Thursday, July 3, 2008

Becoming a better shooter

I was at my oldest son's basketball game recently when I overheard a kid say something to his buddy about wishing he could shoot the ball better.

I tapped him on the shoulder and told him that while there's no "magic" key for becoming a better shooter, there are some things he can begin doing immediately (after all, he was standing in a gym) to improve as a shooter.

For years, my father used to have his teams go through a shooting drill before every practice. Players would pair off, then from four spots on the floor -- both corners and both elbows -- from 15-17 feet, they'd take 20 shots per spot. All 80 shots were recorded every day to benchmark progress and increase the competitiveness of the drill.

A great shooter will hit 70-plus of the 80 shots. I remember guys like Pooh Richardson and Tony Campbell for the Timberwolves would get into the 70s every practice. With the Warriors, Earl Boykins and Gil Arenas consistently hit the 70-75 range.

As players, these guys were quite different. But what they had in common as shooters was an intense focus. Concentration is one of the keys to shooting a basketball well.

The other two keys are confidence and relaxation. We'd emphasize those three points as the players went through the 80 shots.

Many of my CBA players really improved doing this drill. Larry Robinson, a guard who played for me in the CBA and later played his way into the NBA with eight teams, loved this drill and really improved as a shooter with it. Coming out of college, Larry was an excellent slasher whose knock was that he couldn't shoot.

He did this drill with the rest of the team at practice, but then after every practice did it from three-point range, as well. Eventually, he became a 3-point specialist. [Larry even got an NBA ring with the Rockets in 1993-94.]

At the college level, Billy Donovan (who was with me in the CBA in the late 1980s as a point guard) and Rick Pitino really work on shooting in their practices.

Santa Clara sends out a regular email newsletter with various tips. The most recent one came from James Ware, an assistant at Santa Clara, discussing the importance of teaching shooters their range. Here was Coach Ware's tip:

"Shooters must learn what their SUCCESSFUL range is. Notice that the emphasis is on SUCCESSFUL. If a player cannot make a good percentage of shots from the distance he is shooting, then he is shooting OUT OF HIS RANGE.

Keep this coaching point in mind...players tend to overestimate their range and it is up to a coach to teach them their range. They must understand that it is not important how far out they shoot the ball, but how often they get it in the basket."