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.