The public laments young basketball players’ lack of fundamentals. People see a skill deficiency, especially in ball and player movement and shooting ability, but few understand its roots. Experts pass blame and make excuses, but few criticize players’ daily practice habits. To develop players with better fundamentals, we must teach players how to practice.
Shooting: The Problem
Player 1 walks into an empty gym, turns on the lights and puts down her ball. She stretches, jogs and does some light plyometric/footwork drills. Player 2 enters the gym, jogs to get loose and does the same warm-up, while P1 does the Mikan Drill. When P2 completes a light warm-up, P1 and P2 start basic shooting drills; passing, closing out to the shooter and rebounding one’s own shot. They start with mid-range jump shots, no further than the free throw line. Player 3 arrives, gets loose and joins a three-person shooting drill. When Player 4 arrives, P1 and P2 work together and P3 and P4 work together. P1 and P2 finally extend the range on their jumpers.
In another gym, P1 enters the gym dribbling and throws a three-pointer at the rim. He walks after the rebound, dribbles back to the three-point line and throws another shot at the basket. P2 enters and P1 shows off an “And1 move.” P2 takes a three-pointer, and then they play 1v1, dribbling and dribbling and dribbling before shooting. As more players enter, they attempt half court shots, throw balls off the wall and practice double-pump 360-lay-ups.
Gym 1 was the middle school where my Swedish professional team practiced. The second example took place at a local high school and involved high school freshmen, junior varsity and varsity players. Before one blames the kids, I attended a WNBA game with the Sacramento Monarchs playing the Indiana Fever and witnessed the exact same approach as example 2, as one player literally shot from the tunnel on her way onto the court and then bombed errant threes, while other poor shooters never bothered to step inside the key to work on their shooting technique.
Shooting: The Proper Approach
Rather than jacking wild shots, great shooters start close to the basket and make a habit of making shots. Anyone can be a shooter; coaches want makers. Young players should shoot 90% of their shots in their range; a player’s range extends to the point where he can no longer shoot without a breakdown in his mechanics. The other 10% of shots should be attempted from just beyond one’s range, as the goal is to extend one’s range. If a player’s range is 15 feet, he shoots some shots from 16-17 feet to work on the extra leg drive needed to extend his range. When he gets comfortable from that distance, he extends again. Even with high school varsity players, we go entire workouts without shooting a three-pointer, as the players train out to 17-feet where they make 75% of their shots, gain confidence and reinforce good habits, rather than developing bad habits.
Shooting: The Workout
Once a player learns the correct shooting technique, he needs repetitions in game-like drills. The following is a workout based on the drills and motion of successful NBA shooters.
Dirk Nowitski Drill
As a warm-up start in the middle of the key; slowly bend into a deep squat with ball in shooting position and explode up into a jump shot. Nowitski does this drill to increase flexibility (full squat), and it doubles as a good form shooting drill and warm-up. Make five shots and take a step back; shoot until the free throw line. Make 25 shots total.
Rip Hamilton Series
Start on the wing and curl toward the elbow. Each drill in the series starts the same. (1) Curl for a jump shot; (2) Curl and run through the catch, take one dribble and shoot the jump shot; (3) Catch, shot fake, crossover step 1-2 and shoot; (4) stop, flare and shoot; (5) stop, flare, one dribble to the baseline and shoot; (6) run through the catch, dribble and spin for a lay-up or short shot. Make five in each drill and make a free throw in between.
Sue Bird Pull-ups
Speed-dribble the length of the floor and pull up at the elbow. Make five.
Seven Spot Shooting
Shoot catch-and-shoot three-pointers (or in the player’s range) from seven spots: baseline, wing, guard-spot, top of the key, guard-spot, wing and baseline. Make five from each spot.
This workout trains a player’s shooting ability, footwork and conditioning; players make 100 game shots (one-dribble pull-up, curls, flares, stand-still and full speed pull-ups) plus free throws and form shooting. If the player has a coach to rebound and pass, the workout takes about 20 minutes. This 20-minute workout is more effective than the hours that many players piss away throwing errant shots at the basket to prove they can make three-pointers or show-off some other shot. University of Oregon Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap says, “Being the best at anything is a bitch.” Becoming a great shooter requires a commitment to excellence and a dedication to developing good, solid technique and training game-like shots religiously.