Dealing with Pickup Game Jerks

July 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

I play a lot of pickup basketball. Every once in a while, you come across a talented, proud, and often young player who lashes out at and blames teammates for every misfortune.

Everyone encounters pickup game jerks. Dealing with jerks is something we must all do, at one point or another.

A common response to dealing with jerks is “man up.”  “Manning up,” “standing your ground,” etc. is an effective tactic, but it is not at all natural and actionable for many. It’s like telling a fat person to “just eat less.” It’s like telling a smoker to “just quit.” Or telling a child molester to “just stop being a perv.” Simple to say when you’ve never lived their life.

Here’s a few actionable tips to help when facing a pickup game jerk. “Manning up” certainly is effective, but that’s not something you simply ‘switch on’ on a basketball court — that’s a life thing that must be addressed by digging deep inside and doing some drilling in the core.

1) Shake hands with all your teammates when joining the court. Call everyone by their first names. Ask for a favor, if possible (can you throw me a few passes?). Psychologically, asking for a favor makes someone trust you. Intuitively, this makes sense, as your mind hates internal contradictions: you can’t both hate someone and do them a favor.

2) Don’t say “my bad” over missed shots (this is the worst) or layups. Admit you’re wrong when you actually believe you’re wrong (bad passes, etc.).

3) There are generally two types of criticism: first, criticizing you for making a bad play, and second, criticizing you out of frustration. For the first, say if the jerk yells, “Man, what the hell!” after you turn the ball over, ignore it. Lead by example. Encourage your teammates after making mistakes. “Good take” is my favorite after a missed shot. Your teammates will gravitate towards you, not the jerk.

If he (let’s arbitrarily assume the jerk is male)  criticizes you out of frustration, be firm. Don’t apologize, don’t insist you’re right, and be calm.

“He’s yelling screen right, but he’s not helping on the screen!”

“Hey man, I can do that. Just talk to me. We can work together on this.”

4) Have fun. Criticizing a fun-loving, happy guy makes anyone seem like a jerk. It’s another internal contradiction: your brain feels uneasy criticizing someone it perceives as likable.

5) After the game, shake the jerk’s hand. Don’t practically put your hand next to his — make him reach out.

How do you deal with pickup game jerks? Do you ‘man up?’ Do you simply avoid them? I’d like to hear thoughts.

Are Stereotypes Okay in Basketball?

July 29, 2015 § 1 Comment

Lakers at Wizards 12/3/14

John Wall v. Jeremy Lin

Stereotyping happens all the time in basketball, in a much less censored manner than in virtually any other venue. We all can relate, no matter what race, gender, height, or age we are. Tall guys are pigeonholed into playing center. Girls are treated in a patronizing manner when playing against boys. White guys are shooters until proven otherwise; black guys are athletic freaks until proven otherwise.

Stereotyping is often perceived as an injustice in society (especially negative stereotypes), because it is, undoubtedly, hurtful. There is no denying its presence and effects in the game of basketball either — stereotyping is what turns off many teens who are not tall, black, and athletic from playing basketball.

I have friends whose experiences playing the sport have been so hurtful that they harbor permanent resentment anytime you mention the sport to them at all.

I do believe stereotyping is extremely hurtful, especially when we don’t acknowledge it. Stephen A. Smith and Rob Parker dismissed Jeremy Lin’s concerns about race, when he said, “Everyone looks at me and says, ‘I’m not going to let that Asian kid embarrass me. I’m going to go at him.'” Lin’s concerns — though valid — were sidestepped and the conversation instead changed to how Lin being Asian actually benefited him by getting him on Sports Illustrated and earning millions of dollars.

I think it’s important to acknowledge truth in stereotyping, that it exists, and that it is hurtful. I think that we should be cognizant of it when playing the game. However, I also strongly believe that stereotyping has a place in basketball, just as it has a place in society. Stereotyping should be used when it gives your team a statistical advantage. 

If you have to choose between a 6’0, 175 lb white kid and a 6’0, 175 lb black kid to join your team, having never seen either player before, you should choose the black kid. It is the better decision statistically.

When you “man up” against the opposite team, let the black kid guard the black kid, and let the Asian kid guard the Asian kid. It’s the smart decision, if you haven’t seen them play before.

Now, stereotyping is largely a byproduct of basketball being a very hierarchical sport. The hierarchical nature produces an opportunity — on the court, everyone is out to prove themselves.

There is no distinction like that of slaying Goliath. Under all our charming smiles, warm hugs, and cheeky quips, we all have a cold-blooded side that comes to life when we face a condescending opponent who takes us lightly.

Embarrassing him is not enough — we want to shame his ancestors and entire lineage.

Smearing his name is not enough — we want to do him so dirty he becomes sterile.

Eradicating his hope is not enough — we want to make him our marionette, rag-dolling his toasted limbs at every glimmer of hope, to the screaming adulation of onlookers.

What a feeling. The distinction of proving one wrong, no matter how fleeting, is what drives many (including NBA players) to continue to play the game. When you’re stereotyped against, play to prove one wrong.

Basketball is one of the few places where stereotyping still has a home, and there’s not really a better alternative. World Elo scores for basketball players? Maybe in the future.

Finally, I’ll say this one more time: only apply stereotypes when they are statistically advantageous to your chances of winning.

The Shammgod

July 29, 2015 § Leave a comment


Basic Description: A flashy, risky, higher level move. Rarely used in competitive games except off pick and rolls. Key to the move is the quick, blinding footwork. Called the Shammgod for one of its earliest ambassadors, former NBA player God Shammgod.

How to do the move: The move can be done with either hand, but assume we’re starting with the ball in the right hand.

  1. Give yourself some room; be at least three-point distance (give or take) away.
  2. You will now do two things simultaneously:
    1. Lightly “drop” the ball forward with your right hand. Some find it helpful to do this underhanded. Do not pound the rock into the ground — the reason you ‘drop’ it lightly is so you have slightly more time to pull off the move.
    2. Take a short, choppy step forward with your left foot.
  3. Shortly after the ball leaves your hand, you will again do two things simultaneously:
    1. Reach your left arm across the body to get the ball.
    2. Take a long step forward with your right foot. At this point, your legs should be split pretty far apart, and you should be leaning low, as if you’re going to drive to the basket.
  4. Quickly and suddenly “snatch” the ball back to your left with your left hand. You should now see an opening to drive and score.

Why the move works: The defender is distracted, and “frozen” by the blinding quick footwork. He is on his toes, and when you reach over to grab the ball, he overreacts and flies towards the ball, leaving an easy “snatch” and cutback for the offense.

Keys to the move: Quick and sudden footwork, hard lean towards the ball, extended legs and arm to appear as “long” as possible

When to use it: The defender is standing relatively upright, is giving you some space, and may not be entirely focused. For example, a point guard coming off a pick and roll will generally have space if the defending big man does not hedge. In this case, the defending big man must also account for the rolling offensive big man, so he can’t devote his full attention to the point guard.

This move does not work too well out of triple-threat stance, as defenders tend to be most focused then. You can try to shake the focus of a single defender by doing some other flashy moves beforehand (see below).

See the move:

The move from God Shammgod himself


Lamar Odom sick Shammgod


Shammgod with a counter cross (deadly!) — best shammgod I’ve ever seen (full video here)


Shammgod in the NBA — notice how it’s often used off screens where there’s more space

What is Good Shooting Form?

July 28, 2015 § 1 Comment

Wizards v/s Warriors 03/02/11

Steph Curry Shooting Form

For many of us, the first thing we learned in basketball is how to shoot the ball ‘correctly.’ I’m not going to cover basic shooting form in this post — there are plenty of great resources online which cover that.

Instead, I want to talk about what makes a shooting ‘form’ good. We are often told what to do when shooting, but we are not told why. The unquestioned accepting of coaching in this regard has led to specious shooting tenets, like ‘squaring your feet’ or ‘don’t dip the ball when you shoot.’

Let’s look at, more fundamentally, what a good shooting form entails.

Four Key Elements to a Good Shooting Form

Here are the four elements that a good shooting form must have:

  1. Fast
  2. Tough to block (location of release)
  3. Stable horizontal plane of motion
  4. Controllable power generation (minimize tension)

The first two are pretty self-explanatory. One way to think about is the faster your shot, the more often you’re open. A fast shot becomes increasingly imperative as the quality of opponent increases — it can be surprising to see what constitutes ‘open’ at NBA levels, where a defender’s hand may literally be hitting the shooter’s palm right when the ball is released.

Tough to block is also self-explanatory. This is why we don’t use underhand shots or shots from behind the head! In general, the higher the release point, the harder the ball is to block.

A stable horizontal plane of motion causes a shot to be accurate. If your shooting form causes your release to be fidgety, then your horizontal plane of motion is not stable. The elbow, along with the guide hand, result in an extremely stable horizontal plane of motion, and is one of the biggest reasons why the ‘correct’ shooting form works out well.

Controllable power generation deals with the muscle group that does the shooting — it should be easy to shoot with the ‘perfect’ amount of strength during each shot.

Consider this: in the close range, many NBA players shoot with their wrists. From three-point distance, many players shoot with their triceps. From half-court distance, many players shoot with their chests.

The legs are the primary muscles in all three cases, but the supporting muscles are important because that’s where you will feel tension.

Controllable power generation all comes down to reducing tension, and tension is minimized when the muscles you use for shooting are appropriate for the distance from which you’re shooting. This is different for different players — most NBA centers shoot threes with their wrists, while guys like Stephen Curry use a lot of chest muscle in their threes. The best muscle to use for your shot depends on how strong you are.


We all have different bodies, and there’s no one correct shooting form for everyone. I don’t like to teach shooting form — I like to tell players to shoot however they feel comfortable (as this reduces tension), and then probe their shot for weaknesses: Is it slow? Is it easy to block? Is it frequently inaccurate? Is there too much tension (there shouldn’t be, if they’re shooting comfortably, but sometimes there still is)? From there, we can alter their shot so it both feels comfortable for them, and is inherently ‘good’ (as opposed to only aesthetically or outwardly good).

Why I’m Starting This Blog III: “Basketball Training is Too Homogenuous”

July 16, 2015 § 1 Comment

I’ve dug through mountains of YouTube videos, websites, and books about basketball training. An underlying problem I’ve discovered is most resources either only cover basic fundamentals, or cover team strategy.

I believe that after a certain point of learning from these online materials, you hit a barrier. After the first few times, reading “follow through on your free throw,” or “work on dribbling with both hands” just don’t help anymore. You want next-level training, you want to learn the small things.

You get exasperated when a video tells you the crossover is leaning one way and then dribbling to another hand. That’s a “crossover,” yes, but that’s not an effective, dominant, or nasty crossover.

So to be clear, the first part of what I mean by basketball training is too homogeneous is most material on the web covers only basics.

The second part: I believe basketball coaching tends to be ingrained in outdated beliefs. This arises largely because the basketball world is, interestingly, hierarchical. It starts on recess courts, where ten year old boys naturally enforce a hierarchy amongst themselves, with the best players being chosen as captains, and decent players getting picked subsequently. The worst, less athletic boys (and girls) face humiliation and rejection, resulting in some harboring lifelong aversions to the sport and the hierarchy it stands for. A few of these kids, I suppose, become spearheads and voices of equality movements in their adult lives, but that’s a story for another day, and another blog.

The rigid hierarchy of the sport carries on. At the top of the hierarchy are the Michael Jordan’s and Phil Jackson’s of the world, whose words trickle down to the ranks of high school coaches, who pass down their philosophies to their best players and future coaches. The lessons of the best become gospel handed down from generation to generation.

As great as the founding fathers of basketball were, we are only now learning that innovation and openness is the best path towards excellence — in any field. Take, for example — from Bill Russell’s Celtics of the 60’s, to Magic and Kareem’s Lakers of the 80’s, to Jordan and Pippen’s Bulls in the 90’s, to Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers of the 2000’s, for as long as basketball fans have existed, the greatest NBA teams have centered around one to two “superstars.”

Yet, European coaches who were never exposed to the rigid American basketball “core philosophies” developed a basketball paradigm that focused on passing and ball movement, as opposed to focusing on the stars. In 2014, the San Antonio Spurs adapted this style, and became legendary for their ‘beautiful basketball’ as they defeated the ultimate team of stars (the 2014 Heat, with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh).

Analytics are also shifting paradigms in the basketball world. No longer is basketball “a big man’s game,” despite what great coaches like Phil Jackson will tell you. Analytics have unearthed the value of the 3-pointer and teams across the NBA have been forced to adapt in order to win.

The basketball hierarchy is showing cracks, and this is a good thing for the sport. But we need to continue to embrace the openness of ideas in basketball — after all, for a game so dependent on natural athletic ability, it makes little sense to merely assume the best player is also the one with the most basketball knowledge. Let’s embrace the ideas of all basketball players on this blog, and we’ll publish the ones that are the best — old or new, common or rare, revolutionary or not.

Why I’m Starting this Blog II: “Current Basketball Culture Stresses Discipline Over Innovation”

July 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Basketball is a great avenue for youth to learn important traits, such as discipline, teamwork, and selflessness.

This is great, and there’s a place for it. But there’s a trade-off: disciplinary coaching or teaching is less effective, discourages discussion, stifles innovation, and ultimately perpetuates sub-optimal practices throughout the basketball world.

For personal coaches, the relationship we should be striving for is one of golfer-caddie. Discussion, refinement, and guidance. This sort of relationship, however, is against the mold, and coaches of this type are hardly accessible at the non-professional level. Many players must resort to self-coaching and training, and that is where this blog comes in.

Why I’m Starting This Blog I: “Addicted to Getting Better”

July 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m addicted to getting better at basketball.

This blog is for people who love the game and want to get better. How does this blog help? Private coaching is not a sensible option financially for most people. If you want to improve by joining or making a team, then the coaching is streamlined towards team success, and is not optimal towards developing the individual.  For many players outside of America, coaching is out of the question, both in terms of availability and in terms of cultural stigmas.

Thus, how do most players get better? They learn by playing, and by trying to find videos and resources on the internet.

The resources on the internet are growing and improving significantly, and some day I’ll create a blog post sharing my favorites. But we need to take advantage of the crowd sourcing ability of the internet to collect all the best basketball tips in one location, and facilitate an avenue of discussion. This is the most optimal way to improve our games.

Trial and error is how (read my post on the black box) we get better. We try things we read online, and we implement them in our games. If they work, we stick with it; if not, we move on. But why go through the trials and errors that millions of others have already tried?

In this blog, I will post low-level and high-level basketball content, including tips, mindsets, skills, and drills designed to get you better. I will stay away from material I see commonly found elsewhere. I’m going to start this as a one-man show. If the interest builds, I envision guest bloggers, and eventually a community of sorts, expanding beyond a blog.

Millions of people know they will never play in the NBA, and will never make a living playing basketball, but work hard to get better. I love that, want to facilitate that, and that’s what inspired this blog. Let’s get the ball rolling.

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