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Basketball Layups: Learning How to be a Great Finisher

10 Keys for Finishing at the Rim in Basketball

Chris Kreider contributed to this portion of the article.


Starting anything without finishing it is pointless. It is literally “pointless” when it comes to having the moves to get all the way to the rim and then not finishing the play by converting a lay-up or dunk. For any serious player, this is something that immediately demands attention.

In fact, the ironic thing is that most young players wait until it is too late to start dissecting this skill and realizing the importance of finishing at the rim in basketball. The fact of the matter is that the best players at every level can both get to the paint or rim while finding a way to finish the play in every possible scenario.

Why not START NOW by studying and working on THE FINISH? Here are ten keys to finishing at the rim in basketball.


Study Basketball Finishes

Study every single finish you can find! Watch film. But not just your game film. Watch the best players in the world in the NBA Finals, for example. It could even be studying basketball finishes on YouTube. It is up to you to make sure that you are putting in time studying finishes, though.

Granted, there are varying levels of basketball and obviously varying levels of skill sets within the game, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find finishes to work on.

Every player or team’s goal at their respective levels is to play at the “next level” – which means the best thing to do would be to watch that “next level” for learning purposes! The game’s speed and the size at every position make attention to every detail that much more important!

Break each offensive possession down at the moment of truth and evaluate each finish’s technique and details.



Develop Touch When Finishing Around the Basket

Improve your “touch”! Just like ball-handling and shooting, finishing can be improved by working on it daily. This is a great way to start any workout or practice (varying speeds). The more quality touches you can get around the basket finishing from different angles, the better. You will have all the more confidence in finishing a tough layup in a game if you have built up this quality touch. Have a routine and stick to it!

Here are a few of our favorite basketball finishing drills that work on touch around the basket.


Two-Ball Same Side Mikan Basketball Drill


Two-Ball Same Side Facing Out Mikan Basketball Drill



Creativity Around the Basket

Develop a sense of creativity! The game isn’t perfect. Neither should your basketball training be when it comes to finishing at the rim in basketball. Varying how we get to the paint and basket is one thing (dribble moves/using screens/etc.), but we also need to allow for variation in how we are getting the ball on the rim!

Just make sure that while you are spending time working on your creativity, you are also working to mastery. If you will use a difficult finish in a game, you need to have already spent the required time mastering the move in your workouts.


Get to Your Spot When Finishing

Get to the rim when you can and always know how to get to your spot! Whatever you do, don’t drive it too deep into the “teeth of the defense!” The best finishers live at the logo in the paint or get all the way to the rim. As a finisher, you need to have a plan for both!

Work on both types of finishes so that you can read every situation and get the finish that you want and not what the defense tries to make you take.

A big part of being able to get to your spot is being under control on your drive. Yes, you will need to be explosive to get an angle by your defender, but you also need to be able to be under control to execute your finish as you are driving.



Take Off Ball Location

Evaluate the “take-off.” Perhaps the most important part of the finish is the location of the ball right before take-off. Bringing the ball back to the defense or “rocking the ball” at that point will be the difference between being able to get the ball on the rim and allowing the defender to get a hand on the ball or, worse yet, turning the ball over.

To avoid this, always position the ball on the outside shoulder at the time of “take-off!” Here is an excellent example of this with our ball protection finish basketball drill. You will notice that the player is focusing on his finish and that he is also accounting for the other defenders that are also in the area.


Ball Protection Basketball Finish Move



After enough practice with moving the ball on the drive, it will become second nature, and it will be something that you can do without much thought. In the beginning, though, you must be holding yourself accountable to have excellent ball protection.



Go-To Basketball Moves and Finishes

Have a “Go-To Move” but also have a repertoire of finishes (and give them a name while you are at it)! The game is not a lay-up line! Due to the speed of the game and nine other moving bodies, you will not be able to get to the front of the rim more times than not.

So now what? Be prepared to be able to get the ball on the rim in multiple ways (over-hand, under-hand, inside-hand reverse, outside hand reverse, runner, or floater, Euro step, etc.) and give them each a name for easy reference!

Remember, any move that you want to add to your game, you must be willing to spend the needed time mastering it. This means that you must be willing to put in hours and hours of work for every type of finish that you want to use.

It is also important to remember that your defender and the help defense should really be determining the type of finish you use. Don’t drive to the basket with a pre-determined finish; instead, read the defense and then make the correct move.



Finishing Release Points

Be able to change your release point at any point in time! You might have a clear path to the basket on some drives, but most times, that will not be the case. Prepare for these different scenarios by adjusting and releasing the ball in different ways at every position on the floor!

Another reason why this is so important is because of unpredictability. As a finisher, you want to be as unpredictable as you can with your finishes. If a defender can consistently time up your finishes, they are going to either be able to block you or, at the least, force you into a tough finish. Learning to finish from different spots on the floor will help keep the defense off balance.



Basketball Weaknesses to Strengths

Work on your weak hand continuously! Not only do you have to work on it, but you have to trust it. These are both separate things and both equally important. The only way you can build up trust in either of your hands, though, is to put in the time in and spend hours developing them.

Knowing when to use it and coming up with basketball drills to work on it is one thing, but actually using your weak-hand in live-action (especially when the game is on the line) is the tough thing. When your weak hand is needed, don’t second guess it! Trust it!

This weak-hand basketball finishing drill will help provide quality repetitions and the ability to finish from various angles around the basket.


Two Minute Combo Move Weak Hand Finish Basketball Drill



Use the Glass When Finishing Around the Basket

Have a relationship with the glass! You need it, don’t be stubborn! I love this quote by Kevin Eastman, “Eyes make lay-ups. Feet make jump shots.” The more you use the glass around the rim, the higher the percentage of a finisher you will be.

You are moving, but the target is not! “High off the glass” is the teaching point! And it may take a little while to get used to doing something different, but the payout at the end will be worth the added discomfort at the beginning.



Finish Through Contact

Deliver the first blow at all times and play 1-0 at the rim instead of 1-1 whenever possible! If you have the angle on your defender, look to create contact before finishing at the basket. If you allow the defender to come to you and bump into you first, you will take an off-balance finish.

Creating the contact also helps eliminate a shot blocker’s ability to get off the ground to contest your finish. One of the best players to watch when learning how to create contact before finishing at the rim in basketball is Chris Paul. Even though he is usually shorter than the defender playing defense on him, he uses his body to create an angle for himself and limit their ability to get off the ground.

A significant teaching point with this is making sure that you are using your body to create the contact and not extending your arms or dipping your shoulder. The more subtle you can make the contact, the better. This will make it look more natural and keep the referees from favoring the defense or rewarding them for a flop.


Keys to Finishing at the Basket in Basketball


Keys to Finishing at the Basket in Basketball


A common misconception about finishing at the rim in basketball is that you have to be long and athletic or bigger than everyone else to be a great finisher. And although size and athleticism help, it is more about how you use your body and the types of finishes that make you a great finisher, especially as a guard or wing player.

The higher the level of basketball you play, the bigger the size difference between post players and guards. This means that you have to use different moves and be fundamentally sound in the way you finish. Otherwise, you are just going to be throwing up a prayer to the basket and hoping it goes in. This basketball article for players will provide some great keys to finishing at the basket in basketball that every finisher should work on.


Seek the Contact When Finishing

One of the biggest things that guards struggle with is seeking contact before finishing. To be clear, we are not talking about running over a defender in a great guarding position. We are talking about when you get an angle on a defender and have a lane to the basket. This can be seeking contact with the defender that is guarding you, or it could be with the help defender rotating over.

What often happens with an inexperienced finisher is that they will try to avoid the contact. This will end up causing them to take a difficult shot falling away from the basket. There is almost always going to be contact when trying to attack the basket on a straight line. If you let the defender come to you, you are going to get knocked off course. However, if you seek the contact, you can keep your great angle to the basket and finish strong.

Another great reason to seek the contact is to take away the defender’s ability to get off the ground to block your finish. If a defender is trying to time your finish up and they get a good jump, they will have a great chance to block your shot. On the flip side, if you get into them before they can leave the ground, they won’t be able to contest it nearly as well.

Not every finish calls for seeking contact, though, either. You may want to use some kind of Euro step, pro hop, floater, etc., to avoid the defense. However, if you are on a straight-line drive with a defender on your side or have a help defender trying to close the angle on you, seeking the contact will help you finish strong at the basket rather than falling away and hoping your shot goes in.


Tips for Seeking Contact When Finishing

  • Don’t expose the ball to the defender and keep your body between the ball and the defender.
  • Don’t extend your arm or push off. Instead, use your hip and side, don’t lower your shoulder.
  • Must have a strong base to absorb the contact.


Find the Gaps to Get Your Finish Off

You don’t always have to get all the way to the rim to finish. Sometimes the best finish is in between your defender and the help defender. Unlike with the previous key of seeking contact, we will assume that the help defender has good positioning or is a high-level shot blocker.

Instead of driving it right into them, you want to use a floater or runner before the help defender can reach you to block your finish. You may still have to shield off your defender if they are on your hip, though, and that will require absorbing the contact or slightly initiating it (don’t extend your arm or lower your shoulder).

A couple of keys to finishing in the gap are making sure you stay balanced, jump straight up and down, and hold your follow-through on the finish. If you go to finish off of two feet, jump from a strong athletic base – as mentioned, you may have your defender still on your hip, and if you don’t jump from a strong base, you will end up drifting on your finish, which really increases the difficulty of the finish.

The reason you want to jump straight up and down is because of potential charge situations. If the help defender is set up in front of you and you let your momentum carry you forward on the finish, you will pick up a charge.

Floaters and runners are just like jump shots, and just like a jump shot, you must hold your follow-through on the finish. This is especially true as you begin to take more difficult floaters and runners. The more complicated the shot, the more you need to lock in on the details of having the correct form and touch.


Protect the Ball as you Go to Finish

Many players don’t ever get the chance to get into their finish because they allow themselves to get stripped of the ball first. They either rock the ball, carry it loosely, or don’t protect it well enough in some other way. One of the best players at protecting the ball when finishing is James Harden. He does a great job of keeping the ball away from the defender’s hands by keeping it high, low, or on his hip.

When you go to finish at the basket, you must do a great job of protecting the ball. There will always be defenders trying to get their hand in on the ball to strip it, so make sure that you are conscious of this and making the proper adjustments.


Dual Threat to Finish and Shoot

This key doesn’t directly apply to finishing at the basket, but it will be tough to get driving angles past your defender without it. By being a threat to hit an outside shot, you put the defender in a hard guarding situation. On the other hand, though, if you cannot be a threat from outside, the defender will just sit back and dare you to shoot the ball. With this much of a defensive gap, it will be tough to get an angle to get past your defender.

The best offensive players can read the defender and then make the correct move. If the defender is playing too far off on the catch, shoot it. If they take a poor closeout and give you an angle to drive, attack off the dribble. A lot of this comes down to reading the defender as you are catching the ball.

If you are attacking off the dribble and can be a threat to shoot the ball, focus on pausing and putting your eyes on the rim like you will shoot the ball. When the defender raises up out of an athletic stance to contest, drive past them.


Don’t Be Afraid to Give the Ball Up

As a finisher, you must read each situation and understand what the help defense is doing. Reading the help defense will allow you to make the correct decision when it comes to finishing the ball yourself or creating for a teammate. If you do not have a good balance with this, the defense will adjust, and you will either end up forcing finishes or passing to teammates when you should be finishing.

So as you drive to the basket, make sure that you are under control and can execute your finish and pass the ball to any teammate whose defender over-committed to your drive.


Use the Rim to Protect You on the Finish

As a finisher, the rim can be your best friend when it comes to shielding you from shot blockers. If you can get the shot blocker to think that you are finishing on one side of the basket but then reverse your finish, you will keep them from getting their hand on the ball. This can be done with several types of finishes – reverse finishes (chest to the basket or back to the basket), Euro step finish, pro hop finish, jump stop shot fake and step through, etc.

Whatever type of move you use, though, you need to be under control and reading the shot blocker. Try to sell that you are attacking one side of the hoop, and then as soon as they commit, change to the other side of the basket for your finish.


Strong Base When You Finish

This key goes back to seeking contact and absorbing the bump, but it is worth discussing further. If you come into your finish off balance or with your feet together, you will get knocked off balance at the first touch. A strong base allows you to get straight up and down and finish with confidence at the basket. Even finishing off of one leg, you can be balanced and under control. So as you are finishing, really make sure that you are staying in an athletic stance as you plant and drive to the basket.


Using a Quick Finish

Shot blockers rely a good amount on timing. They will try to time your finish up and then meet the ball as it leaves your hand. A great way to finish at the basket and get your shot past the shot blocker is to use a quick finish. Some of the best players to ever do this are Steve Nash and Tony Parker.

This type of finish works so well because as soon as the ball touches the backboard, the shot blocker is not allowed to touch it, or it is goaltending. So when using the quick finish, you want to extend the ball out quickly and get it up off the backboard as fast as possible.

Rather than using the typical footwork and finish for a layup, you can mix it up and finish with the same foot/same hand, extend out quickly with the ball, use your inside hand, etc. It is all about throwing off the shot blocker’s timing as you go to finish at the basket. This is considered being crafty around the basket, but it is a must for any guard who wants to finish inside where the shot blockers roam.


Shot Fake Before Finishing

The shot fake in basketball is kryptonite to a shot-blocker, but to use it, you need to be under control and really sell the move first. If you drive to the basket or recognize that your teammates are driving to the basket and the post defender is continually leaving their feet to try and block every shot, drive in there and use your shot fake before you finish. You will most likely, at the worst, end up shooting free throws when the shot blocker fouls you.

You mustn’t tip your hand, though. Your shot fake needs to have the same approach as your actual shot or finish. After you shot fake, only bring the ball back down to your chest. If you bring it down to your waist, you invite defenders with quicks to strip the ball. A shot fake can be a really great tool for finishing at the basket if you are willing to put in the time to master it.


Types of Basketball Finishes

The more types of finishes that you can master, the better you will be able to read the situation and then make the correct move quickly. Here are a few different finishes and links to videos so that you can see exactly how to make each move.



Finishing at the Rim in Basketball Conclusion

Finishing at the rim in basketball, like any other skill, must be worked at. Along with working hard, though, you must also be willing to work smart, and that is precisely what these ten basketball finishing keys are going to allow you to do. They will help players finish at a higher percentage and will help to limit empty possessions.

This will be critical because while shooting can add a lot of value to a player’s game or a team, getting to the basket is going to be just as vital. And not only will it provide quality finishing chances, but it will also put pressure on the defense and force them to commit unwanted fouls, and this means trips to the free-throw line.





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