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The ABC’s of Great Shooting!

(Article #3 in a Series for BasketballsBest:  “The Trouble with
Shooting!” by Tom Nordland, Shooting Coach)

One of the biggest problems with shooting in this country is that players’ shots approach the basket with a trajectory that is too flat.They come in at angles just 20-30° above horizontal and rarely get more than 2-3’ above the rim.  A high percentage may only get 1-2 feet above the iron.  Though greater arch is often stressed by coaches, playersseem not to know how, or possibly they just can’t shoot higher with the way they’re shooting.

Many players today shoot with what I would call a throwing or slinging motion with the arm and hand, and others use a wrist snap or finger drive to shoot with.  Note in which direction the ball travels if you shoot with any of those actions.  Is it up, down or horizontal?  I think you’ll find it’s the latter ? horizontal.  Shooting this way doesn’t give the ball much of a chance to get up in the air.

Better shooters employ their legs and entire bodies to shoot with. 
They don’t just jump to get elevated or to initiate the shot.  They are
shooting FROM this energy.  This gives them more arch automatically!  I call this upward force of legs and body the UpForce™ (U/F) to give it a name.  (You could call it leg lift, leg power, body/leg power ... whatever you want.)  The more you shoot from this power the higher, quicker and more stabilized the shot!  Also, note that the more your shot comes from the lower body, the more the upper body can relax,  quiet down and become constant and predictable.  Shooting starts to become effortless.

The A-B-C’s of Shooting
In observing myself and others shoot, I realized you can identify how
much U/F is “IN” a shot by giving it a Percentage figure.  If you shoot
very early in the jumping motion (or in the upward action for a free
throw or set shot), then you approach 100% of U/F.  If you wait before you shoot, the percentage drops accordingly.  In watching my own shooting, I saw that I use 90-100% U/F for almost all outside shots.  If I’m in very close and jumping hard and quick, then I might wait a bit (call it “hangtime”) before releasing the ball, but with most shots I’m shooting as early as I can.

Once I distinguished this “percentage” thing, I started to notice that
shots coming from a high percentage of U/F tend to go in more often 
than those with lower percentages.  I saw I could group them this way:

  Percentage of UpForce™ Class of Shot
  80-100%  “A”
    60-80%  “B”
    40-60%  “C”
    20-40%   “D”
    00-20%   “F”

A’s go in more than B’s, B’s more than C’s
From my observation, “A” shots tend to go in more than “B” shots, “B” shots go in more often than “C” shots, “C’s” go in more than “D’s”, etc.  There’s a direct correlation.  But don’t just believe or
disbelieve me.  Check it out for yourselves.

There is a reason for this phenomenon
The reason this is true is that the more UpForce™ you use, the more
STABLE the shot is.  Using more leg and lower body power gives the shot the stability like that of a rocket taking off.  In the beginning there is tremendous force and surrounding energy.  With time this force diminishes.  Earlier shooting gives you a higher percentage, and with a higher percentage you become more accurate because you’re less likely to push or pull the shot off line with upper body muscles (arm, wrist or hand).

Again, test this theory out and see if it’s true.  Watch good shooters
and you’ll probably see a high percentage of U/F with most of them.
Watch the poorer shooters and you’ll probably see a low percentage. 
And with each shooter, as she or he uses different percentages, note the ball flight and the ensuing result.

Most great shooters shoot this way

Watch the better shooters on any team and you’ll find most of them 
shoot early in the jump.  Some examples from the NBA are Steve Kerr, Jeff Hornacek (‘98 NBA 3-pt Champion), Mark Price, Detlef Schrempf and even Rick Smits, the best outside shooting big man.  If you think this “shooting early” thing applies only to the shorter people, watch Rick. He’s 7’ 4” and he shoots a high percentage of 15-20 foot shots.  His jump shots are “A” shots.  He’s releasing the ball very quickly on the way up and that’s why he’s so consistent.  Detlef has been a great shooter all his career, and he’s 6’10”.  I believe I even saw him shooting earlier and higher than ever this last season.

The better shooters in the ABL and WNBA shoot this way, too.  Watch Jennifer Azzi of the San Jose Lasers and Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes from the Houston Comets, for example.  Any woman who shoots consistently well has learned to shoot quicker and higher.  From what I see, the major difference between many of the great shooters and the lesser shooters is that the better shooters shoot earlier.  That action gives them more power, range, height and stability ... with less effort.  And that makes all the difference!

It used to be taught to release the ball at the “top of the jump.”  A
book I read by Bob Cousy printed in 1966 said very distinctly NOT to 
use any body/leg power in the jump shot.  I think we’ve come “full circle” on this and now realize that body/leg energy stabilizes the shot rather than interferes with it.  A parallel evolution can be seen in golf
putting.  Many years ago the better putters were wrist putters.  The
great player Bobby Locke comes to mind.  But today, the best putters
putt with NO wrist action ? the force comes entirely from the arms and body.  Ben Crenshaw and Loren Roberts are examples of this kind of putter.  Try both methods and see what gives you more consistency and stability.

UP the Percentage for greater success

My suggestion, then, is to strive for an earlier, quicker release to
take advantage of more and more UpForce™.  You’ll find such shots are also higher and come down softer, wonderful added benefits.  And a quick, high release is harder to block.  This way of shooting applies
more to shots from the outside.  Big men who are in close trying to 
jump over people have to give their shots some hangtime (to reduce their power) because they have too much strength for short shots.  My advice to them is to wait to shoot but still shoot on the way up from “some” U/F for the stability.   Once a player understand this approach, then  he or she will know when to release the ball for different shots.  For  most shots, shooting very early in the jumping motion will give you big rewards.  And to control distance, vary the arch rather than yourRelease.  Shooting this way becomes easier and more predictable.