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Redefining a Good Shot

By Joe Crispin, 09/20/17, 10:15AM EDT


Last week I overstated my case for encouraging kids to shoot more jump shots. I argued that in order for kids to grow in confidence and to become the players we want them to become, we need to empower them to not simply shoot, but to miss. In particular, they need to develop a capacity for missing in order to foster an identity as a shooter. 

But I also alluded to the fact that a catch-and-shoot jump shot is almost always a higher percentage shot than shots around the rim. So this week I want to elaborate on that and to help you form a clear definition of what is and is not a good shot attempt. 

In my experience, the historical definition of a good basketball shot has largely centered on distance from the basket. In essence, closer to the basket is better, while further away from the basket is worse. Most coaches (and parents) through the years feel better about shots that are taken closer to the rim. 

On the surface it seems to make sense. It sounds nice and neat and tidy and simple. But the problem is that it's too simple. Too tidy. Too neat. And the game doesn't work that way. Not all shots are created equal. No matter how far they are away from the rim. 

For starters, we all know that there are certain shots in basketball that are worth more points. The 3-point shot is obviously a difference maker. 50% from 2 and 40% from 3 are far from equal. Distance does matter, but not in the way we might think. 

But there is more. There are two primary things I believe we need to consider when we are thinking about shot attempts. 

1) Practice. 

2) Control of the most variables. 

To begin with, we should all agree that a good shot attempt is one that a player has made before. If a player has made a specific shot before, we should feel better about it. Indeed, as a coach, the more I see a player make a specific shot, the better I feel about it. And this is true no matter how crazy it may look like on the surface. 

It is important to point out, however, that when I say practice, I don't just mean that they have shot it in the driveway. That is helpful, but what is more important is the kind of shooting practice that better fits all the information of a game. Game-like practice. Or actual game-practice is really most important. 

Think about all the things going on when a player shoots a simple one-count, no-dribble jump shot. It's not just a shot in isolation. The player has to have a feel for whether or not he can actually get the shot off. Whether he can actually make it. Or should even take it. How much time is left? Who else might be open? What has the flow of play been like? Is the guy in front of me in foul trouble? 

The higher the level, the more information a player has to process on a particular shot. All these items must be practiced in actual experience for me to feel good about. Driveway by-yourself-shooting isn't bad. But it's not enough. And at the very least, the driveway shooting must be informed by the kind of experience I am pointing to above. 

Second, control. It is my belief that the best shot attempts are not just practiced shot attempts, but the shot attempts where the offensive player controls the most variables. 

A catch-and-shoot jump shot is a great and obvious example. The player has shot the shot before and can shoot the shot in the way he has shot it before. The wide open lay-up is even better. It's obvious. He controls all the variables. If he misses, it's on him. 

But think about the contested lay-up. Think about the lay-up with a help defender and an open player cutting down the lane. Imagine all the variables going on when a player goes to the rim. He has to adjust his shot to at least one defender. The defense is controlling too many variables. The defense alters the shot. And no matter how close it may be, it often does not go in. 

The lower the level of play, the more this fact is true. Adjusting your shot to the defense and still finishing the shot is the highest of basketball skills. It takes years. That's why youth players miss countless lay-ups. There is more going on in the action than you think. You may think your son or daughter or player should make that shot. But the simple  fact is: they have probably never shot that particular shot before! No so for the pros. 

Not only that, but at the highest level, the offensive player may be controlling the variables even though he doesn't look like he is. Allow me to give a personal example. 

I used to shoot a one-foot fadeaway out of bounds, usually off a specific ball screen action. I would split the defender, give the allusion that I am going all the way to the basket and then step back and fade away out of bounds off one foot. 

When I would arrive at a new place to play, my coaches, teammates, and fans would think I was utterly crazy for taking such a shot. But the things is, I had practiced this shot time and again on my own and in game-like conditions. And I was setting up the defense for this particular attempt. It may have looked crazy on the surface, but I made that shot at a very high percentage. 

Did it look like a good shot? Never. But I had practiced it more than many players had practiced an open jump shot. And though it didn't look like it, I was controlling the most variables. I was responding to the defense, but I was also setting the defense up for exactly what I wanted. 

So what does that mean for us? To begin with, let's not oversimplify our definition of a good shot. The attempt may be much better than we think. Second, let's encourage the catch-and-shoot jumper. It's a much better shot than we might think.

Third, let's give our kids and players the opportunity to make shots that might not feel good or even be good now, but that they need in the future. The younger they are, the more freedom them need to figure it out. The results may be uncomfortable (like one-foot fadeaways out of bounds), but they will probably be better than we think.