What is a Basketball Scrimmage? Basketball 101

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In the sport of basketball, a lot happens in practice. It depends on the level of competition, but coaches and staff may generally incorporate conditioning drills, individual workouts, running plays, defensive drills and coverages, and watching game films. That sounds like an awful lot, but how do coaches make sure that everything that they practice will come as second nature for the boys? There is only one answer: a basketball scrimmage. What is a basketball scrimmage? Let’s find out!

What is a Basketball ScrimmageWhat is a Basketball Scrimmage?

For any sport, when somebody says “scrimmage,” they often mean a simulated game environment. A basketball scrimmage is precisely that– it is a simulated 5-on-5 basketball match between players on the team to practice plays and perhaps evaluate skills in a real game setting.

Aside from running plays and evaluating players, a basketball scrimmage is also an excellent way to create chemistry, figure out which lineups work, and learn about the team’s weaknesses to mask it as much as possible. However, while scrimmages are often done by players on the same team, it may also be done with other teams to further create a more competitive environment.

In the NBA, preseason games are pretty much considered scrimmages against other teams. Coaches would often want to hold their cards close to their chests during preseason games, but it is also an excellent time to develop in-game strategies or give more playing time to bench players.

How Long is a Basketball ScrimmageHow Long is a Basketball Scrimmage?

Since scrimmage is a part of team training and is not an official game, basketball scrimmages may not adopt the usual 10-minute or 12-minute quarters of organized basketball. There are many ways to go about a basketball scrimmage, and it will ultimately be up to the coaches for how long he allows as a scrimmage to go on.

For instance, some coaches like to incorporate four-minute mini-games. That means, after teams play four-minute games, scores will reset after the break. The goal of these mini-games is to instill in the players the need to focus on every possession and to maximize their effort within that time period. 

From that example, you may realize that the length of a basketball scrimmage is not really the most important aspect. The critical part is using that time to impart good basketball habits and for coaches to get the players to learn and buy into his system.

What's the Purpose of Basketball Scrimmage What’s the Purpose of Basketball Scrimmage? 

Basketball scrimmages are done by all teams regardless of level, which is so because it serves significant purposes. Some of them were already touched in the previous paragraphs, such as establishing chemistry, imparting good basketball habits, and for coaches to establish his system. 

Another reason for a basketball scrimmage, especially at the professional level, is to allow coaches and other team executives to decide on who makes the team and who gets cut. This type of setting provides players with non-guaranteed slots to prove themselves worthy of a roster spot by the form of a contract offer.

What's the Purpose of Basketball Scrimmage 

Having said that, the primary purpose of a basketball scrimmage is ultimately skill improvement. Many basketball scrimmage drills teach players the fundamentals and the ability to read game situations, make the right pass, correct defensive reads, move without the ball, and more. Needless to say, a basketball scrimmage is the game before the game. Teams who make good use of scrimmages often turn out to be better, or at the very least, markedly improved teams.

Important Things to Consider with Basketball ScrimmageImportant Things to Consider with Basketball Scrimmage

  • It has to be organized and carefully planned. Part of the planning that coaches should figure out is the goals of the basketball scrimmage. Player rotations and substitutions should already be in place, and in case some unexpected things happen, they should have a Plan B.
  • Make sure to have individualized goals. Basketball is a sport that requires players to have well-defined roles. When you do scrimmage, don’t just go in there and think “team.” It is also just as necessary to provide individual players a goal. Some individual goals you can impose are how to do pass denials, a few box-out techniques, or navigating through screens.
  • Officiate the scrimmages seriously. Scrimmages are not all fun and games; it’s crucial for a team’s success. With that being said, assistant coaches should call these games with a straight face. Not being serious about officiating on scrimmages only delivers a negative message to players.
  • Mini-scrimmages instead of one drawn-out scrimmage. The beauty of a scrimmage is that you get to create your own rules. Use that to your advantage. To ramp up the intensity of the scrimmage, shorten the games to five baskets, emphasizing defense on every occasion.
  • Know when to stop and not stop. Scrimmages are valuable teaching opportunities, but if you stop every scrimmage on every mistake, you risk losing the flow and interest of players. You may have to do that at particular times, but in most cases, wait for a break or substitute the player out to give him advice.
  • During the evaluation, take into account not only the players’ skills but also their heart and determination. Many players are skilled but not have the same mindset and attitude. Take note of constant complaining of unfavorable calls or if they lower the intensity if matched up with less-skilled players. By any means, players doing these things on a scrimmage are an indication of a bad attitude and may need guidance to correct the habit.

Helpful Basketball Scrimmage Drills

Helpful Basketball Scrimmage Drills

Doing drills can help bring structure and organization to the team’s scrimmage sessions. Here are some of the most common basketball scrimmage drills and should be a part of any controlled scrimmage:

1. The Score-Stop-Score

The goal for a team is to score, make a stop, and then score on consecutive possessions. If they fail to do so, they restart the drill and continue until the objective has been reached. You can also do it the other way around, stop-score-stop, using the same concept.

2. Game situation drills

You can include game situations in your drills such as crucial out-of-bounds, down 1 with three seconds left, and similar scenarios.

3. Start play from a free throw.

The drill’s purpose is to perfect the particular time to execute full-court presses, half-court traps, and other trapping defenses. It would also allow the team to master how to turn on their defense after a missed free throw and not just made ones.

Start play from a free throw

4. The 15-man scrimmage

Basketball teams could have as much as 15 guys on the roster, so how do you include all of them in one drill? The 15-man scrimmage is the answer.

To do this, divide the roster into three teams. Have two of the teams play on one side of the court and make the third do different types of drills on the other. After a possession change on the part of the two teams (off a turnover, missed shot, or made basket), the other team pushes the ball up the floor to play the third and so on. This will teach transition offense and defense, defensive communication, and how to get the most of secondary breaks.

Additionally, you can sweeten the pot by setting an 8-minute clock with the two lowest-scoring teams doing running laps afterward.

5. No dribbles allowed

This scrimmage drill teaches moving without the ball and precision passing, among others. After a while, allow the players only one dribble to score. This would teach them how to use the one allowed dribble strategically and move to the open area for the score. For the defense, this drill would also sharpen their anticipation, defensive-reading skills, and quickness.

Wrapping Things Up: Basketball Scrimmage 

Many of the most fascinating stories told by professional basketball players happened in practice. That’s one way of telling you that practice is such a crucial component for a basketball team. In turn, basketball practices often incorporate scrimmages and this where the fun begins.

Then, what is a basketball scrimmage? In short, basketball scrimmage is a simulated basketball game, mostly played 5-on-5, but can also be done 3-on-3 or 4-on 4. One of the purposes of doing basketball scrimmages is to impart or develop the fundamentals, or good basketball habits. Another is for player evaluation and skills development. Whatever the case, a basketball scrimmage is often a coach’s dream since competition and intensity ramps up.

Generally, it will be up to the coaches how long a basketball scrimmage is going to take. Some of the drills like the score-stop-score do not need to be time-restrained; others such as the 15-man scrimmage, more often than not, require a timekeeper. Regardless, if you are a basketball coach, no matter what level, we encourage you to incorporate basketball scrimmages into your practices. This will dramatically improve team chemistry, skills, and just overall basketball IQ of the time. 

It is imperative, though, to be very organized when you are implementing a scrimmage. Assistant coaches should be on top of the situation all of the time by strictly implementing rules. The coaching staff should always come up with ideas and goals to make sure that the individual skills of the players improve. 

Most importantly, scrimmages are the best times to determine the mentality of your players. Who’s complaining a lot? Who’s missing defensive assignments? Who’s letting their guard down because he’s up against third-stringers? That should help you determine who you can rely upon in situations where you need a hundred percent effort. A basketball player’s true character will only come to light amidst the difficulties of doing basketball scrimmage drills.

Did you find this helpful? Then also check out other basketball FAQ articles here.

> How Many Players are on a Basketball Team?

> How Long is a Basketball Game?

> What are the 5 Basic Skills of Basketball?

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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