Passing for the ‘Sake of Passing’ is Good Ball Movement

August 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Kobe Bryant, prolific passer

Kobe Bryant, prolific passer

One of my friends never passes the ball to a stationary teammate. Once he gets the ball, you need to be moving — cuts, screens, hand-offs — for him to pass the ball to you.

This is, more or less, his idea of “ball movement.”

His point is not entirely unfounded. If your teammate is standing there, no more open than you are, why pass the ball to him? Wouldn’t it be a better use of time and effort to drive, draw defenders, and then pass to him when he’s more open?

In other words, does passing ‘for the sake of passing’ increase the expected point value of a possession?

Without delving into statistics, I personally am a big fan of swinging the ball (a closely related phrase to ‘passing for the sake of passing’). I understand my friend’s perspective in terms of opportunity cost — and he’s right to question it. He shouldn’t, after all, just accept it because ‘swinging the ball’ is oft-repeated by coaches.

The value of swinging the ball comes in many forms. First, it keeps the defense on its feet. The defense needs to watch both ball and man — this is much harder when the ball is not stationary. Check out the play below.

Tony Parker "passes" Duncan open.

Tony Parker “passes” Duncan open.

In this play, Duncan is fronted by his defender, and Parker can’t get the ball to him. Parker, however, is able to “pass ” Duncan open — Diaw has a much better angle at getting the ball to him.

From this, we see rapid passing of the ball — even to players who are in no position to score — increases the opportunities of getting an open shot. Having to keep track of both the ball (while staying with their man) alone puts significantly more stress on the defense.

Second, passing the ball is simply a great way to get everyone involved and builds team chemistry. I say this from experience, though I acknowledge this might be difficult to prove / placebo effect. My ‘proof’ is again in the psychological factor: passing the ball to someone but ‘disliking’ or ‘not trusting’ them serves as an internal conflict in your brain. And if someone passes to you, you’re more likely to reciprocate.

So in summary — I understand that passing to someone who’s not ‘open’ may seem like a bad decision from an opportunity cost standpoint. But think of it this way: when you pass (‘for the sake of passing’), you’re pressuring the defense and hoping, eventually, for a defensive mistake, which you can then attack at a higher success rate. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a lot of one-on-one basketball situations.

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