Earlier in this series, we established the three pillars of basketball as basketball IQ, skill, and athletic ability.
In this piece we will define and explore skill and the role it plays in [NBA] basketball.
Skill is perhaps unique in its standing as one of the pillars of basketball as it is most closely associated with excellence in the game. And while there is certainly a high correlation between being skilled and the ability to impact the game – it is far from a perfect correlation.
Many street ballers, specifically even from the now defunct AND1, are highly-skilled players. Despite this, Rafer “Skip to My Lou” Alston, remains the only one to successfully make the jump to the NBA from the AND1 circuit.
This should certainly help clarify any misconceptions of skill be and end all necessity to be impactful in the NBA.
Skill is still incredibly important and is literally foundational in basketball. Athletic ability is irrelevant and basketball IQ all but impossible without the basic skills already cemented in a player. So, what precisely do skills encompass?
As discussed in the preceding piece introducing the concept of the three pillars of basketball, skill can be defined as the physical mastery of the on-court practical tools actually used to play the game.
Under this definition we can list some of the key skills used in the game of basketball as
- Defensive anticipation (the ability to disrupt the ball-handler by staying in front of the assignment or obtaining steals/deflections.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list by any means and additions are welcome. However, it becomes clear merely by analyzing this list just how intertwined the pillars of basketball are. An excellent passer with no basketball IQ can accomplish but so much.
An overlooked aspect of many highly skilled players is the tendency to sometimes rely too heavily on their skills. This is much in the way an ultra-athletic player may rely on their explosive first step or verticality at the expense of developing their skills.
For example, excellent shooters may shoot prematurely when finding the open man may have been the better play. Specifically, Kyrie Irving is known for relying on his elite ball-handling skills to break down defense. This often happens at the expense of the offense.
Highly skilled players that lack basketball IQ or athletic ability are often relegated to specialist roles in the NBA. A highly efficient shooter than lacks the athletic ability to get by defenders are often pigeon-holed as spot up shooters.
Players with great defensive anticipation that lack basketball IQ will be great one-on-one or “lockdown” defenders”, but not good team defenders.
Skill is no different than the other two pillars in the sense that it is by no means and end all. The most skilled player on a team is by no means necessarily the best player on that team, despite the fact that skill is sometimes incorrectly used as shorthand for impact.
In fact, arguably the greatest player in NBA history, Michael Jordan, though definitely skilled, was at no point the most skilled player in any specific facet of the game. He was never the best ball-handler, shooter, rebounder, or passer in the league.
In many instances, not even on his own team.
Skill is the most foundational pillar and will keep a player in the league the longest.