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Improve Your Basketball IQ

ByQueen Ballers Club|@queenballers| March 1, 2022
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You don’t necessarily have to be the fastest or the tallest player on the court to be dominant during the game of basketball. Having a high basketball IQ can bring you just as many wins.

So today we’ll dig into a few ways to improve your basketball IQ for better results with examples from WNBA and NBA players. We’ll share some methods for testing your IQ. And we’ll help you put the wheels in motion to build a habit around growing your IQ. Let’s get after it!

What is high basketball IQ?

Head coach for the Dallas Mavericks and 10-time NBA All-Star, Jason Kidd defines “basketball IQ” as having an all-encompassing grasp of the game. “I think it entails understanding time and score, understanding your opponent, understanding your teammates and understanding yourself,” Jason said. “It’s kind of like a movie, but playing at fast forward…anticipating what’s next. And when you have a high basketball IQ, you understand what’s going to happen next before anybody else does.”

NBA Champion and Los Angeles Lakers guard LeBron James is an example of a hooper with high basketball IQ. He sees things early on the court. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of every player in the league’s tendencies. And he knows where his teammates should be, and how their defenders will likely react. All of those attributes form a high basketball IQ.

“There’s a lot of play calls that I don’t know,”  Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Avery Bradley said. “Me and Danny [Green] look at each other like, ‘What play is that?’ And LeBron knows where every guy is supposed to be, what you’re supposed to do, the timing of everything. His IQ is just crazy.” Here are a few additional examples of skills high basketball IQ players have:

  • Understand the angles of rebounds
  • Know when to set off-ball screens based on the defense
  • Excellent spacing on the court
  • Whether to pass or shoot
  • Who to pass to
  • What type of finish to use
  • Whether to force a player left or right
  • Attacking the lead foot of your opponent

Ways to improve your basketball IQ

Don’t worry, it’s possible to grow your basketball IQ. Let’s explore a few ways to build towards better court vision and instinct.

1. Practice with more advanced players

Older players tend to have more advanced skills. Getting time on the court with those in higher age groups can teach you new techniques and reads. Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young found veterans to learn from her first year in the WNBA.

“Me and A’ja [Wilson] got really close. She went through the same experience as me – being the number one draft pick-  but she just really took me under her wing from the beginning. And so we’re still close to this day. But now with Chelsea Gray there, and Riquna Williams – they’re vets in the league and they’re obviously doing something right. So I just kind of latched on to them and they’ve just been showing me the way. They’ve helped me a lot this past year, and I had a pretty good season just by learning from them each day in practice.” she said.

Dallas Wings shooting Guard Marina Mabrey echoed a similar sentiment about her rookie year, which she played in LA, “I was really lucky. I got to learn from so many people. I think I latched onto Alana Beard a bit. Just because she had a perfect balance between kind of nurturing rookies and also teaching them the way. So I really formed a good relationship with her. But then all the way down the line: Candace [Parker] was really good to me. She taught me the ropes, and kind of the attitude and competitiveness it takes…And now to this day I keep up with Nneka [Ogwumike] all the time. I learn so much from her.”

2. Play pick up

Playing pick up ball forces you to play with lots of hoopers with different styles of play. This exposure can help build up your bank of handling different situations, paces, and plays so that when you run into similar situations or players again you know how to play them. It also gives you an opportunity to  figure out what things you’re good at, and to develop new moves and get time trying them out.

3. Watch NBA and WNBA games

Studying all sorts of film adds to your awareness of the game. Learning from professionals is the best thing you can do because of their elite playmaking. Watch NBA and WNBA games, and take note of the defensive schemes, offensive plays, and reads specific players make. Literally, take notes! That way you can see patterns emerge over time.

4. Watch film of your games

Studying your own film can help you too. Watch the action on the weak side, the screens and defensive rotations. Try to figure out why you made the read you did in each situation, and what might have been a better read.

Marina Mabrey uses film study to improve her game, “I wanted to take that next step. I was already a good offensive player in the league, and now I was getting the best defenders. I was  getting two thrown at me…and it kind of slowed me down a little bit. I was like it’s not that I can’t score any more. I just have to figure out what’s going on.” she said.

“So after talking to mentors and people that have been working with me, they’re like you need to look at how people are guarding you, what they’re trying to do, what they do defensively, what they can’t do against you. So then I started to develop the post game cuz usually I have the point guards on me. That I didn’t even realize during the season. So stuff like that: like are they trying to make me go left? Can I step back on them from here? Are they dropping their back foot? Stuff like that, that you can’t really see when they’re up close right in your face.”

5. Watch film of competitors

Looking at competitors’ film will prepare you in terms of better knowing their plays and player tendencies – all of which is part of building your IQ.

Washington Mystics guard Alysha Clark watches film to prepare for every game. “So I would have our video coordinator send specific games or a specific collection of clips of their tendencies. So as I’m watching film, I watch for tendencies. Let’s break it down to where I know what a player wants to do on the left side of the floor. I know what the player wants to do in transition. And I know their tendencies in those positions.” she said.

“And obviously it’s basketball, I’m guarding the best players in the world so it’s not like I’m going to stop them. But if I can make them go to their B and C options, and make that tough, then I’m doing my job for the night. So I want to know what players are doing before they even know what they’re going to do. And it’s a bit obsessive.”

6. Do practice drills that involve decision making

Practicing decision making is a key part of improving your IQ. Do drills with a partner where they give you signals or call out numbers that you have to react differently to, in order to simulate the unexpectedness of live hooping. For example, if you’re practicing shots coming off a baseline cut, have your partner call out 1 for you to shoot or 2 for you to drive, as you catch the ball.

7. Volunteer coach

Nothing puts you in the hot seat like having to scout the other team and create plays. Alysha Clark’s time spent coaching at her alma mater opened her eyes. “Yeah so honestly the way I started breaking down film and watching the defense and stuff was the year that I coached in 2013…That year I coached at my alma mater, as I’m preparing my scouts for the team is when I really learned how to start scouting other teams and players. So when I came back to the league that following year – 2014 – that’s when I really started to study.”

8. Play NBA2K

Playing NBA2K gets you more reps with game-like scenarios and can open your eyes, pushing you beyond what you think is possible. LaMelo Ball told reporters and Shaq who asked LaMelo who he models his game after that he would see moves on NBA2K, and then go outside and try to re-create them. “I mean, I go out there try to be myself for real, but I’ve seen a lot of Jamal Crawford, Penny Hardaway, too. Mostly video games and stuff like that, seeing everything they’ll do in there. I’ll go outside try it.” he said.

Basketball IQ test

Let’s put it to the test! Here are three different videos where you can test your basketball IQ. Once you get the hang of it, you can do this with any film you watch. So most importantly, pay attention to the method here.

Basically pick a person on the court to be. Then stop the film at a point where they need to make a decision. Decide what you’d do and why. Then see what they do, and figure out why that was their read. You can switch your point of view and watch the same clip many times as different players on the court to make their reads as well.

First up, test yourself against what actually happens in these college hoops situations.

Next, here’s a fun way to put yourself in NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball’s shoes and see if you make the same decisions he did.

Finally, you can also see if you can read the game like Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young.

Developing basketball intelligence PDF

If you’re looking for something to print, check this out. USA Basketball Youth Development. On page 102 and are some drills to increase basketball IQ on defense including dictating a direction on the ball handler, adding foul trouble, and more.

Build a habit to become a strong basketball IQ player

Now that you know a few methods for building your IQ, make a habit of improving at it. Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, has a few simple strategies for building better habits. He advises:

  1. Start by focusing on who you want to become, not what you want to achieve. For example, the goal is not to read a book, it’s to become a reader. In this case, your goal is to become a high IQ hooper.
  2. Pick one habit that casts a small vote for becoming that type of person. For example, if you want to have a better basketball IQ, you should focus on becoming the type of person that watches film every day.
  3. Determine a scaled down, 2-minute version of the habit you choose. For example, watch a pro game clip on Instagram every day and test to see if you’d make similar decisions.
  4. Create an implementation intention – a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. For example, I will watch every morning as I drink my cup of coffee.
  5. Design the environment for success. Make the cues for your habit more obvious. For example, put your phone in the kitchen.
  6. Combat fading motivation by temptation bundling – link the action you want to do with an action you need to do. For example, “I will only go play pick up when I watched film.”
  7. Create a reward by identifying a short-term external reward for completing your habit. Avoid awards that conflict with your desired identity.
  8. Join a supportive social group where your desired behavior is normal behavior.

Grow your basketball IQ

Now you know how to improve your basketball IQ and dominate the game. Up next, learn how basketball mindfulness can also make your play even stronger.

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