LeBron James's court vision is un-paralleled, and probably as close to as an innate ability as he has. It was the subject of his first Nike commercial (R.I.P. Bernie Mac), and has resulted in more than 6,600 assists in his career. Since he came into the league in 2003-04, only Steve Nash and Chris Paul – two of the most accomplished point guards of all-time – have dished out more assists than James, who has spent most of his time at the small and power forward positions.
But court vision is only part of the passing equation; once you see where you want to pass it, you need to be able to get it there. And LeBron works on that portion with a couple of very specific drills that I got to experience as part of the Nike "Bring Your Game" workout at All-Star Weekend (you can read my piece on the part of that workout focused on finishing at the rim over on ESPN.com).
The passing portion of the workout was focused on the kind of drills designed to produce passes like this:
For these passing-specific drills, I had to stand at the dotted circle inside the free-throw line, while my trainer stood outside the 3-point line and we whipped passes back and forth to each other. The goal was to throw them as hard as possible, alternating stepping into the pass with each foot. The foot switching made the drill difficult enough, but it was really just the warm-up for the real challenge: one-handed passes. Specifically, dribbling once, then catching the ball and in one motion passing it to the trainer, trying to match the same velocity I’d put on the two-handed passes.
Doing it with the right hand was hard enough. Doing it with the left hand? Well, let’s just say my first attempt came closer to where the scorers table would’ve been than to my trainer. But eventually I got the hang of it.
The last part of the passing portion of the drill involved me and the trainer standing on opposite sides of the paint under one basket, then throwing passes back and forth to each other as we made our way down to the other end of the court. The goal was to make it all the way down going full speed without the ball hitting the floor (and without traveling), then finishing with a layup.
Unlike the resistance band drills, the passing drills are the kind that could easily be done with anyone on any court -- as long as you have someone to do them with you. Each one seems deceptively simple, but once you start doing them, you'll realize just how difficult the specific skills are. And like I did, you'll probably gain an understanding that while some of what makes those highlight-reel passes happen in a game comes from natural talent, a lot of it comes from hard work too.