NBA all-stars Grant Hill and Kevin Johnson discuss ways for players to improve their performance.

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NBA all-stars Grant Hill and Kevin Johnson
offer advice for improving your game.

There are few sure things in professional basketball. But you can bank on the fact that Grant Hill and Kevin Johnson will be among their teams’ leaders in scoring, assists, hustle, and hard work.

Both Hill and Johnson are perennial National Basketball Association all-stars who have also played on U.S. Olympic teams.

I spoke with these two players separately, and both offered some sure-fire tips to help you improve your own game.

How do you become a good ball handler?
Hill: Just like with schoolwork, you simply have to spend time with it. I grew up bouncing a ball throughout the house. I’d dribble on the way to the store and practice working with both hands.

Johnson: A good dribbler must be ambidextrous—able to use both hands. You have to keep your head up as you dribble, and most important of all, practice a lot.

What’s the secret to a good pass?
: Good passes are crisp and chest level. The most commonly used pass is the two-handed chest pass.

Hill: Know what types of passes your teammates can handle and then deliver the ball to them where they can handle it. This is easiest to practice in game situations. I enjoy making a good pass as much as making a good shot.

What’s the best way to take a jump shot?
I don’t think there is one right way. A lot of great shooters don’t have textbook form. But you have to shoot the same way over and over, with good arc and rotation on the ball. Start in close to the basket until you feel comfortable there and slowly work your way farther out. Use your legs to provide power.

Johnson: Square up with your body, keep the elbow on your shooting hand in, jump into the air, shoot the ball from your fingertips, and follow through with your wrists.

How do you manage to concentrate on shooting free throws with all the noise and pressure?
You have to keep your composure and block out everything else from your mind except the basket in front of you. And practice foul shots as much as possible.

Hill: Focus only on the rim and putting the ball in. Learn to tune out the crowd noise and the fans with streamers and other distractions. I always follow a set routine. I dribble the ball three times, look at the rim, and shoot.

What are the basics of good defense?
It’s like rebounding, which is all desire. Bend your legs and concentrate on stopping your opponent.

Johnson: Defense is mostly effort. Stay low by bending your knees, slide your feet from side to side, keep your arms extended with your palms up, and always stay between your opponent and the basket.

Any other tips?
Learn to shoot lay-ups with both hands, not just your strong hand.

Johnson: There is no substitute for hard work and desire, and the only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice. Aim to do your best at all times, even in practice.

“Winning is definitely not everything. Although it seems important at the time, you have to remember that basketball is only a game.”
  — Kevin Johnson

“Practice is the place where you develop a proper attitude and the work habits you will take into games. Practicing hard and listening to your coaches is essential.”
  — Grant Hill