As an assistant to coach Bill Fitch, I have had the opportunity to learn many of the fundamentals of the game, with special emphasis on the shooting skills and footwork.
It is interesting to note that whenever a player goes up to the foul line, he will invariably go through a pre-shot routine in which he will place his shooting hand on the ball with the fingertips perpendicular to the seams.
The ball, when held in this position, will usually rotate (spin) in a straight arc to the basket. My question is this: Why do so many of the players who shoot properly from the foul line change their technique when they shoot from the field?
"S" For Spin
Take an outstanding player like Terry Dehere. At Seton Hall, he set the all-time scoring record for the Big East, although he shot the ball with a side spin. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, we suggested that he change his shooting technique. With hard work, repetition, and concentration on the correct technique, Terry began shooting a ball that spun straight and true - raising his shooting percentage from 29.4% to 44.0% from the three-point arc and 40.7% to 49.0% from the field. The over spin gave his shot the so-called "shooter's bounce" - a shot that hits the front of the rim and drops into the basket, thanks to the proper rotation on the ball.
Brent Barry, a rookie last season, is another player who improved his shooting by making a daily practice habit of "seaming it". Watch some of the great shooters in the NBA, such as Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Jeff Hornacek, Hersey Hawkins, and Chris Mullin. All have good rotation because they shoot with the seams.
"S" For Stop
Another aspect of shooting that has to be addressed is what I call "stopping and tempo." Every good NBA shooter is aware of the importance of good technique. But, though they may work hard on their hands and arms, they will often neglect their feet, and it can hurt their shooting technique. In order to square up with the target, the shooter must be able to come to a quick stop with his feet correctly spaced. That will create a base from which to launch the shot. (Remember, the shot starts from the ground up.)
The feet should be set preferably shoulder-width apart and slightly staggered, depending on the hand with which the shot is taken. Michael Jordan has an uncanny ability to stop on balance and go right into the shot, with his shoulders square to the basket. Every shooter in the game should take the time to study Michael's footwork. The farther the shooter is from the basket, the more centered his balance and tempo must be. The shooter must not only establish a proper base, but should shoot with a consistent tempo.
How many times have you seen a player shoot too quickly? This is invariably caused by lifting and releasing the ball too quickly, thus failing to give the body time to maintain balance and to shoot with a steady tempo. The best analogy I can make is a golfer who takes his club back too fast and thus fails to give his body the time to balance up and swing the club properly on the downswing. What he does, in essence, is fail to create the tempo and balance. In raising or lifting the basketball, it is essential to keep the arms close to the body - never extend them too far from the body.
The extended position will create a weak shooting position, poor balance, and an inconsistent tempo. You can compare this lifting of the ball to the motion of a military press in weight lifting. You must keep the bar close to the mid-line of the body. If you move it too far away, you are going to lose control, balance, and strength. The same thing happens in shooting. You must raise the ball in a steady, rhythmic motion. Observe a Chris Mullin, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Or Dennis Scott. Their feet are invariably set and their delivery totally fluid. Plus, they all shoot with the seams.
"S" For Sight
The final area of shooting that requires study is the eyes. Watch an NBA or college game, and observe the shooter's eyes at the foul line. One player will sight in on the target or rim, while another will wrongly follow the flight of the ball. Balance is an integral aspect of shooting and it will become difficult to maintain if you watch the flight of the ball. If, as you release, they ball, you follow it with your eyes, you will invariably cause your head to lift, move back or do both.
That will cause the body weight or balance to transfer back, and you will end up with your weight on the back of your heels. Result: a low elbow release that will often product a shot that will hit the front rim (short). Since the low elbow is difficult to lift up, the shooting tempo will also be affected. An analogy may be drawn to shooting a gun. You must sight in and keep your eyes on the target and head still as you squeeze the trigger. Study your shooters and see if they have any problems with the seams, stop and tempo, or the eyes areas.
One of the most satisfying and gratifying coaching moments lies in instructing a player on a certain technique and then watching him or her execute it perfectly with the game on the line!
- by Coach Barry Hecker