Since the Oklahoma City game on Saturday, the following segment with Kenny Smith critiquing Luguentz Dort’s shot has circulated on Twitter:
Kenny: His feet are pointing (to the left) and that means his shot will go left…— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) August 31, 2020
Dort’s Shot: misses to the right 🤦♀️ pic.twitter.com/eGo9a5WCsJ
Kenny Smith is in such a hurry to tell the world how Dort should shoot that his observation is factually incorrect. He says that Dort will miss to the left because he turns his toes to the left, but the ball misses to the RIGHT. Of course, he does not allow the facts (objective results) to get in the way of his instruction.
There are two problems with this segment, and they illustrate larger problems with instruction throughout sports: (1) Coaches decide on a technique or system, and apply their ideas to ALL players regardless of the player or the player’s needs: They ignore the individual; (2) NBA players can never be wrong because they played in the NBA.
As I wrote in Evolution of 180 Shooter: A 21st Century Guide, rarely do coaches work with a true beginner. Instead, every player has a history; they have practiced, received instructions, played, watched other players, and more. Every individual starts with different individual constraints: Strength, size, limb length, anatomy, etc. Consequently, not everyone will shoot the same.
In this segment, Kenny suggested that Dort, and really everyone, should shoot with 10 toes to the rim. As I wrote in Evolution, I do not have a specific shooting system: I am neither an advocate of 10 toes to the rim or of a turn. I advocate experimentation and what works for each individual player. Therefore, my point has nothing to do with this specific instruction, but in assuming this specific instruction is correct for all players. Simply watching any handful of elite shooters should be enough to see that no two shooters shoot exactly the same.
The objective is not to teach players to shoot a specific way using a specific system or technique, but to shoot better. Too often, an obsession with technique, perfection, instruction, and corrections causes us to lose sight of the actual goal: Making shots.
The second problem is that a non-NBA player cannot argue with an NBA player, even with objective facts, because NBA players resort to “I played in the NBA”. Therefore, poor teaching techniques (point toes to the rim, never cross your feet, never jump to pass, never jump to contest a shot, etc) often are perpetuated because of those who have the largest reach, like a nationally-televised audience.
The flaw with the argument is that Kenny Smith did not reach the NBA because of his knowledge of shooting or his shooting instruction: He reached the NBA due to a combination of factors including his speed, athleticism, decision-making, competitiveness, etc. This is not to suggest that NBA players are ignorant or only there because of athleticism. However, shooting a basketball, and teaching someone else to shoot a basketball, are two different skills that require different abilities and strengths. That should be obvious. How many elite players have struggled as coaches? They require different skills, abilities, personalities, etc. Being an expert at one thing does not make one an expert in another. In fact, according to Erik Dane of Rice University:
“Domain experts become ‘inflexible in thought and behavior,’ less able to ‘adapt to novel situations and to generate radically creative ideas within their domain.’”
An expert, therefore, is less willing to adapt to the individual in front of him and seek novel ideas; instead he is inflexible, and believes his way to be the way.
I watched an NBA player work out with an ex-NBA player. The ex-NBA player was one of the game’s best shooters when he played, and consequently, he believed he was an expert shooting coach. However, every instruction to the current player was to make the current player shoot more and more like the ex-player.
I sat and observed with an assistant coach who happened to be another ex-player known for his shooting. This coach had retired after the previous season and had never coached previously. After a few minutes, he asked for my opinion. I offered it. The new coach thought it made sense; he was a beginner coach, and had more flexible opinions about shooting despite his playing success. We talked through my idea, I explained in more depth what I meant. He agreed. He walked across the court and made a suggestion to the older coach based on our conversation.
The older coach basically told him that he (me) was wrong and the idea was stupid. He did not use those words, but that is what I heard. It was clear that he did not value anyone else’s opinion. After all, he was the best shooter in the gym (and the most senior coach with the highest salary); how can anyone tell him anything about shooting?
Again, that is the wrong question. Would you prefer to learn to shoot from the best shooter or the best shooting coach? If your career was on the line, and you had to improve your shooting to make millions of dollars, would you seek out Steph Curry or Chip Engelland, the San Antonio Spurs shooting coach who is credited with developing Kawhi Leonard’s shot or the New Orleans Pelicans’ Fred Vinson who is credited with improving Brandon Ingram’s and Lonzo Ball’s shots? What if you had a completely different body type to Curry? What if you were built like Zion Williamson or Nerlens Noel or, I don’t know, Lu Dort?
These attitudes pervade sports instructions and affect skill development in every sport (of which I am aware). The inflexibility of thought of experts is a problem and it perpetuates things like fake fundamentals from one generation to the next.