Passing Variations For Basketball And Their Uses

In the game of basketball, there are things that go unnoticed or are taken for granted. Passing is an art form neglected. It would seem the only passes that go noticed are highlight flashy passes, whether that be a no look, behind the back, or thread the needle pass. These are all cool, and sometimes effective if done right, however, there is a fundamental skill of passing and its intricate details being missed by the basketball community. I intend to sort out this issue.

The basics

The purpose of passing is to move the ball into a better position for a teammate to have an easier opportunity to score than you do. For example, if you pass the ball to a wide open teammate, while you are being guarded, in theory, you are giving the offense a better shot to score. This is especially true if a teammate has a wide open layup.


This reigns true for every pass you make to a teammate. Every time you pass, you give up control of the offensive possession. A pass entrusts a teammate to make a play with the ball, whether that be to shoot the ball and score, or entrust someone else with another pass. If trust between teammates is compromised, then passing and ball movement will never work. 

For example, when you have teammates that are not as good as you are, you may not trust them. In these cases, passing is very limited, and the ball moves very little. Think about Kobe Bryant and some of those Lakers years where everyone was joking that he would not pass. There was an inherent reason behind that, he did not sacrifice his control of the offensive possession, that being passing the ball, to individuals who did not do nearly as much work as he did. To him, the lakers were best when he had control and he was taking the shots, even if he was triple teamed.

People call that the Mamba Mentality. However, every Kobe Bryant hater who says he is toxic and does not pass have not watched enough basketball to know, when Kobe has Shaq, he was passing the ball, when he had Pau Gasol, he was passing the ball, and when he three peated and won back to back championships in 2009-10. 

Those teams won championships because they trusted each other, they trusted their crafts and they trusted the process. But even then, Kobe had teammates on those championships that he did not trust for certain situations. Bottom line is, to be an effective passer, you have to trust and sacrifice total control.

Passing Variations

There are many different passing styles and ways to get the ball to teammates. These all have their situational uses which are important to note.

The Chest Pass

The chest pass is something most people who played basketball learned when they were young. They never thought about why they passed from the chest though. Passing the ball from the chest creates more force and a faster pass to your teammates.

This is important. Good passes are accurate and fast. Many basketball players struggle with both of these.

What is an accurate pass?

Something that is catchable, but more importantly, a pass that allows your teammate to do something with it immediately. This may be shooting, dribbling to the rim, or passing it to another teammate. Inaccurate passes become a problem because your teammate will have to go and get the pass, and or have to gather and fumble the ball before making a decision. This second or two to do so is wasted time and crucial, as the defense can adjust way easier.

Why fast? 

The same reasoning, when passes take forever to get to a teammate, the defense can react and get to a teammate easier, making a once open teammate have a lost scoring opportunity.

Bounce Pass

The bounce pass is using the ground as leverage and a tool to make it easier to get the ball to a teammate. It is best used when hitting a cutter to the basket and leading. 

What is a leading pass?

It is when you throw a pass not to your teammate, but where your teammate is going to be or should be. This allows your teammate to get the ball when he is a step in front of the opposition.

Swing Pass and Ball Movement

This may be the most underutilized pass in basketball, and it’s a shame because it may be one if not the most important. A swing pass, also known as the extra pass, is when teammates link with a chain of quick, precise passes to move the defense and score an easy opportunity. This is big for three particular reasons.

One, it creates a good shot, so offensive possessions will be highly efficient.

Two, it makes the defense work, everyone on defense has to guard, and follow the ball. Wearing down the other team’s energy and stamina will provide crucial for the long haul of the game. 

Moving the ball like this is a defensive offense. Because you are tiring the opposition so much on the offensive side of the ball and scoring, they have to play half court offense, and be exhausted. Two recipes for an easier job on defense.

Three, passing becomes a conscious threat the defense has to worry about.

This is big because if moving the ball is causing problems for the defense, the defense will try to get into passing lanes, and be less focused on the on-ball defense. The defense will also be more afraid to play help side, as because you have shown you are willing to make an extra pass, the defense should be worried that helping may create a better opportunity for your team. 

Well, now one on one matchups can be utilized, and help side will not exist. This allows great players to go to work, and opens up more offensive opportunities. This is a situation to run some mismatch isolation. Moving the ball first, then going to isolation is way more effective than going from isolation to moving the ball once double teamed.

Your teammates will already have a feel and flow for the game when you start with ball movement so they will be engaged. On the other hand, isolation first will make it so teammates are expected to perform without that flow and engagement once double teams start going to the star player.

Important to note that these isolations should be mismatch related. Either a really dominant offensive player, a weakness by an opposing players defense, or a size advantage. Target mismatches, do not isolate without those advantages or your teams efficiency will suffer. 

Other articles

I would recommend you check out “the problem with iso basketball” and “the benefits of off ball movement” because both articles supplement the points made in this one. With all three of these articles’ knowledge under your belt, I believe you will have at least some idea of how to run an effective, efficient, all inclusive offense that will create stronger teams and teammates.

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