A lot of basketball players who want to “make it” ask me questions about their chances, with myriad questions that are based on limitations: Size, athletic ability, heritage etc. The purpose of this post is to inform you of some physical characteristics that are natural advantages for playing ball.
If you happen to have one of theses, congratulations! You have an advantage which you did not earn or work for.
If you are on the other end, and have what you may see as the opposite of one of these, don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t use these as excuses. Don’t be a bitch. Use it as even more reason to double down on your self-belief. I’ll help you do that with my free daily Work On Your Game Podcast and my book on confidence, The Super You.
This one is the easiest to explain. The hoop in basketball is 10 feet above the playing surface. The taller a person is, the logic goes, the closer they are to the basket, thus the easier it would be for him/her to score a basket. Since scoring baskets is the object of the game, this is a huge advantage for (s)he who holds it.
The game of basketball reflects this belief: The average American male is 5’9” tall, and 99% of men are 6’4” or shorter (your author is 6’4”). The average NBA player is 6’7” tall.
Now, height does come with some (possible) disadvantages.
For one, dribbling could be more of a task. If someone is to steal the ball from you while you’re dribbling (at any height), it has to happen while the ball is traveling between your hand and the floor, or back from the floor to your hand. The dribble of a taller player, I’ll assume in making this point, has a further distance to travel from hand to floor than a shorter player’s dribble does. (Some mitigating factors are arm length and how low the player gets via bending at the knees or waist).
Another is center of gravity. I’ll define it as the area from mid-thigh to belly button. Although technically, a human’s center of gravity changes with each movement of the body and also varies based on body type. If we were to assume a person is playing basketball, they’re likely standing upright (as opposed to sitting or laying down) or running. A taller person has a naturally higher center of gravity, which makes it harder to resist external force — think boxing out or holding post position— against his lower body.
Tall players with thin legs and small butts (think Anthony Davis, or a young Dwight Howard) have a harder time dominating in the post because their high centers of gravity make it hard to overpower or resist a defender who possesses a lower center of gravity, or big ass (Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, playing-days Shaq or Charles Barkley).
The other possible weakness that I’ll address is quickness. There’s a reasons Ferraris and Lamborghinis are so low to the ground: the closer our center of gravity to the actual center of gravity, known as earth, the faster we can move. This is why SUVs come with warning stickers about making sharp turns at high speeds, as the vehicle, with its high center of gravity, can flip over.
Generally speaking, Shorter players can change directions and move laterally much more efficiently than taller players can.
The “normal” human being has a wingspan — the distance from fingertip to fingertip when arms are outstretched wide — equal to his or her height. With size being at such a premium for the game, many basketball players tout a wingspan that is disproportionately greater than their heights.
Dwyane Wade, for example, is 6’4” and has a 6’10” wingspan. 2017 NBA Rookie of The Year Malcolm Brogdon is 6’5” and has a 7 foot wingspan. I am 6’4” and have a 6’7” wingspan. Basketball players are long individuals, both vertically and horizontally. That length allows players to “play taller” than their listed heights.
Wingspan comes into play in several areas, such as —
Shooting: your shots are harder to block; you can reach closer to the rim than a shorter-armed player.
Defense: your long arms can better disturb passes and shot attempts; also an inch can make the difference between getting to a lose ball and not getting to it.
Passing: getting the ball around a pesky defender who’s trying to steal the ball.
Rebounding: vertical jump helps to get the to the ball before anyone else; long arms make you that much “taller” in covering airspace.
These advantages are the reason why you’ll often hear scouts and analysts marvel at the “length” of a basketball prospect.
3) Fast-twitch muscle fiber (speed, quickness, vertical)
I’m not a scientist or kinesiologist, so I’ll explain fast twitch muscle simply: the muscle fibers of yours that move almost instantaneously, allowing for explosive, fast, overpowering and instinctive movements.
Anyone can develop sharp instincts with enough experience and training. Knowing what’s happening and being able to do something about it, however, are two different things. I may be able to tell that you’re loading up to go for a slam dunk; the question is if I’m able to jump high or quickly enough to challenge that dunk. That’s where fast twitch muscle (and instinct) comes in.
Fast twitch muscles help you jump higher (and faster), run faster, and execute the reactions your brain has signaled for your body to do.
Like many sports, basketball is a read-and-react game. Unlike, say, billiards, you don’t have time to study the playing area and decide on a plan of action. And unlike, say, swimming, you have an opponent whose very job is to make you doing your job as hard as possible. While this is definitely at least partly a question of instincts (which we’ll cover later), your fast twitch muscle can help you execute what your instincts tell you to do.
Basketball scouts often use steals, blocks and (sometimes) free throw attempts as the “athletic” stats that show evaluators how a player’s athleticism translates to actual basketball production. This is because plays like steals and blocked shots require very quick reaction and precise timing — thus the “fast twitch” you’d need to make such plays.
And yes — you can get steals and blocks by being in the right place at the right time as well, we know. The above explanation is for your general understanding.
We are all equipped with a certain amount of fast twitch muscle fiber, the same way we’re all equipped to grow to a certain height and length. No two people are exactly the same. Some experts and trainers believe that, and even teach, how fast twitch muscle fiber can be developed — so if you have very little “explosion” in your game, there’s hope for you yet (start with Ultimate Athlete).
It should also be noted that there are many highly successful basketball players who are not particularly explosive and don’t have much “fast twitch” in their games. To be fair though, I should note that this subjective measurement is relative to other basketball players, not to the Average Joe on the street.
The player with a plethora of fast twitch muscle is the player we tag as “athletic,” the player who runs circles around us, out-jumps opponents for points, blocks and rebounds, and could dominate a game with seemingly very little technical basketball skill.
Fast Twitch muscle makes the game easier for you. You can cover mistakes, and run-and-jump your way to productive play with your athletic ability alone, minus any demonstrable practiced basketball ability.
4) Hand-eye coordination
Simply put, hand-eye coordination is a measure of your ability to transfer signals from your brain to your limbs quickly and efficiently. Being that basketball is a game of reaction and that you’re not allowed to make contact with the ball with your legs, coordination between your hands and eyes is pivotal to playing the game.
Hand-eye coordination is the very essence of the game. Without it, I’d advise you to choose a sport other than basketball.
If I were working with a person who was new to the game, never played a second in their life, we’d start with layups and dribbling — nothing else. Without hand-eye coordination, you wouldn’t be able to learn either skill and your basketball career would be over.
With (even a little) experienced players, hand-eye coordination comes into play with reactive dribbling: You don’t know what a defense will present you with; can you improvise with a live dribble and still accomplish the task (getting off a clean pass or shot)? Can you shoot, dribble or pass instinctively, without a need for planning or overthinking of your move? This is all based on instinct and your hand-eye coordination.
If you want to see examples of players who are hand-eye coordination-challenged, just watch for the players who can’t catch passes, have a hard time controlling the ball (dribbling, passing, catching or just holding it), or just seem generally clumsy as you watch them play. For most of such players, basketball is not their game (unless they hold, in spades, any of the other traits listed in this post).
Hand-eye coordination can be trained by doing reaction drills — which require a partner or trainer, a person who can force reactions from you that you don’t know are coming.
While instincts can be categorized as a more mental trait than a physical one, I’m putting it here because, like the other traits listed here, some players just naturally have more of it than others without doing anything to acquire the ability.
Instinct is an innate ability to do something, controlled by our subconscious minds, that we didn’t plan or strategize to acquire. Players who have natural instincts are the ones who are said to have a great “feel for the game.” They seem to know where the ball is going before it gets there, what an opponent wants to do before he does it, where a teammate will be before anyone else see him get there.
Instincts can very well be acquired via experience (98%) and observation (2%). The “experience” you need is simple: play with and against players who are better and more experienced than you. Always. If they’re not in your neighborhood, go find them. You have internet access and know how to speak, read and write. FIND THEM. NOW.
Lazy players don’t want to go through the growing pains of experience and thus never acquire the instincts to play high-level basketball. You’re reading this, so you don’t have excuses.
So there you have it. The above are the traits that give players natural advantages in basketball. If you look at these, then look at the brightest superstars in today’s game, you’ll notice that many of them have many or all of these in abundance.
I hope there will come a day I don’t have to say this (again), but since today is not that day:
YOU CAN STILL BE A GOOD, HIGH-LEVEL BASKETBALL PLAYER EVEN IF NONE OF THESE NATURALLY OCCUR FOR YOU.
But it will be more work — harder and longer work — for you. That’s the game you’re in and that’s what it is. Go to HoopHandbook.com and I’ll help you with that work.
Work On Your Game.