Ball Handling Fundamentals

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Triple Threat

People will often refer to Triple Threat position when talking about how a player should be positioned when in possession of the basketball. The term triple threat refers to a player being a threat to shoot, drive, or pass. In order to be a threat to do so requires a player to still have the dribble available to them so this is usually a position attained off the pass. Body angle and position of where the player is holding the basketball is crucial to being a threat.

Jason Kidd in Triple Threat against John Wall

Triple Threat Players should be:

  • Square to the basket: meaning having shoulders and feet facing towards the hoop.
  • Ball in the shooting pocket: Having the ball in a position where the player can go directly into the shooting motion, usually waist high and protected to one side of the body.
  • Eyes Up: The player should have their eyes up to keep sight of both the defense in front of them and the basket. Players should read how a defender is playing you which will often mean constant adjustments in your offensive approach.
  • Off the Heels: Players should be up on their toes ready to attack not flat on their heels. Defenders will take advantage of a player who is not in a stance to attack by closing the distance which creates pressure and leads to turnovers.
  • Protecting the Basketball: Having the basketball directly out in front of you can allow the defender to grab it causing a jump ball or possibly being stripped of the basketball. Have the ball slightly off the side of the body and in a position to move right into the shooting pocket.
Breakdown on the basics of Triple Threat by the folks at

The offense while in Triple Threat can utilize:

This is what gives the player the quality of being a "triple threat" if they still have all these options available to them. If you use your dribble or release the basketball, you are no longer in triple threat position.

Dribble Basics

Dribbling is often the first skill that people pick up when they get into basketball, but often the most difficult to master. Here are a few tips for beginners:

  • Dribble with your fingertips: - The best way to control the basketball is to dribble it with your fingertips (not the palm) which allows maximum control on the force and direction of the dribble.
  • Below the Waist: - Having a lower dribble allows for quicker control on the return of the ball from the floor to your hand, less room for a defender to deflect the ball, and you are less likely to lose control.
  • Not Directly in Front: - With the exception of pushing the basketball in front in transition, in most cases the basketball should be protected by dribbling to one side of the body or another to prevent an easy swipe at the ball by a defender in front of you.
  • Eyes Up - At youth levels it's very common for players to get a habit of looking down at the ball while they dribble to make sure it's still there. As players get older, it's important to learn to keep your eyes up to be able to read the defense in front of you while you are dribbling. Trust your handles.
  • Work on your off-hand - As players develop weaknesses in their game will start to be exploited, and a very common one is not being able to handle the ball with their weak hand. Defenders will strongly overplay the strong hand and force ball handlers to their weak hand creating a problem if they can't handle in that direction. For ball control drills, see Ball Handling and Control Drills.
  • Change your momentum - The best way to relieve pressure from a defender is to change momentum at varying times to go from methodical to explosive, forcing the defender to retreat instead of closing space. Change of pace and change of direction are the two best tools for ball handlers.

Dribble with a Purpose

When you decide to leave the triple threat position and utilize the dribble make sure you do it with purpose. There are two primary reasons for utilizing a dribble and that's to improve passing position or to attack the rim. Often times players dribble because they feel there is no other option or to create distance from a defender. Getting your offense to dribble with meaning is a key to success.

Dribbling to Improve Passing Position


One of the most significant reason to utilize the dribble is to improve the angle of a pass so it is both catchable for the pass recipient and not accessible to defenders. Great examples of this would be taking a dribble off of an outlet pass to improve an angle passing up the running lane, pushing the ball wider on the perimeter in half court offense to allow a better angle for post entry, or advancing the ball when there is no fast break opportunity allowing for an entry into half court offense. We want our players to have understanding of why they are dribbling and a goal behind each dribble.

The example to the left refers to angle on post entry where a perimeter player pushes the ball wider to avoid a top side post entry pass to the block. Entry passes from near the top of the key to the block are often disrupted.

Dribbling to Attack the Rim

Attacking the rim is a staple of basketball offense but the style utilized to do so can change from transition to half court. In transition players will use breakaway speed, quick angle changes, and dribbling to engage transition defenders to force them to guard the ball handler creating opportunities for others when at a numbers advantage.

When attacking a closing out defender in the half court coaches at the highest level talk about working to get the head and shoulder past the defenders hip when making an initial move to the basket. The key to this is making sure to put the dribble down prior to picking up the pivot foot which would result in a travel.

Attacking the basket is the best way to create opportunities for the ball handler to finish at the rim, create opportunities for others on the floor by forcing help defenders to stop penetration, and collapse the defense to open up open shots for perimeter shooters. The signs of a team that settles for outside shots is clear. Defenses will often tighten up the space, forcing turnovers and bad passes when the defenders believe that the offense is not a threat to go to the rim.

Protecting the dribble

Protecting your dribble refers to making sure you both utilize the dribble in the best way possible and keeping it from being disrupted by the defense. This comes down to three key elements:

  • Protect your dribble by… avoiding using it without purpose. As we mentioned earlier, sometimes the best thing you can do when catching a basketball is maintaining your triple threat position until you are able to see the floor more clearly.
  • Protect your dribble by… not picking up the dribble early. When you do decide to stop dribbling, have a plan and a reason for doing so. Often players will dribble simply out of muscle memory then pick up the dribble, leaving them stuck in a dead ball scenario.
  • Protect your dribble by… using a guard arm. Keep the dribble to one side of your body when bringing the dribble up the floor or on the perimeter and keep your other arm up to maintain separation between yourself and a reaching defender. Do not extend this arm as it could result in an offensive foul, try to keep it level.