What is a Nutmeg Pass in Basketball?

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All too often, fans are treated to some spectacular plays in basketball. And it’s not just rim-rattling dunks and alley-oops; sometimes, it involves fancy dribbling or no-look dimes. One very unique highlight, if you will, is called a nutmeg. What is a nutmeg pass in basketball, and how do you pull it off? This article will answer that question in detail.

What Does Nutmeg Mean in BasketballWhat Does Nutmeg Mean in Basketball?

The nutmeg slang term in basketball refers to a move where the ball handler dribbles or passes the ball between a defender’s leg. Often, the ballhandler is cornered or hemmed in by the defender, and the only possible way to extricate is the ball between the opponent’s legs. Or, the ballhandler may do it for sheer showmanship.

The nutmeg action does not only exist in basketball. It can also be done in soccer, field, and ice hockey. Like in basketball, the aim is to throw, kick, or dribble the ball between the opponents’ legs.

The nutmeg is a difficult play that demands a lot of factors before you can pull it off. The defender needs to relax on defense and be flat-footed so the ballhandler can put the basketball past the opponent’s legs. Set him up with a couple of dribble moves in one direction, then as he slides over, pushes the ball through his legs in the opposite direction.

Many players on the receiving end of a nutmeg would be embarrassed because, well, he should be. That means he’s not paying attention enough. On the other hand, the player executing the move would feel good about himself because carrying out this move is not easy, and he got to make a fool out of someone.

Why is it Called a Nutmeg PassWhy is it Called a Nutmeg Pass?

There are different theories why it’s called a nutmeg dribble or a nutmeg pass. The first suggestion is that the word originated due to actual nutmeg merchants duping their customers. According to author Peter Seddon, exporters would mix wood with their nutmegs, therefore, being “nutmegged” meant being deceived or misled by someone.

Why is it Called a Nutmeg PassThe word was then used in soccer when players “tricked” their opponents by kicking the ball through their legs to get past them.

The second theory is pretty straightforward. Author Alex Leith explained in his book Over The Moon, Brian: The Language Of Football that nutmeg simply meant someone’s “nuts,” or “testicles” of a male person. Therefore, according to this theory, to “nutmeg,” someone is to pass the ball between their “nuts” or “testicles.”

The third story is pretty similar to the second. However, in this version, the quote “played the ball through his nutmeg” was attributed to Jimmy Hill, the football legend and innovator.

Whatever the case may be, it would appear that the nutmeg originally came from soccer and trickled down to other sports such as basketball and hockey.

How to Nutmeg in a Player in BasketballHow to Nutmeg in a Player in Basketball?

If you want to know how to nutmeg in basketball, be reminded that you can’t do this trick all the time. It is one of those spur-of-the-moment things that should come naturally instead of planned or choreographed. With that being said, it’s still wise to include the nutmeg in your bag of tricks because it is actually pretty useful in some situations.

Here are some of the steps to keep in mind:

1. The first thing you want to ensure is to spread the legs of the defender wide apart. If the defender’s legs are close, threading the ball down the middle is harder. It is more likely to get caught up in the leg or the defender’s shorts.  Now, the thing is, you can make moves that make sure those legs are far apart. You can fake one way to make the defender move in that direction. If you can get the defender to slide over, then there is a big chance that his legs are spread open. That’s the window you have to pull off a nutmegging basketball move.

2. Consider the defender’s stance. More often than not, a defender would like you to go one way over the other. For example, he may defend you with his right foot forward so you can go left. If that’s the case, you get a nutmeg right in front of you. This action is even easier than a defender facing. Having the defender at an angle requires you to travel less distance to get to the ball.

3. Be a threat everywhere. If the defender knows you can only do one thing, then it makes no sense for them to bite on whatever you want to do. If you can hit the jump shot, a defender will be forced to crowd on you, and then you can set him up from there. You must also be a threat to drive, so when you execute fakes, the defender reacts and slides his feet to cut you off. You see, you can’t pull a nutmeg if the defender is not actually trying.

Check out how Grayson “The Professor” Boucher teaches the nutmeg:

All in all, like any other move, a nutmeg depends a lot on execution. It may take you weeks or months to pin that down alone before it comes naturally. Now, let’s say you have improved substantially on your nutmegging basketball technique. Which scenarios of a game should you look for?

Here are some:

  • Let’s say your teammate secures the rebound, looks up and throws an outlet pass to you to start a fastbreak. There is a defender behind you, but he is too far to reach the ball. Instead, he waits for three feet from you waiting to take charge as soon as you turn around. What can you do? Well, you can get out of the way to prevent a charging foul while nutmegging him to keep the ball moving forward.

Notice how Chris Paul did it:

  • Now, imagine this second scenario. When you’re dribbling half-speed down the baseline, a defender beats you to the spot and waits for you to run into him. You can do one of two things: Spin away from him or nutmeg him and continue on your path.

Look at what Trae Young did to Ricky Rubio here:

  • A third possible scenario makes it possible for nutmeg passing from a pick-and-roll. The ball handler is trapped by two defenders and extricates the ball by passing through the legs of a defender to an open teammate. Manu Ginobili was a genius at this, and so was Steve Nash. Look at how Manu pulled off a nutmeg pass:

You can do a nutmeg anytime and anywhere you like, but it will probably be less effective if you do it often. Defenders may catch up and anticipate this move, and it could just as easily result in a turnover.

3 Tips for a Smooth Nutmeg Pass3 Tips for a Smooth Nutmeg Pass

A nutmeg pass rarely happens, even in the NBA. And it would appear that only the most high IQ players and best passers can pull it off. Remember these three tips so you can improve your nutmeg passing:

1. Be a willing passer. First and foremost, you must be ready to pass at all times. Nutmeg passing opportunities are split-second scenarios, so you must recognize it at once and pull the trigger.

2. Practice precision passing. Like any other basketball skills, passing must be practiced. And it’s not just passing the rock just for the sake of passing. Be sure that your passes are precise, easy to catch, and always targeted at the shooting pocket of your teammates.

3. Make reads. Obviously, the defense and situation wouldn’t make it possible to do the nutmeg pass often. Do not force the situation because it could easily result in a turnover. Only attempt nutmeg passing when the defense does not expect it so the chances of success are higher.

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Nutmeg Pass in Basketball?

Basketball and showmanship always go hand in hand. That is why basketball fans are treated with highlight plays every now and then during a basketball game. One of those flashy moves a basketball player makes is called the nutmeg.

The nutmeg is a move with football (soccer) origins. It involves dribbling or passing the ball between the legs of defenders. It may also be seen in hockey or field hockey. Whether it’s dribbling or passing, nutmeg is a tough play to make because, when done wrong, it can easily result in turnovers.

What is a nutmeg pass in basketball? It is a pass in-between the legs of the defender. It’s not an easy pass to make because it requires precision and high basketball IQ. Plus, the defense must assume a particular defensive stance for you to pull off a nutmeg pass. If you’re planning to include nutmeg passing in your bag of tricks, practice these religiously and perhaps watch a heavy dose of Manu Ginobili nutmeg passing highlights to inspire you.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

Hoops Addict
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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