3 Simple Tips From Pros to Quickly Improve Your Basketball IQ

I vividly remember watching the great Earvin “Magic” Johnson lead the “Showtime” Lakers to five NBA championships during the 1980s. The announcers talked at length about Johnson’s basketball IQ and how it was a big reason for his success on the court. As a young kid, I didn’t know what the term basketball IQ meant but I did realize that it was important.

Want to know more about what it means to have a high basketball IQ? Want to become a better basketball player?

In this post, we’ll cover 3 core tips that will help you sharpen the skills that really count. But first, let’s cover the basics and use a couple of professional players to demonstrate what a high basketball IQ looks like.

What is Basketball IQ?

basketball iq

Basketball IQ is a keen awareness of knowing what play to make on the court depending on the game situation. A player can only get a high basketball IQ through lots of experience and spending countless hours on the practice court. A player with a high basketball IQ is always a serious student of the game, meaning he watches lots of game film.

Players with a high basketball IQ can rely on their instincts while on the court. Magic Johnson was a master at the no-look pass because of his countless hours of practice and in-game experience. Johnson knew where his teammates were on the court at all times and this allowed him to make some remarkable plays.

Can Basketball IQ be Taught?

Yes, Basketball IQ can be taught, but only to a certain extent. We look at IQ kind of like talent. Some of it you’re born with and some of it must be developed.

Some supremely talented players just always seem to know what play to make. The game just comes easy to them. Keep in mind though, that even the most talented players don’t reach their fullest potential without lots of practice and experience.

Coaches can help their players raise their basketball IQs by fully explaining the ins and outs of the game. The best approach for coaches is to keep things as simple as possible, especially when coaching youngsters. Have them master the basics, such as shooting when they’re open and passing when they’re double-teamed.

The coach’s goal should be to raise each player’s basketball IQ to a high level. When this happens, players no longer have to “think” while on the court and can rely on instinct. This usually leads to better performances on the court.

NBA Players with the Highest IQ’s

Chris Paul

The above video is a great example of just how high Chris Paul’s basketball IQ is. CP3 is one of the smallest players in the NBA at only 6-foot and 175 pounds. What Paul lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his smarts on the court.

Paul uses his mind to put his team in the best possible position to win. The former Wake Forest star does a fabulous job of calling the correct plays on offense from his point guard position to exploit the best matchups for his team. What’s impressive is that Paul directs the offense even when he doesn’t have the ball.

Paul also demonstrates his insanely high basketball IQ on the defensive end of the floor. He is always communicating with his teammates which is another trait of a high basketball IQ. He’s quick to tell his fellow defenders when to stay on their man or to help out on another man.

Steve Nash

Nash was another Phoenix Suns point guard with an incredibly high basketball IQ. The crazy thing is that Nash and Paul are almost the same size. As the above video shows, Nash was obsessed with the details of the game.

The Canadian native knew exactly when to use misdirection moves to freeze out whoever was guarding him. Nash was a master at taking the right angle when driving to the basket. He’s also one of the best distributors in NBA history thanks in large part to his high basketball IQ and amazing court vision.

Larry Bird

Larry Bird wasn’t necessarily a supremely gifted athlete, but he was a clutch shooter who was always in the right spot. Bird had a knack for being in the perfect position for an offensive rebound or a tip-in. 

“Larry Legend” used his high basketball IQ to help lead the Boston Celtics to three NBA titles during the 1980s. Bird was known as one of the smartest players in NBA history and he always seemed to make the right decisions on the court.

Rajon Rondo

Fans may not consider Rajon Rondo a superstar, but he’s definitely a high IQ player. The video shows how Rondo is basically another coach when he’s on the floor. Look at how he directs the entire defense to guard against the three-point shot!

Rondo shows the uncanny ability to anticipate what his opponent is going to do next. He is a master at reading his opponent’s tendencies and body language. Rondo was an instrumental part of the Boston Celtics 2008 NBA title.

Stephen Curry

Steph Curry is known as arguably the best pure shooter in the NBA today. He’s also known for making tons of acrobatic shots. Curry also has a high level of basketball intelligence.

The 6-3 point guard has led the Golden State Warriors to three NBA titles. Though his amazing shooting gets most of the attention, Curry is also a phenomenal passer and always keeps his teammates involved in the offense. This shows a high level of unselfishness.

3 Core Tips From These Players to Help Improve Your Basketball IQ

Here are some tips that all of the above high IQ NBA players have in common. By working on these areas of your game, you’ll increase your basketball IQ and become a better overall player.

1. Communicate

All of the players on this list are excellent communicators. In most of the videos, you can hear or see each player calling an offensive play or directing the defense. Being vocal on the court will help put your teammates in a better position for success.

2. Be A Student of The Game

Players with high basketball IQs are all students of the game. They eat, sleep, live, and breathe basketball. While on the bench, high IQ players aren’t just chilling out, they’re watching intently trying to find any weaknesses in the opponent.

Players with a high basketball IQ watch lots of game film and are constantly looking for ways to improve their game. Ask your coach for extra drills to do or videos to watch in the offseason. 

3. Be An Unselfish Player

All of the above NBA players are unselfish. Yes, they are all great scorers but none of them are selfish players. High IQ basketball players are never solely focused on scoring but on executing the team’s game plan.

You may notice that all of the players on this list are excellent passers of the basketball. High IQ players are always looking for an open teammate especially if they are being double-teamed. High IQ players love helping their teammates succeed on the court and have no problem pushing their own egos to the side for the good of the team.

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Mike Noblin

Mike has been involved with basketball for over 30 years as a player, coach, and bettor. He has a degree in Sports Psychology and enjoys following both the NBA and College Basketball on a nightly basis.