A prominent shooting coach admonished other coaches for failing to teach the perfect shooting technique. Is there a single, perfect shooting technique? Does Ray Allen shoot like Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitski, Steve Nash, Ryan Anderson, or Stephen Curry?
Coaches tend to have a perfect technique in their minds, and deviation is viewed as incorrect. As demonstrated above, there are different ways to shoot. There are many similarities between these expert shooters, but none shoots exactly like the others. In a study by Professor Wolfgang Schoellhorn of Mainz University, two expert shot putters did not throw the shot exactly the same through a year of practice. Not once was the throw duplicated exactly. The implication is that even within one performer, there is not one technique – each throw differs slightly due to many influences: fatigue, pressure, wind, improvements, etc.
The shot put is a closed skill; if repetition of a closed skill differs so greatly, can we expect an open skill such as shooting to be more consistent? Based on this theory, each shot is unique. Expert shooters are able to perform their technique in many different situations. In shooting, a player may be open or well-defended; he could be moving toward the basket, standing still or cutting away from the basket; he could shoot off the dribble, off a jab step, or off a pass; the ball could originate on his right or his left; a pass could be high or low; the distance of the shot may vary; the angle of the shot varies. Add to these variables the player’s fatigue, the pressure of a game, the mental component based on whether he made or missed his last shot, and more.
Because games involve great variability, practice should feature variability. Beginning shooters reduce variability to improve consistency of performance. As players improve, players have to be able to shoot more than a set shot (free throw). Part of the genius of Kobe Bryant is his ability to shoot from so many angles with so many releases: fade aways to each shoulder, jumping forward, step-throughs from the three-point line, etc. His shooting percentage is lower than it should be because he genuinely believes he can make any shot regardless of the defensive pressure, angle, fatigue, etc. Similarly, I have argued that Steve Nash is the NBA’s best shooter because his percentages prove his worth, but also because he shoots a wide variety of shots, as supported by the research of Kirk Goldsberry.
As coaches, it is not about some perception of perfection, but about real results as demonstrated across games. Reggie Miller’s shot may not be technically beautiful, but it worked. Should he have changed his technique to someone else’s definition of the perfect technique?