We’ve all seen it at some point or another on the court. A team comes on and looks outmatched from every angle. The size isn’t there, the players on that team don’t look like they’re athletic, the attitude seems more happy go lucky than “baller serious” or worse all of those things. And yet something happens during the game. Midway through you may find that they’re up and you’re wondering who even scored for their team to get this many points? You and your team begin to dig deep. You start to really stick your man in an attempt to, at the very least, absolve yourself of blame in case things actually don’t go your team’s way. And that’s when you notice. No one is holding on to the ball longer than 5 seconds. They get it, make their move and pass it. But that’s no issue right? I mean all they’re doing is driving and kicking, pump faking and touch passing. It’s not like they’re scoring, heck the way things are going it looks like your team is shutting theirs down on D. And then without warning one of their players is wide open and drains a shot.
How? Even more so when?
You may have faced off against these teams or maybe you’re the one on those teams. They can be a deadly matchup or the most fun you’ll have on the court that day. I’ve been fortunate to play with the guys I do now for a number of years and while we’re not all flat out amazing, together we’ve done some amazing things because of passing. Out of our group of 25 or so, just about all of us adopt the famous Spurs basketball system. Every person knows how to pass and every person looks for the better shot. It didn’t just happen overnight but after years of playing with each other and learning each other’s tendencies it’s really the only way to play for us now. Sure, every once in a while we revert and there’s a one on one going on, or a two man game. Every now and again we all just get tired and those with the most energy just take over. But when we’re on, it’s on and it’s all because we’re willing to make the extra pass. But ultimately it goes even deeper than that.
Pass First Teams Take Better Shots
If you have an open shot above the free throw line but your teammate has an open shot by the rim what’s the smarter shot to take? It’s a no brainer. Yet in pick-up basketball players of all backgrounds are known for essentially doing the “Kobe” (some even yell it out). I love Kobe, he’s, in fact, my favorite player of all time for a multitude of reasons but I am not Kobe. No one is Kobe. Sure you may have been forced into a tough shot that one time and you may have just managed to get the shot off before draining it but how many times has that happened? The Kobe effect created a monster in the pick-up basketball world. The level of skill and entertainment of his game had everyone trying to replicate it but the problem was even Kobe wasn’t drop dead amazing percentage wise so what is a normal person going to be like?
When you pass first you’re looking for a better shot. When teams pass first they ALL are looking for a better shot. Better shots usually lead to more points which usually translates into wins.
Pass First Teams Move Quicker
In pick-up basketball (even in some leagues) speed kills. Those with speed, especially those who retain it as they age, are effectively able to compete in any game regardless of skill just because they have a better chance at getting open and/or getting to a spot to score. Crisp passes can easily help negate the effects of those players. You see it in the NBA all the time, most notably the San Antonio Spurs, who famously beat the Miami Heat in 2014 off solid passing. Furthermore a pass first team can effectively destroy a zone especially if you have 1 or 2 slashers on your team to help penetrate the wings. So imagine what a team of people who look for the pass first could do on the pick-up scene. Is it highlight reel worthy? Probably not, but it is satisfying and effective? Absolutely.
Pass First Teams Throw Defenses off Better
Since a pass is generally much quicker than a person moving it becomes easy for the pass first team to throw off a defense. Help defense happens quite frequently (unless you’re really playing with some selfish people) and everybody knows that in order to help you have to leave someone. That leaves an open man and if you can get the ball to him it leaves the defense trying to recover. Whenever that happens suddenly your team has space and in pick-up basketball especially, nothing may be more important than having space.
Pass First Teams Get Hot Quicker
Anyone who has ever played NBA 2k in recent years knows of the famous “skill badge”: microwave. Does that happen in real life? Sure? Does it happen a lot in pick up situations? Eh… I mean make no mistake we’ve all seen (or if we’re lucky have been) that player who comes out of nowhere and is just on fire. Relatively, everyone gets their day at some point. But again, save for the really talented guys, it doesn’t happen. Instead it takes time for the rest of us to warm up and get going. So how exactly do pass first teams get hotter quicker?
Well if you’ve ever heard the saying “sometimes you just need to see one go in” that’s how. The whole reason for the layup and shooting lines during warm ups before the game is to get some rhythm and you get rhythm by getting shots up. However generally there isn’t a time to get that rhythm going before a pick-up game. It’s even harder to get going when your first shots are taken with a hand in your face or someone chasing you down. A pass first team however is looking for the open man or at least the man with the least resistance. When that person gets the ball, make or miss, it’s much easier for him to get the shot off and start working towards that rhythm.
Pass First Teams Are Just Plain Fun
I actually enjoy passing. I think it’s just as much a skill as shooting and defense are and outside of just knocking down game winners, nothing satisfies me more than when my team is raining down points and I’m the general orchestrating it. Good passes allow for regular shots to become highlights. The alley-op doesn’t happen without the pass. Remember the phrase “sharing is caring”? It applies to basketball and then some because when you pass (especially when you start the pass) you’re just as invested in the end result as the person who eventually shoots it. The better you do the most fun it becomes.
I understand that not all of us will have the pleasure of playing with people who think this way. If that’s the case you may just have to take your looks when you get them no matter the situation. But every now and again throw a couple of good passes. You may find that the reaction you get from others a pleasant surprise. You also may find your team leading the game.