Shooting, without a doubt, is the most important skill in basketball. Just like baseball is at its essence a battle between pitcher and hitter, basketball is fundamentally about making baskets; everything else aids or prevents a player from scoring. However, as the evolution continues, scoring, and more precisely shooting, fades further from the game’s focal point, as coaches emphasize defense and players try to impress.
At every camp I attended, a coach explains that coaches will always keep a player who can play defense and hustle. I say the easiest way to make a team is to be the best shooter; no coach will cut the best shooter at a try-out because every coach knows he must score, regardless of his defensive propensity.
Every coach has a shooting theory. While theories differ, they center on one goal: the ability to score consistently. The most important aspect is not the elbow or the legs, but the mind; Reggie Miller’s shot is not fundamentally sound, but he is among the NBA’s most prolific shooters. Miller’s success is due to two things: supreme confidence and his ability to get open to take and make big shots.
Confidence is hard to teach; “confidence is only born of one thing: demonstrated ability. It is not born of anything else. You cannot dream up confidence. You cannot fabricate it. You cannot wish it. You have to accomplish it. I think that genuine confidence is what you really seek; that only comes from demonstrated ability,”Â (Bill Parcels).
Shooters have bad days and suffer through slumps, but great shooters never allow their confidence to waver. Shooters have short memories and always believe their next shot is good. “Life is a collection of self-fulfilling prophecies,” (John Naber). Confidence is more vital to success than any technique a coach can teach.
Great shooters never think about missing; once the negative enters the mind, the chances for success lessen. Michael Jordan said: “I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot. Why? Because when you think about the consequences, you always think of a negative result.” Jordan was not a phenomenal shooter, but at the end of the game, nobody was better. The pressure never affected Jordan; it raised his level of play, sharpened his focus. He believed the shot was going in, so a game-winning shot never had added pressure. His confidence created a calm enabling him to knock down the big shots.
Players must be able to catch the ball in a position to score or all the confidence in the world goes for not. Therefore, the ability to move without the ball is imperative to a player’s success, especially since the average player possesses the ball for an average of one minute per game. Players must be hard to guard without the ball; constantly working on skills with the ball is not enough. Players must work to improve their ability to play when the ball is not in their hands.
Shooters think shot every time they catch the ball. A shooter has to shoot, and shooters possess this mentality. In order to shoot when they receive the ball, players must catch with knees bent in an athletic position with body squared to the basket. When receiving a pass, players should turn their body to face the basket on the catch.
Great shooters know when they receive the pass whether they are open or not. They anticipate and think a play ahead. As the player waits to receive the pass, moving to an open spot, he will gauge the proximity of the nearest defender and the speed of the closeout. He will know upon reception whether he is open for the shot or whether he should take one dribble away from the closeout or pump fake and dribble to an opening.
Great shooters have a feel, they anticipate, rather than react and therefore find the opening and take the shot, while others catch the ball and are easily defended. Against a zone defense, a shooter finds the gap in the zone, or a soft spot, positioning himself equidistant from the nearest two defenders to maximize the closeout distance. He catches ready to shoot and shoots with no wasted motion.
A great shooter stays in motion, becoming hard to guard without the ball. He knows how to read screens and the defense in order to create openings. Larry Bird, one of the best shooters ever, was said to be the “master of the half inch.” He needed only the slightest amount of room to shoot or the slightest advantage to get a step and drive on his defender. He created this advantage with movement and his ability to read screens. Reggie Miller played the game in a similar manner; he was like the Energizer Bunny on offense. However, he did not just run around, he cut with purpose. He read the defense and flared or curled; he saw the switch and punished it. He wore out defenders through his motion and he scored with his ability to find an opening and shoot.