How To Improve Your Basketball IQ - Complete Guide To Playing Smarter

basketball mindset Feb 13, 2024
improve your basketball IQ

Raise your basketball IQ to play smarter and be a better, more effective player as a result

Basketball IQ is one of those intangibles that separates good basketball players from great basketball players.

Good players have the talent, the athleticism, and the basketball skills. Great players, on the other hand, know how to put it all together and be the most effective they can possibly be.

Improving your basketball IQ as you progress throughout your basketball career is crucial, especially if you want to play at a really high level.

The best players in the world understand the strategies and intricacies of the game. They not only know how to perform certain skills in basketball successfully, but when to do what.

Read on to learn exactly what basketball IQ is, why it's so important to have a high IQ, and how you can improve your own IQ so that you can play smarter and be a more effective player as a result.

You might like: How to Be Mentally Tough in Basketball >>


What is Basketball IQ?

Basketball IQ is a term that describes a player's ability to understand the game of basketball at a deeper level. It refers to their overall basketball intelligence.

It goes beyond physical skills like shooting or dribbling, and beyond athleticism like how fast you can run or how high you can jump. 

Instead, basketball IQ involves having a full understanding of basketball strategy so you can be as effective as possible. 

Players with a high IQ know how to play basketball the right way. They know how to gain advantages over their opponent, even when out-matched in size or skill.

You may be able to out-shoot your opponent or out-jump your opponent, but the ability to out-smart your opponent is what a strong basketball IQ gives you.


Players with a high basketball IQ:

  • understand basketball X's and O's
  • know why they do what they do on the court
  • have situational awareness
  • understand floor spacing 
  • have a high level of basketball knowledge
  • have the ability to make split-second decisions
  • have a knack for making the right play
  • know how to "read and react" effectively
  • are able to read defensive schemes and attack accordingly
  • are able to anticipate plays before they happen
  • feel like the game is "slowed down" for them
  • don't commit a lot of turnovers
  • understand good vs. bad shot selection

You might like: How To Boost Your Confidence In Basketball | 10 Tips >>


Can Basketball IQ Be Taught?

Many players and coaches alike wonder whether or not basketball players can develop a high basketball IQ, or if it's something players just innately have.

While some players seem to naturally have a better understanding of the game, basketball IQ is absolutely something that can be taught and developed. 

Anyone can become a smarter basketball player. 

Just like some students naturally understand math better than others, some athletes naturally have a better understanding of basketball. But that doesn't mean it can't be taught. Just like anyone can learn and get better at math, anyone can learn and develop basketball IQ.

It takes practice, getting a lot of playing experience, and studying the game, but it is possible.

Read also: The Complete Guide to Getting in the Zone in Basketball >>


Why Is Basketball IQ Important?

Basketball IQ is something that doesn't get as much attention as a highlight dunk or a long-distance three-pointer, but it is crucial to have if you want to have success in basketball.

Smart basketball is winning basketball.

Boosting your basketball IQ is also necessary if you want to improve your game. 

It's one thing to know how to perform a certain skill in basketball, but it's another thing to know when to perform that skill.

For example, you might be really good at doing a spin move. But if you try to spin move all the time, even when it's not advantageous for you to do so, then you aren't going to be as effective as you would be if you use your spin move at the right time. 

If your defender is square in front of you as you drive - that might not be the best time to spin the other way. But if your defender is ahead of you and about to cut you off on your drive, then that would be the perfect time to spin back the other way.

It's one thing to know how to do something in basketball, but to know when is the right time to perform that move - well, that requires basketball IQ.

Another reason basketball IQ matters is because a high IQ leads to better decision-making. When you understand the game on a deep level, you're able to make smarter decisions, faster.

A high IQ enables you to quickly analyze any given situation and react accordingly by making the best possible play. This leads to higher percentage plays/shots and less turnovers.

Guided Meditation: Pregame Meditation for Basketball Players >>


How To Improve Your Basketball IQ

Here are six ways to improve basketball IQ:


1. Analyze Practice And Game Film

Watch film of you and your team, or watch the film of other players or other teams. Learn from wins and losses alike. Slow the game down, watch plays in slow motion, rewind if need be. Study the film strategically and also from a skill-based point of view. 


  • what plays or actions are being run on offense?  
  • how is the defense defending those actions?
  • why did a certain player do what they did/was there a better option?


  • study footwork
  • skill technique (shooting form, dribbling moves, finishing moves, etc)
  • look for subtle maneuvers/fakes that may have made a certain move even more effective


2. Watch A Lot Of Basketball Games

In addition to analyzing game film, watch as many live basketball games as you can too. Using the criteria listed above, see how much you can pick up on at full-speed. Don't just watch the games as a form of entertainment, but watch with the intention to learn a thing or two.


3. Get Lots Of Playing Experience

The more you play, the more situations you'll expose yourself to. The more you play through certain basketball situations, the more you will learn from them and the more comfortable you feel the next time around.

For example, if you've seen a particular pick-and-roll coverage hundreds of times, your basketball IQ is going to increase because you're going to know exactly how to beat that particular coverage. You've seen it and played against it so many times.


4. Play Against Stronger Competition

Playing against competition that is better than you is always a beneficial thing to do in basketball. It can expose you to new situations or scenarios that you can learn from.

It can force you into finding a solution to a new problem you've never faced before. This will increase your adaptability and basketball IQ alike.


5. Read Basketball Books Or Watch Videos

Read books or watch videos about strategy. Watch basketball breakdowns on YouTube. Read books or watch videos about successful basketball players or coaches.

Study what they did that made them so successful. Compare that to other players or coaches. What patterns or similarities do you notice?


6. Play 2K

Believe it or not, playing the NBA 2K video game can help players improve their basketball IQ. Try playing with different teams or using different playbooks and get used to running different plays or actions.

In an interview, NBA star Tyrese Haliburton credited the NBA 2K video games with helping him develop his basketball knowledge.

"Honestly, a lot of my hoop knowledge in knowing how to play comes from video games. When you’re playing 2K and you’re on that camera angle where you can see everything ahead of you, that’s how I think sometimes."

You might like: How To Be A More Aggressive Basketball Player - 4 Mental Keys >>


8 Examples of High Basketball IQ Plays

Here are some plays in basketball that are considered "high IQ."


1. Make The Extra Pass

Make that one extra swing pass to get your teammate an even better look.


2. Steal Away Someone's Rebound

Trying to get a rebound against someone taller than you? Instead of trying to out-jump them, let them grab the ball out of the air. While they're in the air, re-position yourself so that you're facing exactly where they're going to land with the ball.

When they land, poke the ball free (if they aren't fundamentally sound and they bring the ball down). This takes a little practice and accuracy so that you don't foul them, but it's fun to see the look on their face when they have no idea where their rebound went.


3. Bait Your Opponent Into Making A Pass

A perfect example of this is when playing defense in transition. Trying to stop a 2-on-1 fast-break? Bait the ball-handler into making the pass by stunting at them and then jumping right back into the passing lane.


4. Backdoor Cut If Your Defender Isn't Looking

Is your defender staring at the ball and not paying much attention to you? Cut backdoor.


5. Cut To The Basket If Your Defender Goes To Double Team

Did your defender leave you to go double team your teammate? Obviously that leaves you wide open.

If your teammate doesn't have a clear line of sight to pass it to where you are, then cut to the basket. Even if your teammate still can't get it to you, your cut will force the defense to react and may lead to another one of your teammates being open.


6. Understand Time And Possession 

Winning a game with only a little time left? There's no need to rush a shot. Try wasting time and running the clock out. If you play with a shot-clock, run the clock down to just a few seconds left before taking a shot.


7. Inbound The Ball Off Your Opponent's Back

Are you inbounding the ball and your defender is facing the other way? Try throwing it off their back.


8. Set Up Your Defender With A Progression Of Fakes

It's as simple as doing a crossover a few times until your defender gets used to that, then hit them with a double crossover.

Or, it can be a little more complex:

One way I love to get open when playing off-the-ball is to build on my fakes. The first time, I'll do a standard "fake one direction, then go the other" fake. So if I am baseline and I know I want to get open at the 3-point line in the corner, I'll fake like I'm cutting to the basket and then pop out to the 3-point line.

I will do this exact move for a couple of possessions so that my defender thinks that's what I always do. Then, I'll progress to two fakes. So in this same scenario, when on the baseline I'll fake like I'm cutting to the basket, then fake like I'm popping out to the 3-point line, but then cut right back towards the basket.

What will happen is my defender will be so used to my initial fakes that they will start to anticipate them and start moving towards the 3-point line as soon as I make a fake towards the basket. But I'll be one step ahead of their anticipation and get myself an open layup.



Other Posts You Might Like

Top 30 Kobe Bryant Quotes About Hard Work & Work Ethic

Mar 27, 2024