Is Curry a great shooter because he practices these shots or is he able to make these shots because he is a great shooter?
Furthermore, how would a high-school coach react to a high-school player warming up like this before a practice or game?
I imagine, based on conversations with numerous coaches, that the most common answers are that Curry can shoot these shots because he’s an amazing shooter, so he can do whatever he wants, but a high-school player should not shoot like this because he or she needs to improve.
Why can’t we look at these shots as a path to improvement?
Do we want players who can make shots only when everything is perfect?
I coached a player years ago who attempted shots like this during our shooting drills. Everyone else focused on making their shot, as we shot until the group made 10 or 15 shots. He tried something new on every shot. He frustrated some players; some thought that he would be a better shooter if he took his practice more seriously. However, most considered him among the top shooters on the team, and we had four other players shoot over 38% from 3 on the season; this was a team that succeeded largely because of shooting.
Initially, his shots frustrated me. But, when I stepped back, and I thought of Curry, my feelings changed. Adding variability into shooting drills likely improves shooting. These shots create a greater range through which he can shoot, whereas most approaches limit players to a mythical ideal or perfect shooting technique.
Therefore, I’d suggest that practicing these shots is one reason that Curry is elite, and I’d encourage high-school players to explore more with their shooting. That does not mean that shots like these are the only practice in which one should engage, but spending a few minutes exploring different shots will improve a player’s overall shooting, not detract from it.
“If you want to be a great shooter from 25 feet, you better be a great shooter from 4 feet first”— Coach Mac 🏀 (@BballCoachMac) April 12, 2020
– Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr is one of the NBA’s best all-time shooters, and he has won an NBA championship as a head coach. With such a reputation, this comment will get shared and liked and retweeted for weeks, as it reinforces the importance of form shooting, and even more so, the fundamentals that many purists believe are missing from today’s game. None of this makes the statement accurate.
The argument, of course, will be that any great shooter from 25′ will be a great shooter from 4′. I imagine that Curry, Lillard, Young, Harden, Gordon, etc. can stand in front of the basket at 4′ and make shots forever. No disagreement.
Therefore, because we believe that improvement is linear, we believe that shooting well at 4′ causes or at least is a prerequisite for the ability to shoot well at 25′. One comes before the other. Because we practice close to the basket in order to shoot far from the basket, successful shooting far from the basket must be because of the successful shooting close to the basket. We believe this is why we practice, and the results confirm our beliefs.
What if we look at it from the other direction? Does every great shooter at 4′ shoot well from 25′? Very clearly, the answer is no.
Curry, Lillard, etc. shooting well from 4′ and 25′ is correlation, not causation. Correlation describes a relationship; in this case, every great shooter from 25′ shoots well from 4′: These two things are related. Of course, few players who shoot well from 4′ are great shooters from 25′; in that sense, these are unrelated. Causation describes a cause and effect; one causes the other. In this case, does shooting well at 4′ cause great shooting at 25′? We know this is untrue.
Shooting from 25′ is more complex than shooting from 4′. Watch players shoot from 4′: Most use only their upper bodies. Players stand flat-footed and use only shoulder flexion, elbow extension and wrist flexion to shoot.
When shooting from 25′, players coordinate their entire bodies.
Shooting well from 25′ requires total body coordination, rhythm, timing, control and strength. Shooting well from 4′ places far fewer demands on these abilities. I can make dozens and dozens of shots in a row from 4′ without having shot in weeks, but not from 25′. Without practicing, I have lost the coordination, rhythm, timing and strength that once allowed me to make deep shots.
Form shooting and deep three-point shooting are two different skills, which is why I have greatly decreased form shooting in the players who I coach now compared to when I started as a shooting coach. Form shooting is minimally related to game shooting. Ignore the missing game constraints — defense, decisions, pre-shot movement — and the skill of deep shooting differs substantially from typical flat-footed close to the basket form shooting.
Does this mean that players should not do form shooting or shoot close to the basket? No.
However, I’d suggest using the entire body when form shooting. When young players shoot on a 10′ basket, they cannot do a true form shooting drill because of their strength deficits. They use their whole bodies:
Therefore, young players shoot start close to the basket with their shooting, whether we call this form shooting or just jump shots close to the basket. Essentially, they are the same thing when players lack strength.
Because I believe that coordination forms the foundation for skill, players should use their full bodies in every shot. I also believe that form shooting drills should be variable — shoot from different distances or locations rather than only shooting directly in front of the basket.
The more important points, to me, are:
(1) Correlation does not equal causation. Because things are related, does not mean that one caused the other. We cannot assume that one thing causes another just because that fits our perception of practice or development.
(2) Skill development is nonlinear. We believe that things build from simple to hard or from day 1 to day 2, but there is no linear development. The reality is not the straight line on the left, but the swirly line on the right.
.Credit: William Penn University Wilcox Library
Shooting coaches are specialists, focusing on one specific area of the game. As specialists, there is a tendency to fall back toward traditional coaching.
Several features may be displayed by “traditional” coaching: (1) limited performance uncertainty and variability of actions (Passos et al., 2008; Krause et al., 2019); (2) decontextualized movement coordination from the performance environment (Stolz and Pill, 2014); and (3) monotonous and repetitive technical drills in training (Renshaw et al., 2009; Krause et al., 2018).Otte, F. W., Millar, S. K., & Klatt, S. Skill Training Periodization in “Specialist” Sports Coaching—An Introduction of the “PoST” Framework for Skill Development. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1.
Often, these coaches work individually with players. “The involvement of a limited number of athletes often proves to be a constraint in “specialist coaching” training environments, and so the challenge of full representation of the performance demands may be denied. Thus, informational constraints in these training environments may not invite exploration of action opportunities” (Otte et al., 2019).
What does this mean for the coach?
In order to facilitate an appropriate training environment, there appear to be three key challenges for “specialist coaches” to manage and make decisions on; these include the key concepts of (1) the representativeness of training; (2) stability and instability in training; and (3) the level of information complexity (i.e., as managed by task constraint manipulations and the practice schedule of movement tasks).Otte, F. W., Millar, S. K., & Klatt, S. Skill Training Periodization in “Specialist” Sports Coaching—An Introduction of the “PoST” Framework for Skill Development. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1.
The old adage “game shots at game speeds from game spots” would seem to suggest that these exercises are representative of the game. When the coach sets out a chair as a screener, and the player sprints off the screen and into the shot from a spot that he shoots during a game, the player practices a game shot. Rebound and repeat. Make a certain number of shots or a certain percentage of shots.
Are these shots representative? No. Most notably, these shots lack a defender and a decision. In a game, I do not run around a chair and catch the ball; I have to get open. I must create space by reading my defender and using the screen appropriately. I may have to alter my cut if my screener’s defender hedges or switches.
Once I create space to receive the pass, I decide whether or not to shoot. There is no designated shooter. Do I catch on balance? Am I open? Did I receive a good pass? Am I in my range? Is a teammate more open?
Traditionally, we view these as three separate skills: (1) Getting open/reading screens; (2) shooting technique; and (3) decision-making. With this traditional viewpoint, a shooting coach can focus individually on the shooting technique.
However, the game does not separate these skills. Reading the defense, creating space, feeling open, and deciding to shoot are part of the shot and affect shooting percentages. The decision to shoot (which is influenced by time and score, play call, teammates, defenders, the pass, and more) is a part of the shot. Therefore, practicing in an environment devoid of these informational cues lacks representation.
Because the practice lacks representation does not mean that one should never shoot without defense or practice individually; however, one must be aware of the practice limitations to maximize the effectiveness of one’s practice time based on the player’s needs.
Similarly, the shooting coach must understand whether the goal for a session or a specific shooter is stability or instability.
While movement stability states the maintenance of a system’s coordinative structure under perturbation, instability represents exploitation of fluctuations, so as to develop a functional response to perturbations caused by uncertainties in the dynamic environment (Conrad, 1983; Seifert et al., 2013).Otte, F. W., Millar, S. K., & Klatt, S. Skill Training Periodization in “Specialist” Sports Coaching—An Introduction of the “PoST” Framework for Skill Development. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 1.
Generally, younger or less experienced players need greater stability, whereas players with well-learned skills need practice succeeding through instability. Developing stability is creating a repeatable shot; responding to perturbations in the dynamic environment means that a player can change the technique to shoot over a taller defender or to release the ball quicker at the end of the shot clock.
Also, a player with sub-optimal technique needs instability as she attempts to change her technique to a more optimal shooting style. For example, in workouts with the player below, most instructions, cues and drills focused on instability to push her away from her well-learned, but sub-optimal technique. By perturbing this technique, she developed a new technique that improved her results during games.
The information complexity in a gym by oneself does not match that of a game. In an individual session, a coach cannot include the defense and the decision. Therefore, this is the area where specialist coaches need group workouts or team coaches need to supplement the specialist’s work.
Fortunately, I worked simultaneously as our specialist shooting coach and head coach. Therefore, our individual sessions focused on stability or instability, depending on the player, and our team practices included more task representative and complex drills. Players who needed more isolated practice to address a specific issue or flaw signed up for individual workouts.
In many team practices, the shooting drills mimic those that occur during individual workouts, except with players standing in line. If players sprint around the chair to catch and shoot during their individual sessions, they form a line, and take turns running around the chair, catching and shooting during team practices. The drills do not utilize the advantages of the group, and the practice does not add complexity or task representativeness. Instead, the team drills should include a defender and then a defender and a decision; initially, the shooter could read her defender as she runs around the screen (chair) and make the appropriate cut. Next, this could occur in a 2v2 or 3v3 situation where the player using the screen decides whether to shoot, drive or pass. Of course, the specialist coach with individual workouts lacks these opportunities for representativeness and complexity because of the isolated practice environment.
This does not mean that one should not use a specialist coach or that individual training is purposeless. However, the player and coach should be aware of limitations to maximize the individual practice time and purpose.
The angst around the reduction of midrange jump shots confuses me, but Ben Taylor of Thinking Basketball provided an interesting look at the value of the midrange shot in the NBA, and specifically with the San Antonio Spurs.
Here is a summary:
Taylor is accurate in that shots are not attempted in a vacuum, and one must account for specific variables to evaluate a specific shot. Of course, ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry argued differently when Dame Lillard hit the three to end OKC’s season:
In a vacuum, a 40% shot is great offense in the half court, as Taylor’s video explained. However, on a game-winning shot with the game tied, is a 40% shot a good shot? If Lillard shoots 50% from midrange, isn’t that a better shot in that exact situation?
This is the difference between arguing about numbers (general, in a vacuum) and specifics. I lean toward 3>2, but there are times when any shot works or the highest percentage shot beats the highest efficiency shot.
Taylor’s argument about the midrange highlights good to great midrange shooters. This always had been my argument against long-range two-point jump shots.
A midrange jump shot is a more difficult, more complex shot than a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. Honestly, age and skill level is nearly irrelevant for me in this argument, except maybe at the NBA level.
Personally, I believe that anyone who has the coordination and skill to stop quickly and make a 15-foot shot has the coordination and skill to shoot successfully from 19’9. Once the college three-point line moves back to 22′, then there will be some separation between midrange only shooters and three-point shooters, but distance is a minimal factor to me.
I believe that the bigger factors in shooting are defense and decisions. A midrange shot moves a player closer to a defender. This requires a player to shoot quicker and possibly higher to avoid the defense. Secondly, the midrange shot, especially off the dribble, adds complexity to the decision, which impacts shooting percentages.
For my shooters at the three-point line, shooting is an if/then decision: “If I am open, then I shoot.” Nothing else matters; not distance, not a teammate being open, not the time on the shot clock, not the score, etc. (until the last two minutes, maybe). This reduces the decision-making.
When a player attacks, as in the drop coverage that Taylor described, there are more decisions. First, am I open? Second, is the roller open? Third, do I have a kick out to a shooter? Fourth, when do I stop and shoot? Can I ge to the rim? Fifth, do I shoot a jump shot or a floater? These decisions, and possibilities, absolutely affect shooting percentages. This is a major reason that players shoot 80& on this pull-up jump shot in drills as the designated shooter, but shoot 40% during games.
Therefore, the closer shot is more difficult and more complex. The three-point shot is further from the basket, which lowers percentages slightly for every foot further back, but players are compensated for this added difficulty with an extra point. There is no similar compensation for the added difficulty and complexity of the closer shot.
From the time that I coached u9s in 2001, this has been my thinking: If we have to shoot a jump shot instead of a layup, I want the shooter to catch facing the basket, and I want to shoot three-pointers because I feel that the added difficulty of the distance is easier to overcome than the difficulty and complexity of a midrange shot AND the added difficulty is rewarded with an extra point. With u9s, I believed that any jump shot was a low percentage shot regardless of distance; therefore, why not get an extra point for makes? If we shot 25% on 3s, and 30% on two-point jump shots, that is a big win for three-point shots despite poor shooting either way. That’s just math.
As an example, our offense last year scored .84 points per possession, which ranked as “excellent”. Our half-court offense scored .795 points per possession. We scored 1.018 PPP on three-point shots, and .707 PPP on midrange shots, and we had one of the best, smoothest midrange shooters in the country. Our defense gave up .698 PPP and .668 in half-court. Opponents scored .542 PPP on midrange shots, and .87 on three-point shots.
The debate, then, changes from “Are midrange bad shots?” (yes) to “Are midrange shots bad because of bad shooters or because players do not practice?” (?). I would argue that they are bad shots because the are more difficult and more complex than three-point shots because of proximity to defense and more possibilities.
As defenses work harder to take away the three-point shot, the midrange may increase in value because midrange shots move further from the defense. This, in a sense, is one of Taylor’s arguments (as well as arguing that Derozan’s midrange game has gravity that opens up better three-point shots for teammates). At lower levels, I do not believe that we have reached this point, except against a few specific defenses.
I do not outlaw the midrange shot, and we practice midrange shots (primarily because of practice variability and confidence from watching ball go through the basket). However, we hunt catch-and-shoot three point shots because they are better, easier shots that are worth more points. It is common sense to me, which is the reason that I do not understand the angst that many have, as they remote over the long lost midrange shot that is a low efficiency, more difficult, more complex shot. Is it useful on occasions? Yes. Can a great shooter succeed with his midrange game? If he is KD’s and Kawhi’s level, sure. But, as paradoxical as it seems to many, I believe that it is easier for a player to shoot 40% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers than 60% on midrange shots, and maybe we’re taking the easy out, but that seems like smart basketball to me.
Wired examined free-throw shooting with Steve Nash, but several conclusions are contentious.
On paper, the free throw could not be more straightforward. It’s a direct, unguarded shot at a hoop 18 inches across, 10 feet off the ground, and 15 feet away. Like a carefully controlled experiment, the conditions are exactly the same every single time.
This makes sense. The external conditions are the same on every free throw, which differs from other sports, where wind or field conditions or court surface may affect performance. However, all the conditions are not the same on every shot because the shooter is never the same: internal conditions differ. Fatigue, confidence, pressure, and more differ from shot to shot. When a player shoots two free throws, does the result of the first shot affect the second? How many players shoot the second shot more freely after a make than a miss? Is a shot in the first quarter the same as a shot in the last minute?
Larry Silverberg, a dynamicist at North Carolina State University, has used this fact to study the free throw in remarkable detail. “It’s the same for every single player, so you can actually look at the shot very scientifically,” he says.
Again, it is not the same for every player, but beyond internal conditions differing from shot to shot, conditions differ from shot to shot between players. A 4’6 4th grader shoots differently than a 7’0 professional. Despite the similarity in location, they are not the same shots.
To dispatch the ball the same way every time requires a player to commit to memory the smooth, coordinated movement of multiple limbs and joints, from their knees, elbows, and wrists to the tiny points of articulation in their fingers and toes.
Memory? In what way? I certainly do not remember in any kind of conscious way the manner in which my shoulder, elbow and wrist link together to propel the ball. If I attempted to find this memory when shooting the ball, I would fail.
The average free throw percentage across the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA could almost certainly increase, Silverberg says, but it probably won’t. Not unless coaches make it a priority by hiring personal trainers to work with all of their team members individually,
First, free throw percentages are improving almost year by year. Second, I imagine every professional player has a personal trainer already.
The problem with free-throw shooting is largely the practice design. Because we view the shot as being the same every time, we use constant block practice. However, during games, we do not shoot 100 free throws in a row. We shoot one or two free throws. Players must step to the line and make one free throw. Making 90/100 when shooting consecutively is impressive, but it is different than shooting one free throw, playing the game, shooting another free throw, etc.
My team shot 72.6% from the free-throw line this season, which was 9th in the nation, despite being led in attempts by a player who arrived last summer and said she was not a shooter. I obviously do not attend every team’s practices, but I doubt anyone practices free-throw shooting less than we do. Throughout the season, we never had a dedicated block of time for “free-throw shooting” at a single practice. We never shot free throws with a consequence of sprints during practice (our 90% free-throw shooters run when they miss a free throw during individual workouts). We never line up and watch a player shoot a free throw or end practice with someone having to make a free throw or any of the other things that I have seen at practices over the years. We shoot a lot at practice; just not a lot of free throws. Our free-throw practice occurs almost entirely during scrimmages.
Beyond practice design, everyone could improve his or her free-throw shooting by improving one’s routine. Using a routine is a start, and everyone should use a routine at the free-throw line, but there are ways to maximize the routine for better performance.
Closing the gap between training and competition, Beilock says, is a matter of practicing under conditions that simulate high-pressure scenarios: Training under a watchful eye, or competing against the clock.
I have argued this point with Dr. Beilock since she wrote her book Choke – through emails to her, in class presentations for sports psychology courses, on blogs, etc. She is a psychologist who sees things through the lens of pressure affecting performance; I see non-representative practice. In some ways, we are talking about the same thing.
However, in her book, she suggested running sprints for a miss to simulate the pressure of a game free throw. This is such a standard practice that bad free throw shooters mentally account for the running; it is something they expect, rather than something that adds pressure. Also, running a sprint cannot approximate the same pressure as a game-wining shot. To me, this is a token gesture, which is the reason that our good free-throw shooters run when they miss in an individual workout: it is to ensure that they concentrate on their free throws. Our bad free-throw shooters shoot more because the shooting practice, not the running, seems like the best way to improve one’s shooting.
This week, I texted with a current player about her former teammate who I am recruiting. I had heard that her teammate was a shooter, and I texted her to confirm. She responded that the teammate was the best shooter on her high school team, which prompted my question: “Better than you?” My player shoots over 40% from the three-point line on more than five three-point field goal attempts per game, has legitimate NBA range, and shoots over 90% from the free-throw line. I have rebounded for her as she shot over 150 three-pointers without missing two in a row. Her response:
Now, that is hard to believe. I remember walking into the gym on her first day at the college and watching her shoot. I knew that I had signed a good player, but she looked better than I thought. During her freshman season, though, she struggled down the stretch, and her three-point percentage dipped to 33% by year’s end. I had to look up her percentage, as I would have guessed that she shot 37-39% during her first year.
In our text exchange, I expressed my surprise, but looked at the positive, at least from my standpoint (recruiting! marketing!):
She can shoot. I have not taught her anything. I refused to allow my assistants last season to say a word about her shooting. We have worked to improve her balance. We practice shooting when tired. We try to shoot good shots.
As a coach or trainer, I have done nothing technical. I have never said a word to her about how she holds the ball, bends her knees, or follows through. I have not told her to turn or not to turn. I have not provided a single word of common shooting instruction.
I have several shooters on my team; as I write this, one leads the nation in three-point shooting percentage. When I have talked to her, and we have spent a considerable amount of quality time together recently due to some trips to the emergency room and follow-up doctor visits, she has told me that she never considered herself to be a shooter previously. She recommended a friend to me as a potential recruit, and called her friend a much better shooter. I have taken her out of two games for passing up open shots.
Another player arrived as a very good mid-range pull-up shooter, but was never much of a three-point shooter; she started her freshman season shooting 18% from the three-point line through the first 10 games. She’s closing in on 100 made three-point field goals in her two seasons and shooting over 36% on James Harden-like attempts. I have not said a word to her about her technique in two years, despite her constant questioning. I told her when she arrived that she had to be a three-point shooter. Despite working out with her more than anyone over the last two years, I have said almost nothing related to her shooting technique. Everything is focused on balance, footwork, and confidence.
As the player said in the text, my effect on their shooting is primarily confidence (wrote about this previously). I encourage three-point shots. We run plays to get three-point shots. I do not take out players for missing three-point shots. When players arrive, I explain that if they are not a three-point shooter now, they better become one. We have a player who told me in the summer that she was a non-shooter; she was sub-40% from the free-throw line last season before transferring. In our last game, she was 2/2 from the three-point line and 8/11 from the free-throw line. Confidence.
As I write this, we are 2nd nationally in 3-point field goals, 5th in 3-point field goal percentage, and 12th in free-throw percentage. Yes, I target players who I believe are shooters, but in several cases, it appears that I saw them as shooters before they did. I do not instruct a lot on shooting technique. We shoot a lot during practice (although we rarely shoot free throws), and we value shooting. We do not have a Dr. Dish in our gym. Players shoot together and rebound for each other.
The biggest factor in their development, I believe, is comfort and confidence. They know they can shoot and will not be punished. I challenge them to shoot from further out. I yell at them to shoot as soon as they cross the volleyball line. I take out players for not shooting open shots rather than taking out players for missing shots. We have a culture of shooting, I suppose, and the culture — from the type of practice, to the extra shots, to the comfort and confidence — is how we develop 40% three-point shooters.