perimeter.

Throwing the ball to the advantage of the receiver, positioning the body to receive the pass, reading defense to get open or cut and understanding how to set up a cut or lead are all vitally important to individual offense.

A player’s ability to square-up on either foot, using forward or reverse pivot is another key area that is often under-taught, often because coaches feel it boring for the players or there is an expectation that players can do this simple fundamental.

Different coaches will have their own slants on how to square-up. Some will preach “power foot” technique, others may ban or limit reverse pivot footwork on the perimeter, some may even demand a two-foot stop on the perimeter catch.

Whatever the individual philosophy, it is important to expose players to all techniques and to ensure players are ambidextrous with their catch and square up footwork.

Non-dribble moves and fakes are important to a player in setting up offensive moves and executing details on these moves can greatly improve the effectiveness of a perimeter player.

Details such as shot fakes above the eyes, “short & sharp” foot-fakes and use of body language in ball fakes are small things, but the “devil is in the detail”.

On-side and crossover moves from the perimeter should be drilled in each session, ensuring players are using non-dribble moves and combining all aspects of playing on the perimeter.

If an offensive player gets by the defence on the initial move, they should be looking to drive, if the offence gets shoulder to shoulder with the defender, a jump shot is a good option, if the defender stays in front, a counter move (or “1 & change”) may be the way to go.

Teaching the why of the how is so crucial to developing players on either side of the ball and this is never more evident than when teaching players with the ball how and when to react to defence.

As a rule, players feed the post quite inconsistently and this can be linked to the small amount of time we as coaches teach and drill this important fundamental.

Many coaches have sung the “always bounce pass into the post” tune for too long – post feeding is about throwing to the advantage of the interior player and throwing away from the defence.

Catch and shoot technique and the ability to create the jump shot off the dribble are obviously key elements to building perimeter offence and time devoted to shooting and creating shots is never time wasted.

Early preparation, carrying hands, understanding shot selection and taking what the defence gives you are areas that can never have enough time or emphasis placed on them.

Tying all this fundamental teaching up is the principle of “playing your man”. So often, defence is not challenged as players on the perimeter stand, looking for a pass.

On every catch, players need to have a scoring mentality. That does not mean they shoot it every time they catch it, but must be a threat to score on every catch.

With the international shot clock down to 24 seconds, there is little time after the transition phase of the possession to make multiple passes and there is nowhere for the non-scorer to hide.

Even the most unselfish of player who takes 2 to 3 shots per game needs to understand the need to play his man on every catch, to ensure players can not “guard 2 people”.

Fundamental teaching and providing players with the tools to succeed continues to be the staple of coaching at any level and the test for all coaches is the remembering to place this above all else when coaching young people.