Developing Basketball Finishing Skills


Finishing skills at the basket are a critical skill in the modern game. Developing finishing moves and solutions can lead to better offensive players. So what’s the problem with how finishing moves are typically approached in skill development?

How much do we need to teach?

The first question that should be asked is how much needs to be taught? Especially from a younger age, it can be limiting for players to be explicitly taught finishing moves. This could take away their chance to learn and develop finishing moves and solutions which work for them. These solutions are typically the finishes suited for each individual player and their abilities. 

When a coach removes an opportunity for self discovery by intervening with specific solutions they are potentially having a harmful effect on a player’s development. If the coach does not get the balance right and scripts a number of different finishing moves, they are effectively building barriers. These barriers prevent the player from developing a skill which is longer-lasting and transferable to the game. 

Nowadays social media is jammed with the explicit teaching of finishing moves from trainers. Is this really what players need? Is it really helping lead to game transfer?

The checklist approach 

Many trainers or coaches have a curriculum or a checklist of finishing moves which are taught. This is not an issue. I use something similar but the way I use my checklist is not the traditional way. Traditionally blocked practice is used to teach moves, which might then progress to a small-sided game (SSG) in which players have to use the finish. This is a linear approach.

With a non-linear approach, players are put in the game situation immediately. A SSG is created with different constraints such as whether or not a small advantage exists, size of the playing area, the static or dynamic start used, the way in which the defense can defend, as well as changing the defenders played against (each defender will lead to a different finish due to individual constraints such as size, wingspan, jumping ability etc.). From this the coach can scan for what is happening in front of them. This involves looking for situations in which the players do well or what situations they find difficult. In the context of finishing, perhaps they find it difficult to finish when a defender is closely attached to the hip. This is where the coach can now step in and help. 

At higher levels, such as the NBA and EuroLeague some believe it is harder to use non-linear training methods. The common thinking is that using a non-linear approach is challenging because of what players are typically used to and comfortable with during their workouts (i.e. blocked practice). In addition workload management is an often cited reason for avoiding non-linear approaches. However, it can be argued that this approach would be even more beneficial with these players in order to present a great challenge and increase game-transfer at the highest levels. This can be done in creative formats through using concepts such as guided defense. 

Teaching vs Discovery

The reason this blog is titled “developing finishing” rather than “teaching” finishing is deliberate. With the above scenario in mind, the game reveals what players need to work on. A coach cannot just play SSGs if a player has a finishing issue because they may not be getting enough situations to improve or come up with solutions for a situation they are struggling with. The next step would typically be one-on-one games where a player can get more repetitions but without being repetitive. This phrase from Nikolai Bernstein was coined back in 1967 to describe how even well-learned and familiar movement patterns (finishes in this context) show variation to achieve the task outcome of scoring a basket.

Our video on Learning Basketball Finishing Moves Using Jimmy Butler provides an example of how a non-linear and constraints led approach to developing finishing moves and solutions can work. If this is what we see in the game, why can’t we as coaches create more situations like this in practice? 

Within one-on-one a player gets more repetitions than during a SSG. These repetitions are not mindless either. These repetitions are random and variable. This is important because it stimulates the retrieval process that leads to retention. We can ensure we are shaping what we want a player to learn by adding constraints to the individual defender. We can shape the learning for the offensive player in a scenario where there are more opportunities for perception-action and problem solving.

How do we shape learning with a one-on-one drill?

If an offensive player struggling to finish with a defender on their hip. We create a one-on-one drill that requires the defender to be on the hip of the offensive player. Within this one-on-one drill the defense may have two or three options for how to defend the offensive player with being on the hip being one of the options. The player plays one-on-one. They are afforded the opportunity to learn by doing in the exact situation they need to improve. At this stage the coach is still not stepping in to offer explicit solutions. The goal is for the offensive player to experience the situation, to figure out a range of solutions, practical to them, and to only have coaching interventions when the player is stuck or needs ideas.

There are a number of challenges for a coach in using a non-linear approach. It requires patience to hold back as a coach, getting outside of the fallacy and comfort of blocked practice where a player seems to be improving repeating the same move over and over again in the exact same way with no thinking. Within the individual or small group training world there may also be an expectation and level of pressure from parents expecting immediate results. This contributes to the situation we are in now: even though what is being done makes no sense pedagogically. 

Finishing Solutions

If a player has made no progress, then the coach can directly support the player through simplifying the task constraints. Note that my finishing list is not a collection of finishing moves with names, but rather a list of different variables affected by constraints. The 1-on-1’s I would design would take this into account, creating an environment where these variables can emerge within a representative learning environment. 

This is one example below for solutions off two feet:

The variables shared are based on constraints such as the way the defense contests, the location of the drive, the presence of other teammates or defenders, etc. 

Player Involvement 

Many coaches do not give a player a chance or role in the development process. It is a top-down relationship with the players doing what the trainer or coach tells them to do. This is not a transformational approach to coaching.  Adopting the CLA aligns with transformational coaching, as players choose their own finishing solutions based on the interaction of task, individual and environmental constraints. The player feels engaged and part of the process. This is further reasoning as to why the traditional approach does not make sense. What may appear as an easy move to execute for one player, could be the complete opposite for another. Their individual constraints are completely different.

Giving Players Too Much

Players don’t need one hundred moves. They need two to three solutions that work best for them. If a coach or trainer teaches too many moves, then a lot of time is wasted as most moves will never be retained or refined to the point they can be used. The biggest problem with this wasted time is that it takes valuable time away from teaching other important things.

When trainers spend excessive amounts of time teaching numerous moves it means that often far more important concepts are neglected. As well the player is often using the finishing moves at the wrong time and in the wrong situation because they have not learned when it is the right time to use the move. Another problem with blocked practice of finishing moves is that a player has essentially re-learn the perceptual considerations for the solution because the perception-action cycle has been broken. We perceive to act and act to perceive! Unfortunately many finishing drills solely focus on the act (technique) component. 

Game-Like Finishing

It is for the reasons explained that I do not believe in spending excessive amounts of time teaching a very specific move. We have compiled a list of some of the variables AND constraints involved in finishing:

Our player development approach at Basketball Immersion is to put players in situations where perceptions are integrated with action. Finishing is like shooting. While there are commonalities and things useful for every player, there is also a lot of room for freedom and flexibility. Why teach all players on your team the same moves when for some players it will never be used? The traditional, but widespread approach of teaching very specific finishing moves on-air simply does not account for the complexity and the presence of constraints which exist in the game.

The last consideration is for any finishing practice to be completely game-like there must be a passing decision or a continuing opportunity, such as a Nash dribble or immediate flow into another trigger. If a defender is chest to chest the finish is most likely not a good solution unless the offensive player has a severe height advantage. Game-like finishing in a workout does not mean going full speed against a dummy defender: it is rather a situation whereby the offensive player has this decision to either finish or pass based on the constraints present. The goal of a defender is to provide accurate affordances. Too many times I see young players in practice taking bad shots on the shot spectrum because no pass or continuation opportunity exists. This does not help them develop good habits.

Using the Finish in a Game

A question to consider is how do players end up in a situation where they have to convert an advantage and use a finish? Many coaches and trainers don’t teach this, nor do they put players in situations in practice where they have to finish vs. variable defenders in varying situations. Using dynamic starts and triggers to go into finishes is a key way to improve finishing drills and the teaching of moves.

Even if this is done scripted, such as rejecting a pick, it gives more context. Additionally, this is more realistic for finishes to then be used against secondary defenders after beating the on-ball defender. The Jimmy Butler video below is a great example of how Butler successfully reads the actions to then get himself into a situation to use a finish.

Other Considerations

Make sure to check out our second blog on finishing where we will unpack the following:

  • What are the commonalities for finishing, if such a thing exists?
  • Are there some finishes that every player should have in their repertoire? If so, what are these and how can they be developed through the CLA?
  • What is the role of individual practice in developing these skills?

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