A Story of a Shooter: The 10 Ways Our Shot Evolves

August 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

The following post is a romanticized, hypothetical story of a young shooter’s journey. I hope it conjures memories of all the dog days and high points of your own shooting journey. 

Basketball Journey

Think way back to when you first shot a basketball. You are ten years old. Shooting seems simple. Basketball is fun. If you can make a few shots, you must be good at basketball.

Ignorance is bliss. After you make your first few shots, Papa Zhu, says, “Now, son, let’s try a free throw.”

You step back to the free throw line. Air ball. Damn, son. You exert more effort, jumping off the ground. CLANK.

Papa Zhu shows you. “Son, you have to relax. Bend your knees, and follow through on your release.”

You do it as he says. Air Ball. In frustration, you tell yourself excuses. You say, I followed his directions perfectly, but I still missed, it must be because I was born weak. Born with inferior health. Not born to be a basketball player.

Papa Zhu has none of it. No dinner til you make three in a row. CLANK. CLANK. SWISH…


“Wanna run?”

You turn around. It’s this tall, lanky, older kid who goes by “Filthy Frank.” You are thirteen. School just got out and you’ve been squaring off with your little brother Michael on a dusty court at the park. You’ve been having a good day shooting, even knocking down some threes. Basketball is fun.

Ignorance is bliss. You smile and say to Filthy Frank, “Okay.”

The game commences. Filthy Frank hounds you. You dribble past him but have the ball poked from behind. He scores.

Next possession. Michael gets you the ball. Filthy Frank is again all over you. You throw up a shot, but it’s slapped away. You push Filthy Frank. “Man, you play dirty!”

“It’s called fucking defense man. Grow up.”

You get the ball again. Filthy Frank is smothering you, screaming all sort of profanities. He calls you a “fucking joke.” A carcass. A soft “piece of shit.” He even cracks a joke about your mom’s weight.

You shoot, air ball. Square one. You lose it. You walk away.

Filthy Frank smirks, “Nice defense, man.” He takes your ball home with him. You don’t say shit, because what can you say?

“Michael, let’s train.”

Filthy Frank


You are sixteen years old. You slip the ball between your legs and pull up for a three. BAM.

You have learned the art of a pull-up shot. You can shoot the ball off the dribble with ease. You pump-fake, your opponent jumps, and you pound the rock once to your right, and rise up for a shot. SWISH.

Coach Marshall nods in approval. An hour later, Coach Marshall begins to read, “Filthy Frank, Euthanizer Dave, Ed of Eden…”

After a final pause, he gives you a nod. You’ve made it. Varsity Basketball.


The game is blur. It’s whizzing past your eyes. “C’mon son, what the fuck are you doing!” Filthy Frank gives an expression of disgust. His lip is rolled like an ocean wave. You hate the ocean.

“Coach, I just wanted –”

“Man, don’t talk back to me! Give me a suicide!”

You run. You focus on the glutes, gliding across the court. You finish.

“Five free throws!”

So it is. You make all five. You look at Coach Marshall.

“Son, I’ll tell you this: I don’t know who taught you, you can shoot lights out. But let’s get one thing straight: this is Varsity Basketball. Shooting straight ain’t enough. You gotta be fast, you gotta create that little extra space.”

After practice, Coach Marshall pulls you and Filthy Frank aside. “Frank, work with this kid on popping his release on a few catch-and-shoots. Also, teach him that step-back of yours…”


Basketball Journey 3

Papa Zhu gives you a hug. “Son, I’m so proud. Are you sure you want to do this? These feels…”

You nod, you’re sure. You visited, and you felt at home. They thought you could be a star shooter for them.

You get Facebook messages from folks all over. Even Filthy Frank forwards you a message.

“Waddup Sniper!

Congrats big dawg, doing what u do. i would say i knew you had it in you fomr the start lmao.. but u kno, really, i’m proud of u man.

keep doing ur thang and get bitches, my homie. don’t get caught up in senioritis!! i’ll be watching u next year.

Filthy Frank”

You smile. Filthy Frank, what a guy. Life can be unpredictable, huh? He’s now studying astronomy in college.


“MOVE, MOVE MOVE! Sniper, this isn’t high school anymore. You’re not going to be open just standing there. And stop with those crazy turn around jump shots! At this level, even the average guy can block you unless you move yourself open. Take pride in being relentless. Your hear me, son?”

It’s been days of running, but somehow, it’s not enough. You burp, but the burp dreams of being something more. Your lunch splashes onto the hardwood.

Damn it. You wipe your mouth on your jersey. Salt in your mouth. You continue on, because you’re a tough motherfucker, a GI Joe.

“Look Sniper, and I don’t know if I should keep calling you that, cause you gotta earn it. Use the screens. Change your speed and direction. Make cuts to the basket. That’s how you get open.”

You nod. It’s going to be a long four years.


You sit in an empty gym. The lights are off. You close your eyes, and give the ball a dribble. THUD. You feel its pebbles once again caress your fingers.

You wipe off your sweat and stand up. You throw the ball in front of you, and then, with lightning speed, perform a shamwow. You shoes squeak across the floor.

You shoot a shot. SPLASH. Nothing like the sound of the ocean.

Now you shoot a few free throws. SWISH, SWISH, SWISH.


The ball bounces off the rim, and hits the ground with a thud. It slowly rolls away, until it hits the wall and stops. Silence.

This is your second home. You feel comfortable. The sights and sounds feel natural to you. You are respected; your abilities are validated by the scores of people who wear your name on your back. You’ve come a long way, and you’re a pretty damn good basketball player.

Ball is life. Ignorance is bliss.

A still from the Showtime documentary Kobe Bryant's Muse. - Photo: Kobe Bryant's MUSE/Courtesy of SHOWTIME - Photo ID: KOBEMUSE_gr_002.R


  1. Close stationary shots
  2. Free Throws
  3. Mid-range jumpers
  4. Three-pointers
  5. Pull up Jumper
  6. Stepback
  7. Catch and Shoot
  8. Fadeaways and Turn-around Shots
  9. Moving Without the Ball
  10. Meta

Passing for the ‘Sake of Passing’ is Good Ball Movement

August 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

Kobe Bryant, prolific passer

Kobe Bryant, prolific passer

One of my friends never passes the ball to a stationary teammate. Once he gets the ball, you need to be moving — cuts, screens, hand-offs — for him to pass the ball to you.

This is, more or less, his idea of “ball movement.”

His point is not entirely unfounded. If your teammate is standing there, no more open than you are, why pass the ball to him? Wouldn’t it be a better use of time and effort to drive, draw defenders, and then pass to him when he’s more open?

In other words, does passing ‘for the sake of passing’ increase the expected point value of a possession?

Without delving into statistics, I personally am a big fan of swinging the ball (a closely related phrase to ‘passing for the sake of passing’). I understand my friend’s perspective in terms of opportunity cost — and he’s right to question it. He shouldn’t, after all, just accept it because ‘swinging the ball’ is oft-repeated by coaches.

The value of swinging the ball comes in many forms. First, it keeps the defense on its feet. The defense needs to watch both ball and man — this is much harder when the ball is not stationary. Check out the play below.

Tony Parker "passes" Duncan open.

Tony Parker “passes” Duncan open.

In this play, Duncan is fronted by his defender, and Parker can’t get the ball to him. Parker, however, is able to “pass ” Duncan open — Diaw has a much better angle at getting the ball to him.

From this, we see rapid passing of the ball — even to players who are in no position to score — increases the opportunities of getting an open shot. Having to keep track of both the ball (while staying with their man) alone puts significantly more stress on the defense.

Second, passing the ball is simply a great way to get everyone involved and builds team chemistry. I say this from experience, though I acknowledge this might be difficult to prove / placebo effect. My ‘proof’ is again in the psychological factor: passing the ball to someone but ‘disliking’ or ‘not trusting’ them serves as an internal conflict in your brain. And if someone passes to you, you’re more likely to reciprocate.

So in summary — I understand that passing to someone who’s not ‘open’ may seem like a bad decision from an opportunity cost standpoint. But think of it this way: when you pass (‘for the sake of passing’), you’re pressuring the defense and hoping, eventually, for a defensive mistake, which you can then attack at a higher success rate. Otherwise, you’re stuck with a lot of one-on-one basketball situations.

The Pump-Fake

August 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Top_10_NBA_Fake_Plays (1)

Basic Description: One of the most effective yet simple moves in basketball. A must-have move for every single player — no other move replicates its usage. Also known as a shot fake.

How to do the move: This move is simple to do, and hard to master.

  1. Go through your normal shooting motion. Legs bent, eyes on the rim.
  2. Once the defender rises or jumps to contest your shot, quickly bring the ball down and either blow by them or, in some cases, shoot (if they jump ‘past’ you, or if you want to draw a foul).
  3. If they don’t jump or rise, just shoot the ball. You’re open.

Keys to an effective pump fake:

  • Be a good shooter. Defenders will be more likely to jump.
  • Have a sudden shot. The suddenness will draw an involuntary jumping reaction.
  • Mimic your actual shot as closely as possible.
  • Quick reflexes. Sometimes you actually intend to shoot, and need to stop yourself suddenly. Often, these are the most effective pump fakes.
  • Your shooting form should involve a smooth bend-and-rise motion. Seeing you rise causes the defender to jump just as much as seeing the ball go up.

Training your Pump Fake: See here for great drills to train your pump fake.

Why the move works: A defender is most vulnerable when standing straight up. The pump fake is one of the easiest ways to get the defender standing straight.

When to use it: Whenever there is a realistic chance you will shoot (varies depending on your shooting ability), especially when the defender is in recovery mode.

This move is highly effective in a triple threat position. If you have a fast shot, you only need the tiniest of windows to shoot. Pump fake to see the defender gives you that window — if he does, shoot. If he doesn’t (i.e. he jumps in the air), drive by him.

Some coaches teach you to never bring the ball higher than chest level when pump faking — i.e. use a small pump fake. I find this true when the defender is in recovery mode, but if the defender is focused and in position, raising the ball higher is often more effective.

One of my favorite moves is to pump fake slowly twice, pause, and then quickly rise for the shot. The change-of-pace makes the defender think the shot is real, and not a pump fake, and completely jump out of their pants. Wide open, easy layup.

See the move:

Nowitizki beautiful pump fake.


Steve Novak pump fake — notice how sudden his ‘rise’ is


Jeremy Lin pump fake. His shooting stance is dead on, and his eyes are pinned to the basket when performing the pump fake.


Dissecting the Rick Barry “Granny Shot” Free Throw

August 9, 2015 § Leave a comment


Rick Barry

Rick Barry had the fourth highest free throw percentage in NBA history of 90%. During his playing years, he was easily the best free throw shooter the game had ever seen.

To give an idea, Rick Barry joined the NBA in 1965. Only two players who entered the league before Barry had a career free throw percentage greater than 85%.

Rick Barry used an underhanded free throw shooting technique — aka the “Granny Shot.” In the video at the bottom of this post, you can see Rick Barry performing his free throw technique to legendary coach Red Auerbach. According to Auerbach, Barry’s form was the standard until ‘forty years ago,’ which would likely be the 1920’s or 30’s, depending  on whenever the video was made.

So should we all shoot free throws with a granny shot technique?

In a previous post, I talked about the four elements which make up a good shooting form. They are:

  1. Fast
  2. Tough to block
  3. Stable horizontal plane of motion
  4. Controllable power generation

For shooting free throws, we can eliminate the first two, since there are no defenders.

So initially, it makes sense that the ideal free throw shooting form may be different than the ideal shooting form in games.

I took a gander and tried out the granny shot at my local court last night. What I found was interesting.

« Read the rest of this entry »

The Euthanasia Warm-Up Shooting Drill

August 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Euthanasia Warm Up Drill

This is my favorite basketball shooting warm-up drill.

It’s very, very simple. Start at any dot shown in the diagram. Keep shooting until you make three in a row. Move to another dot. Repeat until you finish at all dots.

Shoot with regular form, like a free throw– don’t shoot with one hand only. Shooting with one hand trains control, which is good for layups, but does not train form very well, which is the focus of this drill.

After you finish the drill, consider doing it again, this time with the left hand, and one hand only. This will help train control for left hand layups. You can skip the two ‘corner’ spots this time (bottom two dots on the diagram).

The drill sounds simple, but it may take longer than you think. If you shoot on average 80% from each of those spots, you’ll take on average roughly 24 shots total to finish at all five spots, right hand only. If you shoot 50%, you’ll need 70 shots on average. And your shooting percentage at the five spots is probably lower than you think.

When you shoot, your goal is to not just to make it, but have the ball not even hit the rim. It should be so soft it “a kitten could fall asleep” — hence why it’s called the euthanasia drill.


What the Drill Trains

  • Consistent shooting form — if you want a consistent three point form, you need to start with a consistent form at close distances
  • Familiarity shooting from anywhere on the court (people who focus on free throws tend to be less accurate from other angles on the court)
  • The clutch factor: When you make two in a row, can you relax and make the third one as well?

What to Focus on During the Drill

These shots are so close to the basket, unless you’re a beginner, you probably don’t have to think too much about making the shots. Here are things you should focus on while shooting:

  • The ball should not touch the rim (trains arc)
  • Your form is pure. Think about your form from your legs all the way to your release.
  • You’re relaxed. Watch for tension in the shoulder and neck.

This sounds very simple, but sometimes, if you’re stuck on one spot for a very long time, you can get frustrated and start tensing up and losing your form. Stay focused and calm.

Estimated Length of Drill: 2-8 minutes. To calculate how many shots it will take you on average to finish at each of the five spots, use the following formula:

n=\dfrac{1 + a + a^2}{a^3}

where is the expected total number of shots, and a is your average shooting percentage from the five spots.

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