How to Improve Big Man Post Play

Few positions on the basketball court are as pivotal to a basketball team as the post player. A player at any position can have impact, but no other position can change the game like a post player. Many of the rules we play by today are the result of post play. The foul lane was widened from 6 feet to 12 feet due to the play of Bill Russell. The rule that the ball cannot pass over the backboard came about as a reaction to Wilt Chamberlain. The no dunk rule (now in effect only in warm-ups) was a result of the dominating presence of Lew Alcindor (no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

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The Miami Heat went from out of the playoffs to NBA Champs and the L. A. Lakers went the other way with the trading of Shaquille O'Neal. Bill Russell anchored the most dominating dynasty in NBA history, the Boston Celtics of the late 1950's and 1960's. A dynasty that started with his arrival and ended with his departure.

What is a good post player?

A post player has to be something other than tall. Many tall players should not be in the post (Kevin Garnett). By the same token, a post player does not have to be tall (Zach Randolph). A post player is a player who is comfortable playing with his back to the basket. He is not afraid of contact and will come back play after play despite getting hit even when he doesn't have the ball. A post player is willing to go to the boards on every play and if he can't get the rebound, makes sure that his man won't.

A post player, by virtue of his physical position on the court, has to be willing to run endline to endline even though he won't get the ball most of the time. He must be willing to defend on every play and make up for his teammate's shortcomings. He is the goalie, the last person that can protect the basket. He must be willing to sacrifice his body on every play.

Because of these unique abilities, post players must be evaluated on their teams a little differently than other players. I have heard things like, "The only thing Shaq has is size. He can't dribble or shoot outside of 5 feet," and "Matumbo is so tall but with his offensive skills he wouldn't even make a HS team if he were 6-6." The fact is Matumbo is 7-3 and Shaq is a giant. They bring different things to the table that smaller players can't bring. With his shot blocking and rebounding ability, Mutumbo must save 15-20 points per game over his career. And if Shaq were on your team, would you even WANT him to dribble or shoot from 15 feet. Think about what they bring to the game and then evaluate them.

How do you build a post player?

A lot of effective post play is instinctual. It is difficult to play with your back to the basket. It takes a feel and a comfort level that comes from hours and hours on the court. We can teach the skills but we cannot force our players to be comfortable. I think too many coaches make the mistake of taking players and just throwing them on the block and then complaining when the player can't adapt. I have always believed in finding out which players are comfortable down there and then deciding who is the post player. It may not be the tallest player but it will be the ones that are most comfortable playing down low.

Once you identify who your post players will be, what do you do next? What do you teach him to make him better?


Without question, I believe the most important and the most under-taught skill is footwork. One common thing that all great post players have is great footwork. Look at the greatest post players in history. They may have different games, Shaq (power), Olajuwan (speed), Kareem (finesse), but they all have great footwork.

There are only a certain number of things you can do with your feet. There are a finite number of pivots, but an infinite number of things you can do with those pivots

The pivots are:

  • Front Pivot
  • Inside Pivot
  • Drop Step
  • Step Through
  • Sweep

Players should be equally adept at performing pivots on either foot.

I have learned to teach offensive moves based on pivots (Right foot, inside pivot, jump shot) rather than names ("Sikma Shot"). This allows the player to use his imagination when creating his game. In addition, the footwork is common to performing other skills on the floor. We teach our players to "Sikma" inside, "Step Out" on the perimeter and "Reverse Pivot" to box out, the player has to learn 3 things. In reality, all three post moves are "inside pivots" and presented as such, it is much easier for the players to learn and they are more confident in performing them.


Just like pivots, there are only a certain number of shots you can shoot. Combine them with different pivots, or combination of pivots, you come up with an array of offensive post moves.

The shots I believe post players should have are:

  • Layup
  • Jump Shot
  • Jump Hook

Players should be equally adept at each shot with either hand.

On the block, you may have a "Turn around jump shot," at the elbow you may have a "Face up jumper," catch a pass on the wing - face the basket and shoot you may have a "catch and shot jumper." Or, on all three shots, you have a "front pivot jumper."

Common names for common moves are very important teaching tools. Using pivots and shots also allows you to use the same language for all your players, regardless of position.


A counter is a pivot that is used when your initial pivot or shot is defended. It should flow smoothly from the initial move into the counter. Because of his proximity to the basket, counter moves are very effective for post players who don't have to finish with long shots. They are done in close quarters so they are quick and will often get your post player to the foul line.

Let's say your player is effective at right foot, front pivot, jump shots (turn around jumpers). He gets the ball in the post, makes his right foot, front pivot and finds his jumper defended. He then counters by making a right foot pivot, step through (using his right foot as his pivot foot, he takes his left foot and steps across his right foot) and takes a layup. The result is called an "Up and Under" move. However, you did not have to teach him the move because you have taught him the footwork. He can use it in the post or on the outside.


When playing in the post, positioning is of the utmost importance. A foot or two can mean the difference in the effectiveness of your post play. If you set too high, you might find the need to execute skills that you're not comfortable with, set to low, you might find your options limited.

I like to have post players straddle the first marker above the block on the lane. This allows them the freedom to turn both ways, without going behind the backboard. More importantly, it gives passers more room and better angles to get the ball into the post. It also provides more room for cutters and better angles for screens.

Locating your defense BEFORE you receive the ball is critical to effective post play. Once you find your defense, only allow him to play you one way. If he is playing on your low side, work to keep him low, if on your high side, work to keep him high. Your perimeter players should be taught to pass away from the defense. If so, pivot with the pass. For example, if your post player is in the right post and the defense is low, the perimeter player should pass the ball to the post's right hand and the post player should use a pivot that will open him to the middle (right foot pivot). This will help your post player to be more assertive. If, after making the pivot, he fids his shot defended, he can go immediately to a counter, still using his right foot pivot (sweep, step-through).

By positioning properly on the court and using the body to position against defense, the post player becomes quicker, more aggressive and has more offensive options.

Mental Aspects

There is no question that post players must be mentally tougher than the other positions on the court. To start with, the game and the court are longer for post players than for the other players. Perimeter players may go long stretches of time without ever going past the foul line yet post players must run every play endline to endline. Perimeter players can avoid contact, especially when they don't have the ball. Post players are physical on every play, whether they have the ball or not. Perimeter players have the ball, post players must get the ball.

It all adds up to what could be a frustrating time, especially when your post player is not getting enough touches. Regardless, he has to be tough enough to play every play, regardless of the situation. He must do it again and again, play after play, game after game.

Coaches must take this aspect of the game and give it special attention. Pete Gillen, the great former coach at Virginia has a phrase he would use over and over again, "Let the big dog eat!" Other wise you run the risk of coaching a "bagel" (plenty of stuff outside and a hole in the middle).

Videos of Skills & Fundamentals


More Basketball Drills

Coaches, go here for more Basketball Drills

Players, go here for more Basketball Drills

Book - How To Develop Post Players

If you would like to learn more about developing post players, take a look at Don Kelbick's simplified process that he uses to train pro players in the book

How To Develop High Scoring and Highly Skilled Post Players.

If you are interested to see what other people are saying about the book, view the bottom of this page for reviews.

What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...

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Coach Bwell says:
10/30/2007 at 11:18:40 AM

Great stuff, I have a AAU 14U travel team with three 6'6 or taller guys and it is first about the fit and comfort. You have to have this before you can expect the player to be prepare to receive the knowlege. I found once I make a player comfortable with what is expected from him it made both him and me comfortable in the student/ teacher roles.


Joe (Co-Founder of Breakthrough Basketball) says:
11/4/2007 at 10:57:27 AM

Here's an explanation of some of the pivots:

All pivots start with your back to the basket and you are on the right block. Your feet are described as the pivot foot and the swing foot.

Basic Pivots

DROP STEP - Swing foot steps in a direct line to the front of the rim.

INSIDE PIVOT - Swing foot steps BACKWARD and scribes a 180 degree arc such that when you re-plant the foot you have turned completely and you are facing the basket.

FRONT PIVOT - Swing foot steps FORWARD and scribes a 180 degree arc such that when you re-plant the foot you have turned completely and you are facing the basket.

Counters - Second pivots to counter defense of the basic pivot

STEP THROUGH - After making an inside or front pivot and you are faced up and square to the to the basket, draw an imaginery line from your pivot foot to the front of the rim. Your swing foot "steps through" that line and toward the basket (think of having your legs crossed)

SWEEP - After making any pivot, your swing foot immediately steps on its own side to the basket (if your left foot is the pivot foot, your right foot steps to the right and to the basket). The name actually comes from the ball action being swept through your stance to get it out infront of your swing foot so you can make a long dribble to the basket.


JAMAAL says:
11/4/2007 at 2:07:05 PM



DJ says:
2/21/2008 at 7:38:23 PM

For me I'v just have moved to the bigger balls and struggled all year with my shots bein short im 155 pounds, really strong for my age, and am 5' 9" a post player and untill these last few games i have had problems with getting it above the rim and making it there from about 10 12 feet, i cant judge it, i have the shot as alot of people have said but, it has not shown on the board i was wondering which of these drills would help with all this?

  1 reply  

Brooks says:
1/26/2018 at 5:46:59 PM

The main thing with getting muscle memory to get the perfect amount of strength behind your shot is repetition. This takes hours spent shooting form the exact same spot day after day. There is no specific drill but I find seeing what shot you struggle with the most then work on that every chance you get.


Jeff says:
2/22/2008 at 8:36:15 AM

DJ -

We answered your question here:



coach hanna says:
1/3/2009 at 8:57:27 PM

very good info. helps my team we lost 1 game won 6


andre says:
3/27/2009 at 2:09:48 AM

this information was a life saver. I read this right before my im championship earlier today where i was going one on one against the best center in our league. hes about 6'7 and i got 16 on him.


Jered says:
11/13/2009 at 7:29:19 PM

Great stuff! I highly recommend buying the book, too.

I would love to see videos for: front pivot; front pivot w/step-through counter; inside pivot; inside pivot w/sweep counter. Also, maybe some pivots & counters w/dribble & 2nd counter.

The videos here of the drop step & drop step w/inside pivot counter were a tremendous help--I think videos of the other pivots & counters would be of great benefit.


Caroline says:
1/7/2010 at 7:53:21 PM

your website rox


Brianna says:
2/12/2010 at 2:55:41 PM

I am a small forward, and a guard. Depending on my team's line-up for the night, depends on my position on offense. I am not a very good forward, but im not afraid of contact. I just dont have much experience on the block. What can I do to improve my post playing?


Okereafor mariam says:
11/3/2010 at 5:56:21 PM

Great job guys, im a player on bench all da time neva get the ball. Good defence player. Where do you think i should play. Right now i play a power forward.


Okereafor mariam says:
11/3/2010 at 6:00:58 PM

I think i fit into the features of a post player. How do i tel ma coach. I want to post play 4 ma team


Joe Haefner says:
11/4/2010 at 12:42:55 PM

Okereafor, ask your coach. He'll tell you where you fit to help the team.


Mel says:
12/15/2010 at 10:50:59 AM

Joe, can you define low and high side? Thanks


Joe Haefner says:
12/16/2010 at 8:13:33 AM

High side is when you are on the top side of the offensive player with your back towards half court.

Low side is when you are n the bottom side of the offensive player with your back towards the baseline.


randolf says:
2/12/2011 at 6:10:29 PM

this is realy helpful for people being post


marissa says:
5/27/2011 at 1:28:12 AM

How do you keep yourself from overthinking everything. I'm new to the post and I find myself hesitating before I perform a move.


Coach Axel says:
9/29/2011 at 11:45:15 AM

Great article coach. I have a new project for the up-coming season. I have a grade 9 kid who just grew from 5'10" to 6'5" in the past year and now needs to re-learn a lot of things about his own body, let alone shooting form. He can finish off the dribble well enough, but struggles on put-backs and his jumper needs work. I think for the put-backs I need to focus on footwork, body positioning, and use of angles on the backboard, do you have any suggestions to target these areas?

I don't have any other player who can match his height, but he is still one of the weaker "post" players. I know I have a lot of work to do with him this year and with some many players that need work, I am also worried how to give him the necessary one-on-one time while not addressing the full team needs.


Jeff Haefner says:
9/29/2011 at 2:22:37 PM

I don't know that I would do anything special or different for this kid. It will take time for him to get used to his new body. Just like any post or perimeter player, I would spend a lot of time on footwork, shooting, and ballhandling. With time and reps his confidence will grow. Think about long term development, not short term. He's just a ninth graders. That would be my advice.


Cassie says:
11/8/2011 at 9:10:52 PM

Im a post player and im not aggressive. My game is in one day. PLZZZ help me!!


Norman Brood says:
11/28/2011 at 1:30:24 PM

Coaching JV girls basketball presents it's many challenges but one of the biggest issues I am dealing with right now is getting my post girls to 'jump' for their shots. They do not leave the ground, their foot work is good (work on it frequently) but they just do not want to leave the ground. They are fairly tall for this level, about 5'9" both, and rebound well (which they actually jump for) but for some reason I can not get them to even jump a little. Any tips would be great. Really one of the few things holding one of the girls back from moving up to the varsity team. Thanks.


Britt Leeann says:
11/29/2011 at 11:59:22 AM

I used to be a guard and now I am a post player and I dont play agressive enough. I don't ever know what to do and I am afraid to mess up. I hessitate before making a move and then I panic. I need major advice because this is my last year and I need to play hard so I can live my dream of playing college ball. PLEASE HELP ME!!. My next game is Thursday Night!!!.


Ken Sartini says:
12/4/2011 at 12:54:32 PM


First of all, relax a little bit... no one is perfect and you will make some mistakes...

First of all, learn ONE good move and a COUNTER to that move... then relax and just play..... having those two moves will keep you from thinking too much which seems to be your problem.

Thinking too much slows down your feet... when you get the ball in the post, find your defender and make a head fake towards her(?) and then make that move away from that player.

Relax and have some fun, remember, its a game not the NBA championship.

Good luck and let us know how its going.


Anonymouse says:
2/10/2012 at 3:14:19 PM

Im a 6ft 3in ASIAN and only 16 playing for school of wausau west :P we dont really have a post b/c we run plays so whenever your downlow your posting but i would say that im a post player but i do have good dribbling skills :P btw...idk why i reply here :P


Ken says:
2/10/2012 at 4:01:18 PM

Take a look at the top of this page on the left side under PLAYER DEVELOPMENT.


Taylor says:
2/22/2012 at 11:05:33 PM

I've seen having trouble recently and I realized I'm overthinking things again.. The trick is to have your best move like a reflex and not allow misses to mess with your head.


kim says:
12/5/2012 at 10:33:56 AM

Excellent material, I have an issue would appreciate your opinion. I have read your point guard and post position articles. My son has always been a point guard started when he was four he was developing into a great player. We are a small school and they are using him at postposition because they have noone else to put there and they also use him to assist the point guard with getting the ball up court because the boy they are using as guard does not have the skills to handle the ball. Your article on a point guards job as also a leader describes my son exactly. He had at least 6 assist as post player more than guard and wing players together maybe more i lost track. He leads the team on the court, I am afraid they are throwing any chance of my son's dream of being a guard at college level ball away for the wrong reasons. He is a 4.0 student and really has a chance at a college career any advice?


kim says:
12/5/2012 at 10:46:27 AM

In regards to above comments my son is in 7th grade and our school rules are parents do not question or discuss position or playing time with the coach. Any advice on how to approach this situation and get the coach to realize basketball means so much to my son, and it is important to take his goals serious. What they do now will definately affect his future in basketball.


Jeff Haefner says:
12/5/2012 at 11:17:10 AM


I can understand your concern. I'll try to give you a little perspective to hopefully make you feel better...

Steve Nash (point guard and the most skilled player in the NBA) didn't play basketball until he was 13. So I don't think playing post as a 7th grader is going to ruin any chances of playing in college.

This is a developmental stage -- having fun, playing multiple positions, playing multiple sports, and learning good values are the most important things.

Developing as an athlete by playing multiple sports and learning a love for the game is much more important at this stage. And I think getting experience at the post, point, and other positions is a very good thing. Now if the kid only played post all through youth and middle school, that would not be good for him. But it sounds like he is getting to play other positions and that is good.


Ken says:
12/5/2012 at 1:19:22 PM

Kim -

I agree with Jeff..... you never know what position your son might end up at. There is a saying.... " The post of today might be your point guard of tomorrow. "

He is getting experience at both positions... post and poing... heck, he is already helping to bring the ball up the floor and get the offense started at times.... then he goes into the post and plays there.... a great experience for him.

Be patient, tell your son to enjoy the game and learn as much as he can about playing... who knows where he might end up after all is said and done.


tae buchanan says:
12/7/2012 at 1:44:11 PM

i like this page because it was hard at first for me to do anything because i wasnt comfortable in the post but i got use to it


Josh says:
8/15/2013 at 4:22:30 AM

hey Joe. im a 5'3" 14 year old (im asian. thats why im short) PG/SG and im trying to learn post up moves. some of the time i get easily blocked. how can i prevent that?


Payton says:
11/17/2013 at 11:06:07 PM

Josh: Definately don't try and force your way into the paint if there is a lot of traffic pick your spots. If the lane is open you can try going to the rim but this will be most effective in opening up your mid-range game. Watch this video of Sam Cassell giving you some pointers on how create separation for your mid-ranger and out of the post. ( )


anonymous says:
11/25/2013 at 11:02:09 PM

I''''m a post and I''''ve been so lost. Thanks alot has helped me out hopefully I can show it on my game tomorrow!!!


unknown says:
12/22/2013 at 10:50:21 AM

i really found this article very useful. I am 14years old, 6 foot even and a girl. I have always played post since i started playing at the age of 5. I am comfortable playing with my back to the basket an d i can get just about every rebound. My coach i always worried that one of the hits i take will hurt me. i am used tto it though, i get banged up alot. Playing post is very tiring running baseline to baseline. My coach usually plays me for the whole game, i only sit for a total of 2 minutes. I have more responsiblities in practice too. I have to teach the younger girls how to be a good post player. I love it even though it is alot of hard work.


Ross Peterson says:
1/12/2014 at 2:25:42 PM

I am a huge high school basketball fan, and I love to see players develop. Especially in the post! So many teams are lacking in this area, and rarely are the coaches even knowledgeable in this field because the majority have never PLAYED in the post. I've seen many kids suffering in the post over the years, and I believe something like Break Through Basketball can help these coaches fill in the holes! Good job guys.....


Ken Sartini says:
1/13/2014 at 10:47:06 AM

Ross -

I wont disagree with you but a lot of schools don't have a true post player... and IF the are lucky enough to have ONE, the D collapses on them quickly... makes it tough to be successful down there.

I went from being an inside oriented coach to a permiter guy, just because of that. I've gone to several practices since I retired and they work on it, but when you are 6'2 and they are 6'5 / 6'6, you are at a big disadvantage.... and it seems like the 3 ball is the thing of todays game.... either that or take the ball to the hole... score or kick it out.


1/17/2014 at 8:40:58 PM


Phil - Parent says:
5/8/2015 at 9:11:38 PM

I am looking for a good summer camp for my post player son this summer and wonder if you have any recommendations.

  1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
5/16/2015 at 9:03:46 AM

This post play camp just has a few spots left for this summer.


Robert says:
12/7/2015 at 6:42:49 PM

I play post in grade 9 basket ball. I''m 6''0 and 14 but my coach put me on the second line. I was wondering how I can play better to be able to get more game time


Jeff says:
12/8/2015 at 11:16:15 AM

Have you asked your coach how you can improve, help the team, and get more playing time?


damien schwab says:
1/4/2016 at 3:41:46 PM

i am a big post player my height is 6''5 i am not very good i cant make any jump mid rang shots and a few layups. i also dont know how to pivot and shot well i want help cause im 16 and playing on c i want to play jv or v i have been palying for my third years now


Jarod H. says:
3/2/2016 at 10:10:45 AM

Being a post myself, I know for a fact that positioning and footwork are the two key things that any post should work on daily. I'm 6'7 but height doesn't help you if you don't have the right position on the block or in the paint. If your a "big man" and want to get better work on those to things and post moves, if you work on those things daily you'll see a dramatic improvement in your inside game.


Shannon says:
4/10/2016 at 11:08:59 PM

I wish every coach would have to read this!!!!!


Ellen says:
4/12/2016 at 3:17:24 PM

It is so encouraging to see these kids progress from the beginning of the season to the playoffs. Great coaching is truly appreciated.


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