No doubt about that gem. Speed definitely kills. Just look at any high-level basketball game. Tell me if you see any good, slow players. You didn't right? Of course you didn't, because they don't exist!
There is no question there are other skills that are very, very important in your development as a basketball player. Being able to shoot the lights out is huge. Being a dependable ball-handler is necessary. And making good-decisions is a must. But, all those skills are amplified and become better when you become faster.
How? Well, you can get better shots off because you can jet away from your defender.
You handle seems tighter because you're blowing by your man every chance you get.
And your decision-making improves immensely because now that you are moving so much faster, the rest of the game seems to be moving slower. And if you can slow the game down, you'll have more time to make better, smarter decisions.
So, what is basketball speed? I'll tell you what it's not. It is not an all-out sprint. Although I'm sure he would be good, I don't think putting Usain Bolt on a basketball court would make him the "fastest player on the court". Sure, he'd be fast, but he's a sprinter who needs at least 40m meters to accelerate (the length of a basketball court is much less than 40m, by the way), and needs to do in a straight line. And, we all know basketball isn't played in a straight line. It's a game of S's and Z's, zigs and zags.
What does that mean exactly? It means that basketball is a chaotic sport, where great emphasis is placed on the ability to accelerate rapidly, and usually in directions that are non-linear.
For example, you might have to accelerate hard left towards the baseline to cut off your man, then immediately change direction as you go to catch an outlet pass, which you catch, dribble and accelerate towards the other team's basket until you hit the free throw line, where you have to stop on a dime and pull-up for an easy 15-footer. That's basketball speed.
So, now that we know what basketball speed is, and we know that basketball speed kills, I assume your next question is "How can I improve my basketball speed?" Good question. Let's get to it.
Since basketball speed is a combination of acceleration capabilities and reaction times, it would make sense those are the two main things we want to improve upon. But, I should tell you that reaction time is actually largely genetic and training for it will probably just end up wasting your time (although, if you've ever used a SPARQ reaction ball, they make for a great party activity, particularly for the easily distracted!).
So, that leaves us with improving your acceleration abilities. Acceleration is based on you having the ability to overcome your own bodyweight and inertia as rapidly as possible. So, the two most important things we can do here are to improve your ability to overcome your bodyweight and your ability to do it as fast as humanly possible.
To knock out the first one (overcoming your body), the key is getting stronger. The more strength you have, the lighter your body will be to you and the easier it will be to maneuver.
To work on the second one, there are two things you can do. The first thing is sprint training. But it's not the normal type of sprinting you're probably thinking about, where you run hard for a certain amount of time, rest for a short time and then get to sprinting again. In my profession, we call that conditioning.
Real speed work needs to be of very high quality, with more than ample rest between sprints. Long rest periods can guarantee you won't be fatigued from the last sprint you completed, because if you are still in a fatigued state, there is no way you will no way be able to put out a real sprint. It would probably end up being an 80-90% sprint. To get faster, we need nothing but 100% efforts.
The second thing you can do is to get on a basketball court with a ball, pick a couple of your favorite moves and work on repping them out as fast as you possibly can. Try standing at the top of the 3-point line, make one of your chosen move and then explode directly towards the basket as fast as you can into a lay-up or dunk.
And since we are already on the basketball court, we want to be more specific with our training so you'll want to use shorter rest periods, to better simulate game situations. But your effort should still be 100%.
Based on these considerations, here is what a simple template could look like for Basketball Speed training (3 days a week):
8 x10 yards (with 45-60 seconds between reps)
4 x 20 yards (with 90-120 seconds between reps)
2 x40 yards (with 150-180 seconds between reps)
Bulgarian Split-Squats 3x5
Bench Press 3x5
Romanian Deadlift 3x8
Inverted Row 3x8
"Basketball Moves" Sprints 2 Moves x10 R/L (So, you'd pick two moves and do each of them 10 times going right and 10 times going left. So, you will have done 40 "sprints" by the end of this exercise.)
Neutral-grip DB Overhead Press 4x8
Manual Glute-Ham raise 3x8
Chin-ups (assisted, if necessary (if you can do it assisted with bands, even better)) 4x10
Sprints 7 or drop-off x 40 yards (if you see that your times are slowing down, then you've "dropped off" and should cut the sprint work right there. If you don't reach a drop-off, just stop when you hit 280 yards, which would be 7 sprints.)
Bulgarian Split-Squat 3x8 (w/5 second pause at bottom)
Bench Press 4x10
Romanian Deadlift 3x8
Cable Row 3x8
And that'd be it. If you followed that program consistently, you'd see AWESOME gains in your basketball speed. And then, as you moved closer to the beginning of your basketball season, you could switch up the sprints and do the basketball sprints on Day's 1 and 3 and the normal sprints on Day 2.
So, now that you know what basketball speed is, what it's all about and know exactly what to do to improve it, what are you waiting for? Go get some speed!
Alex Maroko is a currently a Kinesiology major at Michigan State University, and a former Division II college basketball player. Besides training himself and his clients, Alex likes to read, discuss and think about anything pertaining to training. At this point, it is borderline obsessive.