How to Know When to Shoot or Drive in Basketball

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Basketball is a sport that requires the players to react in a split second. That holds true whether you are playing offense or defense. In offense particularly, you may find yourself in positions to make plays, and frequently, it’s down to two things: You have to decide when to shoot or drive. If you’re a basketball player and have trouble deciding yourself many times on the court, read on and figure out how to know when to shoot or drive in basketball.

What Does it Mean to Shoot or Drive in BasketballWhat Does it Mean to Shoot or Drive in Basketball?

If you’re a basketball newbie, defining what shooting or driving is in basketball is essential.

In a nutshell, shooting is often related to everything that has something to do with putting the ball in the basket. That may include layups, free throws, and jump shots. But in this context, shooting mainly refers to shots in the perimeter and beyond. That is where the shoot or drive decision first takes place.

On the other hand, a drive is a quick advance to the basket to get a score nearer the basket. Driving often leads to a layup or a dunk, two of the highest percentage shots in basketball.

When you’re playing basketball, you are faced with these decisions time and time again, so it’s imperative to assess when to shoot or drive. If you make a terrible decision, it takes the offense out of its rhythm. That’s the farthest thing that you want to happen when playing basketball.

What Does it Mean to Shoot or Drive in Basketball

When deciding when to shoot or drive, many factors come along with it. Before shooting or driving, you have to assess your environment. How far back is the defender? How’s my shooting tonight? Am I shooting from my favorite spot? Is a shot-blocker waiting for me in the lane if I drive? And the best part is, you have to do all these calculations in literally a fraction of a second.

The best part of all this is that knowing when to shoot or drive can be learned. After practicing and going through several drills, you will get the timing right after all the repetitions.

How to Know When to Shoot in BasketballHow to Know When to Shoot in Basketball

Before delving into more specifics in the next two sections, we need to first visualize what often happens in basketball play that leads to the shooting-driving decision.

Imagine this: Kevin Durant is isolated on the right wing. He was slowly making his move and saw an opening to his left, right into the middle of the lane. The defense reacts accordingly. The defender on the left wing helps out to swarm KD in the lane, so Durant, not a bad passer himself, found a wide-open Kyrie Irving on the left wing. Now, Kyrie has to decide– is he going to shoot or drive?

Well, the answer depends on the placing of the defenders, and it’s really simple theoretically. The hardest part is making the decision. 

In theory, Kyrie should shoot when his defender is more than an arm’s length away. The reason, really, is simple. In this situation, if the player drives, he’s driving right into a defender, which could eventually result in a turnover or a forced shot. Since the defender is nowhere near the offensive player, the best decision here is to shoot.

How to Know When to Drive in BasketballHow to Know When to Drive in Basketball

Okay, imagine that same play again. It started with a Kevin Durant drive into the middle, so he’s naturally swarmed by defenders in the lane. He recognized that the defender on the left wing sagged a little, so he fired a pass to an open Kyrie Irving.

But, here’s the deal. The defender recovered quickly enough that when Kyrie began his shooting motion, the defense was within arm’s length. It’s up to him to decide when to shoot or drive, but the right play here is to drive. If the offense shoots in this situation, it would be easy for the defense to put a hand up and challenge the shot. However, since the defender is still in recovery mode with his momentum going forward, a drive would put him at a considerable disadvantage.

3 Drills that Can Help You Decide When to Shoot in Basketball

3 Drills that Can Help You Decide When to Shoot in Basketball

1. Shoulder Game Basketball Decision Training

The BDT or Basketball Decision Training drill is a shooting drill that also doubles as a decision-making drill. As anyone who has played basketball before, there is always a game within the game, and deciding when to shoot or drive is one of those.

3 Drills that Can Help You Decide When to Shoot in Basketball

Here is how the BDT is done:

  • Two players are needed, one playing offense and defense. The offense, of course, is the one working on the decision-making skills.
  • The defender passes the ball to the offensive player and gives him a defensive cue. Based on that cue, the offensive player has to decide when to shoot or drive.
  • A back-and-forth passing of the ball occurs between the two until a decision leading to a shot is made.
  • To speed up the process, the defender rebounds the ball for the offense.
  • The defense should vary the decision cues, and the offense should also vary his shots to develop more tricks in his bag.

The BDT drill provides a foundation for a player to understand the cues and decide on them. It also allows him to apply and widen his offensive skills, be it his basketball shooting skills or his finishing package.

2. 3v2 Advantage Shooting

As its name suggests, the 3v2 features three guys on offense and two on defense. The purpose of this drill is for the offense to read the defense because in doing so, they can make good decisions. 

Since the defense is at a disadvantage at this one, their goal is to vary how they defend the third open guy. The defender could close out hard, to which the offense drives or passes, or he could stay back, to which the offense simply takes the open jumper.

There are two varieties to this shooting drill– dribbling and no dribble. The no-dribble variation simply teaches the offense when to shoot. If the team decides to do the 3v2 with dribbling allowed, they could actually decide when to shoot, drive, and pass. Speaking of passing, we are going to talk more about that later on.

3. 2v2 Advantage Shooting

This drill requires four players and a cone. The first offensive player goes around the cone, using it as a screen with a defender right behind. Then he passes it to the second player and that second player will be deciding whether to shoot or drive. Aside from decision-making, this allows him to develop shooting off the catch and off the dribble.

5 Tips that Can Help You Decide When to Drive in Basketball

5 Tips that Can Help You Decide When to Drive in Basketball

5 Tips that Can Help You Decide When to Drive in Basketball

Knowing when to drive in basketball requires a certain mindset. Aside from the BDT drill discussed in the previous section, there is no specific drill that can help you decide when to drive. Besides, driving and venturing into the lane is not for all players.

There are, however, tips that even pros use to attack an aggressive closeout and drive past the defender. Remember that you should only drive to the basket if the defender is really close, if possible, within an arm’s length. Otherwise, you have to be ready to pull the trigger and shoot.

1. Attack the lead leg

If the defender closes out on time, he probably approaches you with one foot leading over the other. Whatever foot he is leading with is called the lead foot. That’s the direction in which you should go when driving to the basket.

The reason is pretty simple. The defender won’t be able to change stance on time and chase after you if you’re going after that lead foot.

2. Keep the ball low

When you see an opportunity to drive and have already figured out which way to go, the next order of business is to keep the ball safe. That is why when driving, you need to keep the ball low, as in below your knees, and get it past the defender. When you do that, there is little chance for the defense to catch up.

3. See if the help defense is there

Even when you get the timing right, there is really no point in driving to the rim if a rim protector is waiting for you. You should only drive if the help defense is not in position or is looking away from you. Remember to take advantage of distracted help defenses quickly.

4. Take advantage of the defender’s momentum

It’s impossible to beat science, but you can make it an ally, especially in basketball. You can take advantage of physics by using the defender’s momentum. For example, if the defender is closing out hard to you one way, then you can drive using the opposite direction to which he’s going. His momentum is opposite yours, so it’s physically impossible for him to keep up in time.

5. Know when to stop on a dime

In basketball, you expect the defense to be smart and adjust to whatever you’re doing. If you’re constantly driving to the rim by reading the defense correctly, they will know how to stop you at some point. That is why you always have to counter the counter. On many occasions, it’s really as simple as stopping on a dime, pulling up for a jumper, or shooting a floater.

When to Pass the BallWhen to Pass the Ball? 

Of course, if you have played or watched basketball long enough, the decisions of an offensive player are not limited to driving and shooting. If the player with the ball can score on three levels, the defense will be forcing him to give up the ball.

The decision on whether to shoot or drive is just the primary decision. If a player decides to shoot or drive based on his read, then he should do it with freedom and conviction. But then again, the defense constantly adjusts, and both the shooting and driving options may not always be there. Therefore, the next decision is to pass.

The pass that a player makes in any situation is also based on particular reads. Remember the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving scenario earlier? Let’s get back to that.

KD now kicks the ball out to an open Irving to the left wing. The defender is right there on time, and the help defense behind him is paying attention to the possible drive. He can’t shoot nor drive. In this case, the best option is simply to pass out to a teammate and reorganize.

A second possible scenario that warrants a pass is this: After the Durant pass to Irving on the left wing, Irving’s initial defender does not close out. Now, James Harden’s defender is forced to close out on Irving. Realizing that, Irving flicks a quick pass to a now-open Harden for a bucket.

That is often called the extra pass in basketball. That means one player gives up a good shot for his teammate to take a great shot. Like deciding when to shoot or drive, knowing when to pass requires expertise in reading the defense.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Know When to Shoot or Drive in Basketball

In basketball, knowing when to shoot or drive is just as important as any skill that you may acquire. Along with the threat of passing, it may possibly be the most critical offensive skill for basketball players.

Figuring out how to know when to shoot or drive in basketball boils down to reading defenders. A straightforward method is reading how far a defender is from you. If he is an arm’s length away, then you shoot. If he’s closer than an arm’s length, then you drive.

Of course, as simple as that sounds, basketball is a lot more complicated than that. If you’re a good enough shooter or penetrator, the defense will take that away from you. Therefore, the next option is to pass. Knowing when to pass after the defense takes away a possible look or driving lane is a critical skill. This allows you to create easy scoring opportunities for teammates.

Admittedly, to accurately decide when to shoot or drive requires constant practice and repetitions. If you are a young player, it’s crucial to develop an aggressive but unselfish mindset to be deeply ingrained in you as your game matures. To do this, you need to hone your basketball shooting skills, finishing packages, and decision-making skills by participating in various drills and practices.

We also answer other frequently answered questions on basketball here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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