Basketball terminology: Different moves by the same name

I am particular about terminology. Through the years, at various gyms with coaches and skill trainers, I have heard the instructor ask players to do an around-the-back move or a behind-the-back move. These terms are used interchangeably; some use both to describe the same move in their heads, whereas some use one or the other to describe the move that they want without any reference to the other possible execution.

I believe there are two distinct moves. I believe the techniques of each move is different, and I believe that the reason for using each move is different. Just as we differentiate between a crossover and a through-the-legs crossover, I differentiate between an around-the-back and a behind-the-back. The terms are not interchangeable to me, and the moves are not interchangeable.

An around-the-back move is more of an attacking move; the objective is to reduce the decay in speed when changing directions. It is primarily an open-court move, although it can be used effectively to split traps in an on-ball screen situation when the player has an adept handle or a good move.

Isaiah Thomas’ move is an example of splitting a poorly-executed trap with an around-the-back dribble that was not executed perfectly, but it worked because of the space. Again, to me, this is an around-the-back move; he wrapped the ball all the way around his back and pushed the dribble forward to receive the dribble on the run. The video was titled “Isaiah Thomas Splits Defenders with the Behind the Back Crossover!” To me, a behind-the-back crossover is a double move (James Harden below, although his is a through-the-legs behind-the-back double moves; best I could find).

A behind-the-back move is used to create space away from a defender. In the clip below, Stephen Curry uses the behind-the-back dribble to create space for a shot. Behind the back moves are often coupled with a second move, whether a hesitation or a crossover, or used to create separation for the shot. To create the space, the player stops, puts the ball behind his back to protect the ball from the defender, and moves in the opposite direction, away from the defender’s momentum. Once he receives the dribble, he can attack, shoot, or use a second move.

Because these are distinct moves, how do you distinguish them when instructing if you use the terminology interchangeably? If you tell a player to try going behind his back, and he wraps the ball around his back, is that wrong? Is that individual differences? Then, what would you tell him when you want him to stop and use a behind-the-back dribble to protect the ball? When our language is unspecific, instruction becomes more difficult, especially in game situations with time pressure where a lengthy explanation is not possible or advisable.

I try to be specific with my language and terminology. If I want a behind-the-back move, that is my expectation. If the player performs an around-the-back move, I will tell him that his move is not wrong, per se, but when I say behind-the-back, this is what I mean, whereas the move that he performed, wrapping the ball around his back, is simply another move. When the player understands the difference because of the terminology, instruction is easier.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

2 thoughts on “Basketball terminology: Different moves by the same name

  • For behind the back dribble moves I use this terminology to differentiate — wrap or drop. We almost always use the drop with a hockey stop to create space vs pressure. Wrap is more of a attacking quick change of direction move. With the wrap, the ball is pushed further ahead.

  • My kids were actually ahead of me on this one. Every time we’d do a drill that involved them doing the behind the back, usually Mirror Dribbling where partners dribble at each other and make a move past each other, they would ask me if they should drop it behind or wrap it around. I usually would give them leeway to do whichever one felt more comfortable, but would explain the purpose of both.

    After this happened with multiple teams, ranging from Grade 3 to High School, I started separating the moves and making it clear from the outset. Since Mirror Dribbling simulates making a move and blowing by the defender, the Around the Back makes more sense in that drill.

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