“Brian McCormick’s philosophy is an absolute game changer for shooting development. Evolution of 180 Shooter provides easy to implement ideas to evolve skill development for players and coaches at all levels.”
— Kenny Atkinson, NBA Head Coach
In 2009, I published 180 Shooter, which described my teaching methodology and drill progressions as a private shooting coach in the prior decade. A few players set NCAA shooting records and became All-Americans, but others struggled, and I examined the cause. I attributed some of their failings to my coaching and workouts, and I quit private coaching.
Over the last decade, I worked with teams as a head coach and a consultant. I have coached very good shooters — one finished second nationally in 3-point shooting percentage and another set the college’s record for 3FGs — and very good shooting teams: 3rd in 3FG/G (9.7), 6th in 3FG% (37.4%), and 9th in FT% (72.6%).
Evolution of 180 Shooter: A 21st Century Guide chronicles the evolution of my thinking over the last decade and challenges the prevalent shooting dogma. My greatest changes have been to re-define game-like shots and appreciate the environment’s role in developing shooters. This is not a technique or drill book; it focuses on our culture of shooting — from our practice, to the extra shots, to the comfort and confidence — which develops shot makers.
“If you coach basketball at any level, read and study Brian McCormick’s writing: It will re-calibrate your view of the game. You will think differently about basketball and how to teach the game to others.”
— Lindell Singleton, Head Coach: The Game Matters AAU
Decision-making — deciding whether or not to shoot — is a part of shooting, and shooting drills should incorporate these decisions. Here is a progression, based on an article from Fake Fundamentals, Volume 4, to show a progression from simple to complex, in terms of increasing decision-making and the drive/pass/shot decision into shooting drills.
As a two-player drill, Partner Shooting does not include the passing option. However, players read the closeout and decide to shoot or drive, so it is a simple drill to use as a starting point.
4v1 Spanish Shooting
4v1 Spanish Shooting eliminates dribbling, reducing the decision-making to a pass/shot decision. With a big offensive advantage (4v1), players should shoot only open shots, so this works as a beginner shooting drill.
4v2 Serbia Shooting
4v2 Serbia Shooting eliminates dribbling, reducing the decision-making to a pass/shot decision. With a big offensive advantage (4v2), players should shoot only open shots.
4v3 Serbia Shooting
4v3 Serbia Shooting eliminates dribbling, reducing the decision-making to a pass/shot decision. With a small offensive advantage (4v3), players should shoot open shots.
3-Player String Shooting
Three-player drill incorporating movement and decision-making. On the catch, players have option to shoot, drive and kick, or pass; the pass directly after the catch is used less frequently because of the spacing. On a pass out, players close out, so players begin to read the defense when making the drive/pass/shot decision.
5-Player String Shooting
5-Player String Shooting is 3v2, but restricted to catch-and-shoot attempts (because it is a shooting drill). On the catch, players can drive, pass, or shoot; when they drive, they drive to touch the paint (thee-second area) and kick. Defense closes out and contests shots.
3v3 Wildcat Rules
3v3 game with an emphasis on penetrate and kick and shooting. Players can receive a pass only outside the three-point line (initial rules). On the catch, they can drive, pass, or shoot.
There are many drills a coach can use to progress and regress based on players’ needs. These incorporate different levels of decision-making into shooting drills rather than practicing shooting only in isolated or individual drills devoid of the game context.
The answer for improvement or skill development is more: More time, more reps, more practice. How many more? How much time or practice is required? Many coaches cite the 10,000-hour rule, but none exists (see Fake Fundamentals, Vol. 3 for more information).
When more is emphasized, the how is de-emphasized. Instead, anything that looks good or looks like it practices something important is called skill development.
I posted this drill last week; this is from the morning shooting workout for a professional team. Many would suggest this is skill development. The shots are directly from our sets and, for many, are “game shots from game spots at game speeds” (see Fake Fundamentals, Vol. 2 for why I would not). People liked the drill and commented on its use of different skills. This is just a drill to me; it is not skill development.
We used this drill at the morning practice, which was followed by an evening team practice, on the day before a game. I took over the team midseason with the schedule and expectations set. I would change things if I was in complete control. The purpose of this workout, especially the day before a game, was to “get up shots”: Increase confidence by seeing the ball go through the hoop. This is focused on performance (game the next day), and not learning (long term). It worked, I suppose, as the players pictured combined to go 10/19 from the 3-point line the next day. This, of course, is performance; one game does not mean we shoot 53% from behind the 3-point arc.
I like the drill, as drills go, because it combines multiple skills; it’s variable, random practice: The drill incorporates different versions of different skills in each repetition. The two-ball dribbling forces different passes; players employ different finishes; and the shots, while similar, vary slightly from rep to rep because of the movement. The timing, the catch, the footwork, the location, and more vary. From this standpoint, the drill is better than a spot shooting drill with one player attempting X shots in a row. Despite its apparent success, and the positives, I still consider this a drill, and not skill development. How do we differentiate “skill development” from “drills”?
What is skill development? Skill is “is the learned ability to bring out the pre-determined results with maximum certainty, often with the minimum outlay of time, energy or both” (Knapp, 1963). Development is “the process of developing or being developed”, which is “to grow or cause to grow and become more mature, advanced, or elaborate.” Therefore, we might say skill development is the process of growing, advancing or making more elaborate the learned ability to bring out the pre-determined results with maximum certainty, often with the minimum outlay of time, energy or both.” In terms of shooting, skill development improves accuracy (increased shooting percentages), but also builds more advanced or elaborate skills: Increased range, quicker release, harder shots (step-backs), and more.
In context, skill development is the process by which one improves skill. Ultimately, these improvements are measured through game performance. Therefore, when discussing drills in the context of skill development, we should understand how the activity impacts one or more aspects of the skill (accuracy, distance, quickness) and transfers to the game.
This drill is not “game shooting” because there was no defense or decisions. Deciding to shoot is a part of game shooting (see Evolution of 180 Shooter: A 21st Century Guide for more), but the drill determined the specific shooter on each repetition. The drill does not practice or improve “game shooting” directly because shooters do not improve their reading of the defense, feel for openness, perception of a defender’s proximity, and more. Any improvements must be more indirect, as the shooting is removed from the game context, despite it appearing similar to the shots from one of our sets.
This is where the drill, and more drills, fall short. This is a group activity, a team drill. Each player performs the same skills. From a general standpoint, this is good: You can see our starting center practicing 2-ball dribbling drills and making one-hand passes off the dribble. For some, these skills improve slightly because of lack of previous exposure: A player who has never dribbled 2 balls will improve her ability to dribble 2 balls through this drill, just as someone who rarely has practiced one-hand passes will improve this ability through increased exposure/repetitions. However, this was primarily a shooting drill (“get up shots”), and none of the players lacks previous exposure to shooting jump shots.
How does a player improve individually through a team drill? Does this drill meet the specific needs of each player? Does it improve shooting accuracy? Speed? Range? Footwork?
It is possible. I instructed players to pick one thing to improve in drills rather than expecting magical improvements from doing drills. My guess is, at most, 2 players in this group listened and changed their behaviors (concentration, focus, emphasis). There may be something specific they are practicing; one player is trying to quicken her release by limiting the dip on her shot. It is possible, if she concentrates, this drill (and others) can improve her shooting through this mechanism. However, this is not the specific drill I would choose to focus on that specific change; there are better, more specific drills.
Drills are a tool; they are not skill development. They may assist with skill development when used correctly by players and coaches, but performing a drill is not skill development. Too often, we rely on doing more to improve players, and every year, this approach fails players. There are different ways to improve a skill such as shooting, and when designing drills, whether for an individual or a group, we should understand the processes by which we expect the drill to improve accuracy, speed, or skill elaboration and transfer to the game. Without that understanding, and without the proper feedback from the coach and concentration from the player, drills are just work; exercise and activity one hopes may impact future performance positively.
The Box and One has an interesting look at free-throw success as an indicator of future three-point shooting success. This is a common trope that many draft analysts use when evaluating potential, but one that I believe is generally overblown. The article is a good examination.
One name caught my eye because of a single interaction I had with the player. I had no idea he had been an ~80% free-throw shooter in college, as I saw him working out as an NBA player with a “shooting expert” attempting to change his entire shooting technique (to look more like the expert’s shooting style despite their differences in size, athleticism, position, and era).
I have written about this workout previously. During the workout, sitting along the sideline, another player development coach/ex-NBA player asked my thoughts. I offered them. He actually thought I had a point, and at one point, he went to the shooting expert and relayed some of what I had said. The shooting expert scoffed at my evaluation and continued to instruct the player to shoot exactly as he had.
I was just a guy watching a workout. Nobody introduced me to the shooting expert. I only spoke to the ex-player because he introduced himself to me and asked my opinion. I’m not one to say much in this environment, but if you ask, I’m also not one to hold back my opinion. I did not expect the shooting expert to agree, nor did I care. He clearly saw only one specific thing; I take a much broader view of shooting, and skill development in general. These differences are easily explainable by our backgrounds and experiences.
After the workout finished, the shooting expert left. The player was still there. He was talking to the coach who I knew in the gym, the reason for my presence. I was introduced to the player. The coach or the player asked my opinion, so I asked the player if he danced when he was out in the club.
The coach and the player were confused. Why is this dude asking about dancing in a club? I asked again. He clearly had no idea how to respond. Finally, I told him that if he doesn’t dance, he should spend his summer taking a Zumba class because he had no rhythm. I think I offended him.
I explained that regardless of the drill, he had no rhythm. He had no rhythm when doing straight-line dribbling drills. He had no rhythm in some of the dynamic warmups. He had no rhythm when he shot.
He was, by all accounts, a great athlete: Big, strong, and a huge vertical jump, when judged by his dunks. However, he was not rhythmic. His movements, especially with the ball, did not appear well-coordinated or well-organized.
This, to me, was his shooting problem, not his “technique”, and 80% free-throw shooting would support this conclusion. Like most shooting coaches, the shooting expert focused on his upper-body. His feedback centered on his dip, his elbow, his follow-through, and more. This is very common. If he shoots ~80% from the free-throw line, are these issues really the problem?
To me, if we cannot coordinate the movements, we will never correct any upper-body problems. Instead, if we improve our coordination of the movement, starting from the feet, the “errors” of the upper body often fix themselves.
I told him that a summer of Zumba would improve his shooting more than a summer of workouts like the one I witnessed. I still believe the same. His shooting percentage has improved slightly. Maybe all the technique practice worked. Of course, based on his college free-throw percentages, one might expect him to shoot better; his NBA and NCAA three-point shooting percentages are pretty similar. This shows some improvement (shooting the same percentage at a further distance), but not the improvement that his franchise wanted and expected.
Who knows what would have happened if he had listened to me? However, by following the shooting expert’s instructions, he has had minimal progression over his career. Maybe shooting development is more than technical instruction and immediate, constant feedback. Maybe each player has his own individual technique, and attempting to make players shoot exactly like some model is not the best way to develop shooters. Or maybe I’m just a guy at the keyboard who has never trained NBA players and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Lots of possibilities.
There are dozens of tweets like this one, and nearly everyone agrees with the sentiment. Game slippage is real because everyone believes in game slippage. Players must shoot 70% in practice to shoot 35% in games.
The purpose of practice is transfer: We practice to improve, and we measure those improvements in games. We do not practice to become better shooters in a gym by ourselves; we practice to perform better in games. The discrepancy between 70% practice performance and 35% game performance demonstrates low transfer or a lack of transfer. As I wrote in Evolution of 180 Shooter: A 21st Century Guide, when game performance is halved from practice performance, not only is the transfer minimal, but we might suggest players are practicing a completely different skill.
The common coaching cliches all surround making practices harder than games. How do we suggest practice is harder than a game, while expecting players to shoot twice as well during practice?
Isn’t that kind of the point of this rule of thumb (which is obviously subjective)? Making 70% unguarded (no decision or other factors) means you probably make half of those shots in a game.
Small sample size but this rule of thumb tends to work on a % basis in my experience
“Complexity transfers to simplicity, but not vice versa.” – Rafe Kelley
All players who shoot 35% during games can shoot 70% by themselves in a gym, but not all players who shoot 70% by themselves shoot 35% during games. The 70% practice shooting does not cause 35% game shooting, but they are correlated because a great game shooter will be a great practice shooter as well. When we only look at the best, we trick ourselves into believing that correlation is causation. There are many great practice shooters who are not great game shooters.
During my first year as a college assistant, we had a backup point guard we nicknamed Hollywood. He was a practice hero. In practice scrimmages, he was often our best player. He spent the middle half of the season mocking a freshman who was re-learning his shooting technique because the freshman would not shoot 3s. Meanwhile, Hollywood would make three after three after three. This was a long time ago, so I do not remember exact percentages, but I’m pretty confident in saying that he shot in the 20s (teens?) from the three-point line during games. Meanwhile, the freshman eventually developed into a 180 Shooter later in his career. Hollywood’s practice performance did not transfer to game performance; he shot much worse than game slippage believers would estimate.
Here, however, is a more recent real life example of the effects of the game slippage philosophy. I recruited a player who shot 35% from the three-point line during her last season in high school. In her two seasons playing for me, she shot 34% and 40% and set the school record for three-point field goals made. A long-time NCAA Division 1 assistant coach called her the best shooter in the country during her second season (although she did not lead the team in 3FG%).
She transferred and shot 21% in her next season.
She transferred for her final season, which became two seasons because of the pandemic, and shot 35% and 37%.
Across those 6 seasons, she averaged roughly 37% from the three-point line (she had most 3FGA in the 40% season, and the fewest 3FGA in the 21% season). The outlier was the 21%. What happened? There are various factors involved: New coach, new teammates, new environment, new league, new offensive sets, new role, injuries, etc.
In 6 seasons, one coach demanded 80% shooting in practice to shoot 3s in the games. She led the team or was near the lead during those Dr. Dish workouts, shooting around 80%, but she shot only 21% during games.
The issue was not her. This team did not shoot over 30% from 3-point line as a team for the season, whereas her previous team shot 37% and was top 5 nationally in 3FGM and 3FG%; her final team led the country in 3FGM, I believe.
She played for 3 coaches and 3 programs. Two programs were among the nation’s leaders in three-point field goals and three-point percentage. The other program believed in game slippage and Dr. Dish workouts to decide which shots players should take during games. Except the game slippage theory did not work, at least in her case (I don’t know other players’ practice percentages), as she was far off from her practice percentages during games.
Why? Again, skill development and performance is multifactorial; I would not attribute success or failure to a single factor. However, in discussing her experience with her, two of the biggest factors were confidence and practice design.
She went from a team that encouraged her to shoot to one where she questioned her shots. Consequently her playing time went down, reducing her shot attempts, creating a negative reinforcement loop: Less confidence = worse shooting = less playing time = fewer shots = less confidence… This started with the coach (whose assistant had called her the best shooter in the country) creating arbitrary rules about who can shoot what shot based on practice percentages on a shooting machine. They also ran on treadmills next to the court for mistakes.
The second change was practice design. As she texted:
She never practiced shooting against defenders during the outlier season. Most of their shooting practice was on the Dr. Dish. Without the consistent game-like practice, she lost a sense of timing and rhythm and anticipating the speed of defenders, especially playing in a different conference against different opponents, then playing fewer minutes and shooting less. She no longer engaged in the same practice that helped her improve from 35% to 40%. The lack of game-like practice likely affected her confidence, compounding the problem.
Is game slippage real? Sure, it’s called lack of transfer. It means players practice skills that are unlike the ones performed during games. Rather than buy into game slippage, we should create better practices, including as many game constraints as possible during drills and shooting practices. There are reasons not to use game-like or competitive shooting practice, such as the freshman who was re-learning his shooting technique through specific shooting practice, but most drills are general shooting practice, which has the lowest transfer to improvement and game performance. The purpose of practice is to improve game performance; when game performance is so far removed from practice performance, what are we really practicing?
Several years ago, I presented on jump training for injury prevention in women’s basketball players at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group conference. Most of the presentation can be seen below:
I also published a paper on the topic in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
The basic premise was strength coaches needed to incorporate ideas from motor learning into their training to improve performance and reduce injuries. Specifically, I spoke about specificity and variability.
The typical jump training programs, especially a decade ago, included very static, safe jumps, often over barriers like a cone or onto a box. This changes the specificity of the jump: Injuries tend to occur in lengthened positions with eyed directed upward, such as reaching for a rebound. At the time, the prevailing wisdom was that with more training on the perfect landing, we could avoid injuries. My argument was that the sport demands imperfect landings: When I jump for a rebound with the intention to land and score quickly, I do not land in a perfect, soft, toe to heel landing into a quarter to half squat with my eyes fixated on the ground to provide advanced cues for the landing. Instead, my eyes are directed on the rim, I may or may not land on two feet, and I aim to reduce the time on the ground to beat my opponent and create an advantage for the shot.
Basically, the prevailing wisdom was that if we practiced more stationary form shooting from 3-5 feet from the basket, and created a “perfect” shot from there, we would get perfect performance on three-point attempts against defenders when sprinting off a screen and deciding whether or not to shoot. Just as I see form shooting as having limited transfer to game shooting performance, the training for the perfect landing has limited transfer under game demands.
As I worked individually with a player this spring, and constantly tried to vary his shots, I realized that the variability in the jumps and landings actually created a low-intensity jump training program for injury prevention that likely exceeds the benefits of most traditional jump training programs.
In the movement shooting drills above, which essentially are my “Form Shooting Drills” for non-beginners, players use a variety of movements: Jumps and hops, sagittal, frontal and transverse plane movements, rotation in the air, and more. These are the types of variable jumps for which I advocated in my presentation. Furthermore, because the intention is to shoot, not just to land from a jump, the posture is more similar to the posture one uses in a game, and the eyes are directed at the rim, not at the ground, forcing the body to learn to anticipate the landing without visual information.
The Variable Form Shooting Drill is more complex, as it adds catching to the movement. Now, the movements are less predictable, as the timing is dictated to some degree by the pass, although the player controls/plans the movement. Many of these do not challenge the player’s landing skills, but simple cues to encourage greater jump height or length would create another shooting drill that could serve as a low-intensity jump training program for injury prevention.
In terms of injury prevention/reduction, perfect is not the goal. Perfect landings are relatively easy in training: Simply reduce the intensity and the complexity. The same is true with shooting; if the goal is a “perfect shot”, reduce the intensity and complexity: Shoot directly in front of the basket with no defense, no movement, no speed, no decision-making, etc. Games demand more, whether in terms of landing from jumps or making shots. Practicing only the perfect version of the techniques under-prepares players for the game demands; this reduces shooting percentages, and sets up athletes for potential injuries.
The answer is not more repetitions, but better repetitions. Repetitions that are more specific to the game action and that have greater variability from repetition to repetition, like game shots and landings. The goal is not to look better in practice, but to perform better during games, while reducing one’s potential for injury.
These shooting drills are not the cure for non-contact knee injuries. However, these drills present some ideas that can be used to improve shooting and reduce injuries.
Two common problems have arisen repeatedly this season as I worked with players and attempted to improve players’ shooting.
First, players mentioned coaches trying to change their techniques.
Second, players rarely have goals for their workouts.
I worked with a player who clearly had lost confidence. He frequently asked “Does it look alright?” after he shot. I finally asked about his questions. He explained that every coach tried to change his shot, and every coach had a different change to make. For a player who played on two teams, one of which had a midseason coaching change, in a club that employed a separate skill development coach, and spent the offseason with the national team, he worked with numerous coaches. When each one has his own ideas on shooting, and wants to teach a player his way, what is the player supposed to do? How can a player function when 3-4 coaches within the span of months have attempted to change a player’s shot?
This was not isolated to a single player. At least three players have related the same story. One player, in a meeting with his club, said, “Every coach wants to change my shot; except Brian.” When the player told me about coaches wanting to change his shot, I stopped him. I asked what he thought. He thought his shot was okay. I agreed. I think his problem is mental, not physical. He clearly had a coach instruct him not to dip the ball, and another who focused on his elbow. On shots, you can see him try to adjust his elbow to the “correct” position. I tried to get him to ignore all these instructions and just shoot. Stop trying to be correct and focus on making shots.
Another player was advised to work with me. I was told to ask him about his plan that he had created with his coach. He started to explain all the technical changes that the coach wanted to make. I stopped the explanation and asked him about his thoughts on his shooting. We agreed, mostly. His problem was not anything truly technical, but a lack of balance that was partially due to recurrent ankle injuries during the season, and an elongated shooting motion (I’d call it a sweep rather than a dip). So, we focused on those two things: Balance, and especially a slightly wider base, and a shorter, quicker dip.
Certainly some players need to change things about their shots. However, constant explicit instructions with the same type of practice rarely leads to improvement.
The other issue is even more frequent: A lack of attention. I touched on this already. Today, I worked with a player on his shooting, while another player used a shooting machine on the other basket. We progressed through a series of drills. Every drill had a purpose centered around the player’s balance and/or shortening his shooting motion.
On the other end, the player attempted a lot of shots (similar to below). When I asked him what he was working on, he said “nothing really; just getting up shots.” This is common; we believe repetitions solve problems without giving thought to the problems that we are trying to solve. How many more repetitions are needed? How many are enough?
When I asked what he thought he needed to improve, he responded, “Maybe catch and shoot 3-pointers because I have not been making them lately.” I followed up by asking why he thought he was missing. I had 3 ideas in my head. He nailed one: balance/narrow base. I suggested that when he’s working out on his own, that’s what he should be focused on improving.
Just getting up shots does not lead to improvement. There needs to be a focus to the practice to make improvements; the drills need to be designed to elicit these improvements. Just moving around the 3-point line taking shots or trying to make a certain number of shots does not insure improvement. For a great shooter who simply wants to maintain rhythm and confidence, this practice works. For a shooter who needs to improve, this practice falls short.
Changing one’s technique requires time and concentration. Consequently, I rarely start from the beginning with a player. Instead, I design practice and provide feedback to force minor adjustments. As an example, when the player jump stopped, as opposed to using a 1-2 step, he used a wider base. We incorporated more shooting off the one-count to practice with the wider base, and as it became more habitual, added back in the 1-2 step in certain situations that were more like game shots, for instance shots off a curl cut or shots off a pick and pop. To reduce the elongated sweeping motion, we used a simple cue: Keep the ball in front of your logo/number (depending on what he wore to work out that day). This does not prevent a dip on the catch or during drills, but does limit the big sweeping movement. As we worked through different drills, I simply had to remind him to keep the ball in front of the logo. Not much else was needed.
Drills designed to elicit specific adaptations and simple cues to remind players of the goal. This is skill development.
This post started as a text thread with a coach that was prompted by a tweet of a video similar to the one above, which suggested turning form shooting drills into competitive games or challenges. This is a popular approach, as seen in our practice above.
However, it begs the question: Why do form shooting drills?
[In the example above, it was the day before a game, and I wanted something new, as we have practiced together 3-4 times per week for 7 straight months. I don’t view these shots as “form shooting”, nor do I see as “skill development”. Instead, the purpose was to get their rhythm and confidence on the day before a game].
I believe form shooting drills should practice something specific with concentration. The intention changes when the coach makes the drill competitive. These players are competing to make shots quickly; they are not focused on changing their rhythm, their hand placement, their footwork, or whatever else they need to change to improve their overall shooting.
Drills like the video above fit within the reps, reps, reps approach to skill development that values quantity over quality. To me, this drill lacks sufficient concentration on a specific aspect of shooting to be Specific Shooting Practice, nor is there a decision and defense to make the drill Game-Like Shooting Practice. Therefore, this is General Shooting Practice (see Evolution of 180 Shooter for more on the drill breakdowns)
I believe most drills fall into this category…everything is in the middle, not enough actual game shots and not enough specific intent in non-game shots. Just drills for reps…That does not mean these drills are wrong or not to use them. Very few things are inherently wrong. It becomes wrong, or a fake fundamental, when the activity does not align with the coach’s purpose.
We spend too much time on general drills — mindless reps — at the expense of focused change/improvement and actual game shooting.
It’s like speed development. A criticism of speed programs is the intense days are not intense enough and the recovery days are too intense. We spend too much time in the 70-80% zone, and not enough time in the >90% (actual speed work) or <30% (recovery) zones. But the argument is we need to build a base, just as basketball coaches argue we need more reps.
There are many reasons to use a drill like the one above: Fun, competition, confidence, and more. I would not call this skill development. I do not believe these shots directly improve one’s shooting. It’s possible players see the ball go through the net and feel more confident, which improves one’s shooting in the next game, but that is performance; performance is temporary.
To improve, there needs to be some change that persists over time and transfers to different environments and situations. Making a technical change to one’s shooting is one path to improvement: Fixing one’s hand placement or coordination or follow-through. This is typically what we associate with “skill development” as it relates to shooting, and the purpose of form shooting.
Another path to improvement is extending one’s range or getting more comfortable shooting against defenders or making the decision to shoot more quickly and accurately. This requires more game-like and competitive shooting practice.
Most shooting practice, then, should fall within these types of practice. Instead, we focus on reps and general shooting drills like the one above. But, what’s the purpose? What’s the mechanism to improve their shooting?
As I wrote in Evolution of 180 Shooter, when I work with players individually, they tell me what they want to practice, and their answer needs to be specific, not a general skill category (Shooting).
Today, I worked individually with a player for the first time. Last night, when we arranged the time, I told him that he needed to arrive prepared with an idea of what he wanted to practice. Naturally, he replied via text “Shooting”, to which I replied “be specific” and “I only work with players who have a purpose for their practice and know what they want to get out of it.” He hearted the text.
When I arrived, I asked what he wanted to work on. He said technique and getting my reps in. I nearly left; we have a shooting machine that he can use to “get his reps in”. We started some movement drills to warm up:
As we warmed up, I asked more questions.
“Why do you think you miss open shots during games?” After all, he wanted to work on “technique”, so I wanted a sense of why.
Ah, so not a technique issue; a decision-making issue. I pressed further.
“Why do you feel you rush?”
After a short conversation, he said that he feels that he has a quick release, so that is not the issue. Instead, he said he rushes because he feels he has less time than he really has.
In an individual workout, this is not something that we can address, but I discussed some drills that we do frequently in practice, and how he (and others) need to use those drills to practice making these decisions rather than seeing if they can make increasingly more difficult shots (shooting against a closeout and shooting regardless of the contest to shoot tougher shots rather than making the open/contested decision).
After the movement drills, we worked on some drills with the dribble to combine ball handling and shooting. As an example:
The instructions and cues differ from his normal dribbling habits. He struggled. It was good.
Then, we finished with some shooting out of some of the actions where he should gets shots for us. As we worked through some of these sets, I discovered something that will inform subsequent workouts: his breathing seems to affect his shooting.
Generally, when players miss after running, we assume fatigue or they have no legs. In watching him, I felt it was the action of breathing heavily (returned recently from covid, so maybe that he an effect), not fatigue, that impacted his shot. In Evolution, I discussed another player who recognized that as her weakness when shooting, which informed our individual sessions. If I work individually with this player again, breath control and shooting when breathing heavily will be two primary weaknesses to address.
The above is not a novel drill; the player makes a triple move, attacks forward, and stops behind his back to shoot.
On social media, many complain about Insta trainers and their dribble combos. Others complain about trainers not practicing the actions that players will use in their games.
I am in a unique situation; I am one of his coaches, and, I suppose, his trainer. He is a 14-year-old post player. This is not a move that we would expect him to use in a game.
I was asked to work with him on his shooting. In our second session, I asked his goals; he wanted to work on shooting and 1v1 moves/finishing.
Our sessions usually start with some warmup shooting drills like these:
The goal for these initial drills is to improve his rhythm and move him away from some of his bad habits. In addition to various movements, we also start with a medicine ball against a wall.
Again, none of these drills is unique. Also, none is game-like. This is general skill/shooting development for a youth player.
To some, these drills may be gimmicky. However, I have specific purposes for these drills.
Drills solve a problem.
One problem that he has is the pick up of the dribble. One may see that as a shooting problem, but I see it as a lack of ball control. It is easy to see how the entire rhythm and coordination of his shot is thrown off by the pick up of the ball.
The triple move is to attack this weakness; the specific instructions are to make any three moves as quickly and tightly as possible, without hesitations, and explode out of the last move. I disallow hesitations in these drills because hesitation dribbles allow players to get away with a poor reception of the dribble; that is not the only reason for a hesitation move, but without defenders and when practicing specifically for better ball control, what purpose does a hesitation serve?
The behind the back dribble on the stop is again to challenge the ball control on the pick up of the dribble, and to provide the immediate feedback if the pick up is suboptimal. He feels the mistake more easily than if he dribbled straight into a shot.
Again, this does not mean that I expect him to make these moves in our games this weekend. Instead, these are tools to solve a specific problem. These are not drills that we will do every session from now to eternity. These are used to solve a problem; when he adapts to these drills, I will add something new to continue to overload the skill until the problem ceases to be a problem.
This, to me, is skill development. It has nothing to do with the specific drill. Instead, it is identifying the problem and creating a series of challenges to address and correct the problem.
How many repetitions? Who knows? I don’t count. We end each set on two makes in a row, shortly after he “gets it”. Again, the goal is not to master the drill and continue to perform the drill to get better at the drill. The goal, in this case, is to improve his ball control. Once his ball control improves in this drill, I change the drill to see if the improved ball control transfers to the new problem or if he simply adapted to the drill. It’s not about perfect repetitions; we’re striving for learning, which ultimately must be demonstrated in games.
In between sets, we make 2 free throws. After all, shooting is the main focus. We use this drill as the free-throw shooting drill.
He rarely makes his first two in a row. However, over the weekend, he was fouled with under 15 seconds to go and hit the two free throws to ice the game. He was shooting 30-40% early in the season. We’ll see how he progresses, but the variable free-throw shooting practice certainly did not have an adverse effect.
When Steph Curry made 3s for 5 minutes without a miss, many suggested this was his practice, or the reason that he is a great shooter. Instead, he makes this many shots because he is a great shooter, and these are relatively easy shots: No decisions, no movement, catch and shoot, half-speed shots. This is not practice or skill development.
Pregame routines (whether game day or day before a game) are not for improvement or skill development, but for confidence and rhythm. Players want to get the feel for their shot and feel good going into the game because performance is paramount. Improved confidence and rhythm improve performance. Everything is related.
I went from averaging 8 points per game as a senior in high school to averaging 22 points per game my sophomore year of college. Coach McCormick's workouts and drills played a key role in my vast improvement.
2004 NCAA DIII All-American
Coach McCormick has put together the most complete book about shooting that I have ever seen. His breakdown of shooting methods and techniques are essential for athletes who want to improve their form and accuracy.
Assistant Coach, Duke University Women's Basketball
Coach McCormick's attention to detail and specific teaching techniques provide a perfect framework for players at every level to build technically sound shooting form. There are pieces of his program that can be utilized by every player, at any level to bring rapid improvement to the bottom line: MAKING MORE SHOTS!
Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, The University of Portland
I always look forward to reviewing new work done by Brian McCormick, because I know it will be well-researched, insightful, and cutting edge. His 180 Shooter did not disappoint. Brian has a critical eye and great ability to break down complex basketball movements into their most fundamental elements, and then incorporate an effective training protocol to progressively teach their mastery. 180 Shooter will be a valued addition to my training resource library.
Shooting Coach, Lone Star Basketball Academy
Brian McCormick is an outstanding coach, instructor and writer. His newest book, 180 Shooter, covers in great detail how to become a better shooter from the ground up. Brian worked for my program (Hoop Masters) as a coach and his attention to detail and ability to teach young eager players is a special gift. I would recommend the 180 Shooter to any player, coach, or parent that really wants to understand all aspects of improving your shooting percentages and overall shooting skills. In this day and age of quick fixes and short cuts it's refreshing to have someone take the time to really explain how to become a better shooter. If you follow the drills, practice the habits outlined in this book and really believe that you can become a better shooter. You will. There are no short cuts to improvement.