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How to be a Great Wing Player in Basketball

In basketball, playing at the wing position means taking on the duties of both the guard and post positions, essentially making it a hybrid of the two. A wing player should be able to facilitate the offense by scoring or distributing the ball, be able to move fluidly to set up teammates, and be a lock-down defender who’s able to cover the opposition’s top wing scorers.

Great wing players are versatile, tenacious, and skilled. They’re able to create offense for themselves and set up teammates. This guide will explore the qualities make a great wing player, and provide tips for improving at the position.

Getting Open on the Wing

The wing player is usually positioned right around the 3-point arc, halfway between the top of the arc and the baseline. Unlike the guards and post players, he is often boxed in by the sideline, baseline and defender, which can make getting open a challenge for even the quickest wings. However, many teams like to run their offense through the wing player, which makes getting open essential.

There are many tricks to getting open on the wing:

  • Beat the defender down-court: This is the quickest way to get open on the wing. Sprinting out on rebounds and turnovers will make it much easier to get open for a pass.
  • Make a hard V-cut: This is the most common way for wings to get open. Making a hard fake toward the basket, then cutting back and sprinting out to the wing, can lead to a well-timed pass.
  • Run along the lane: Motion up the outside of the lane from the baseline and sprint out to the wing, leaving the defender on your hip. Defenders must remain between the man and the basket, so they’re unlikely to overplay this cut.
  • Scissors cut with opposite wing: The two wing players cut beneath the basket, using the post player and each other as a screen to get free. A quick point guard will find the open wing once he emerges.
  • Set screens: Setting screens for post players often leads defenders to double-team the post, especially when the post player is an offensive threat. A solid post screen and quick pop to the wing can result in a defender being shaken off.

The wing position came to prominence during the 1970s and 1980s with players like George Gervin and Julius Erving revolutionizing the position. These players were prolific scorers who forced defenses away from the basket to stop the opponent’s most potent weapon.

Great wings find a way to get open every time down court, whether the ball is one pass away or on the opposite side of the court. Being a constant threat makes it impossible for the defender to provide help, and keeps the entire defense on its toes.

Help Teammates Improve

Great wing players see the entire floor, whether they have the ball or not. They’re also intimately familiar with the offensive strategy; they know both where their teammates will be and why they’re moving there. This familiarity allows wings to get the ball to any other teammate on the court, making all the offensive players into scoring threat.

If these attributes sound like skills normally associated with the point guard, it’s because they are. However, the wing player has the ball much less frequently. Rather than a ‘ball-first’ mentality, a good wing will knows when to facilitate, when to score, and when to get out of the way.

Be a Great One-on-one Player

Although a good wing will be able to make his teammates function well, he must be ready to step in as a scorer as well, and be multifaceted enough to score at the basket and from beyond the 3-point arc. As a scoring threat, the wing will force defenders to play extra attention to him, freeing up other offensive players as a result.

Be a Lockdown Defender

The wing’s responsibilities aren’t limited to offensive efforts. The best wing defenders have the difficult assignment of stopping the opponent’s best outside shooter.

Having important responsibilities on both ends of the floor is a daunting task, and wing players must have great endurance to excel on offense and defense. Great wing defenders are confident and tenacious. In some cases, defensive prowess translates into more confidence and opportunities on the offensive end.

Knock Down Open Shots

A wing player who can hit open shots is a huge asset for offenses, especially those that have other threats on the floor. The great wing shooters have all of the following:

  • A quick release
  • Excellent footwork
  • Favorite spots on the floor
  • Knowledge of where the 3-point arc is
  • Unwavering confidence

A consistent jumper opens up a wing player’s offensive game by drawing the defender closer and exposing him to a quick first step.

Finish in Transition

My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.

Michael Jordan
Six-time NBA Champion

The wing position is built to score at the basket on the fast break by sprinting to get open and cutting to the basket to receive a pass. Finishing in transition requires exceptional quickness, and the skill to get the ball at the basket — both of which take great control and endurance. Wing players looking to improve should work on these qualities in practice and individual workouts.

Playing Wing Means Work

Ultimately, for a wing player to excel at his position his entire skill set must be well-developed. Wing players are expected to defend the other team’s best shooter, help his teammates get scoring opportunities, and be a prolific scorer himself.

The wing position in basketball is among the most physically demanding in the game. This guide explores what it takes to become a great wing player.
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