Basketball players that shoot like marksmen think, train and live differently than the average basketball players at their level: pickup, organized and professional.
Still, for all their 99.99th percentile achievements, superstar shooters like Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr, Steph Curry, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, Kyle Korver and Damian Lillard are all still average 20, 30, 40-something year old humans.
In many ways, they’re just like the rest of us ordinary athletes. At one point in their lives, before they committed to those achievements, they were on our level and we were on theirs. Competitive parity.
Then, they took off. Something just clicks in the mind and game of the baller heading to the big leagues. It happens with all kinds of athletes, not just basketball players (shooters, specifically). So what exactly happens in that transformation when he or she goes from average to good, from good to great and from great to remarkable?
What can the rest of us regular pick up players learn and apply to our game? How can we learn to care, not just to improve performance, about a game, a hobby, an unpaid side gig that is pickup basketball?
We don’t have coaches or instructors like high school and college players. We don’t have their plays, their fundamentals, a team to work and grow with that span seasons and seasons. We don’t have the structure of scheduled workouts nor do we have the drills in our back pocket.
Throughout grade school, high school and college, we rely on basketball as our main recess, after-school, and weekend activity. We play because we’re young and it’s fun and because we do want to genuinely get better, but we also play just for the simple fact that our peers and friends do. We play because we get a workout in that’s not as boring or tiresome as typical exercise. Free as birds, we don’t fear broken bones, bad backs and torn ligaments.
After college, our situation starts to flip. We go to the gym less and we blame it on our work and our girlfriend for our busyness. When we watch our favorite players bust their shit on TV or we suffer an injury ourselves at the gym, we use that as an excuse to keep away. Health insurance, gym memberships, nutrition plans – these are too expensive to justify when making rational choices between your adult life must-haves and nice-to-haves.
Forget training and continued improvement, for most young adults, hooping slips from an obsession to an occasion. It turns into something you have to force yourself to get up and do. The same friends you grew up playing with have to beg and plead you to make it out. Some of us cling on to the past, while others go with the age flow.
“I’m too old.”
The most popular cliche heard in the basketball sphere, ever.
That’s the difference, number 1, between good and great players.
#1) Maturing players who stay in the gym feel they’re growing. Declining players feel they’re retiring.
All physical ability starts with the mental and the difference in these mindsets obviously dictates performance levels and overall potential.
Players that end up in the big leagues didn’t do it because they were masters, but rather because, just like the rest of us, they accepted weren’t. And unlike the rest of us, they decided it was a starting point to build off of.
The difference in our choices can be found in our (ir)rationality. Shooters who must put up thousands of shots every year in their free time need to create adequate free time from their busy schedules. They find ways to do it. It’s easier for high school and collegiate players to develop this routine, but it’s just as possible for the rest of us to do so.
I know, I know, we live in America, where having this kind much flexibility in a work week sounds like fantasy.
But seriously, if we cut out most of the fantasy, and stuck to the reality of basketball — the games we watch on TV, the stories we digest on the web, and the sport we can train and learn from — we’d find that time and use it in ways that would help us develop as competitors, professionals of whatever ordinary careers we in the 99% follow, and most importantly, as people.
I don’t suggest you refrain from the mainstream noise altogether, but suggest that you remain mindful of where you spend your time, weigh its costs and benefits against other basketball options and make that decision, consciously.
Go beyond the numbers. Add some irrational reasons for wanting to commit to something. Reasons like fun, peace of mind, competition, education are all intrinsic byproducts of playing basketball that you can’t count money and time against appropriately.[/container]
Difference #2 between the mindset of ballers and regular players.
They value their passions, things that have keen ability to give you more highs and lows than all other things in life, enough to keep the bullseye off of money alone. Money is huge, everyone needs checks to support their families and to live well, but a laser focus on it detracts you from the things that’ll ultimately mean more to you in the long run.
2) A basketball player with permanent access to a good ball and hoop never goes broke in life.
That sounds like a hyperbole, but I believe that when you play and use basketball as a point of reference, as a framework, to help you see the bill-paying priorities, such as career plans and family plans — you will outperform your peers and associates who don’t have this framework to fall back on.
Basketball is a game that helps you gain clarity once you get past all its’ kinks and nuances. Hint: TV highlights, fantasy lineups, and social media are all great starting points but there are also books, videos and time spent in the gym are all additional ways to keep learning about basketball, the subject as a whole.
Compartmentalizing basketball in the mind, building the foundation detail by detail, story by story, game by game, helps design a framework in your mind about how an entire realm looks and works. Over time, with more impressions, your mind sees this abstract framework clearly and makes patterns and connections that span across and beyond basketball.
I think many basketball players value this benefit just as much as any material perks because the education is unlike any you receive in classroom settings.
3) You can reject Derrick Rose’s SAT scores, but you can’t deny his basketball intelligence.
Same goes for all the knuckleheads we like to pick on. It’s not inherently wrong to take jabs at and make fun of any one, but when that’s the only thing you’re doing, you’re forgetting how the player made it to the top of the realm of his or her life’s work. No athlete is an NBA-trust fund baby, not even freakishly gifted athletes like Lebron James or Javale McGee or Russell Westbrook.
Every NBA athlete has to put in the work to be at the top of their game, just like we have to put in the work (at school or at the office) to stand out in the realms we work in. Any pre-given freakish talent is simply a starting baseline. Everything above and beyond correlates directly with, and is caused by, intended human effort.
4) Good players put great players’ gifts on a pedestal and attribute their fortune to luck. In effect, this allows for excuses for one’s own shortcomings.
Great players, on the other hand, their mindset is to focus purely on where they were yesterday and what they can do today. The comparisons we make in our heads can move you forward or set you back. Make them thoughtfully.
If you notice a pattern in these above tips about the difference in mindset of average, good and great players and see the similarities to success in career and business posts on LinkedIN, Facebook and Twitter, you realize that the laws and kinks apply to many art forms. And that’s the 5th tip.
5) An investment in learning any art form pays dividends through the areas of our life because art forms are central to our humanity. It helps you develop the type of personality and skill sets that are transferrable for the rest of our lives, no matter what conditions surround us. Value art just as much as you do your day job, and eventually your work of art becomes a day job and your day job turns into a work of art.
We think in binaries often choosing the 1s over the 0s, but binary code works in full effect when you combine both. If we can find the balance between our basketball, our health, our jobs and our families, we can develop our mind and bodies to economize all 4 important areas more efficiently. It’s like that thing about the rising tide lifting all the boats.
Noting these differences helps explain how I plan to learn, create and share this guide on accurate basketball shooting.
I believe tips, hacks and shortcuts only have short-term value and I include those here as well, but the core ethos of this guide is based on continual long-term improvement mindset, it’s based on comparing yourself only to the work you put in yesterday, and is based on seeing value spill over to areas of your life you might not have previously considered. Finally, it’s based on an appreciation of great marksmen from the past, those in the present and those putting in work for the future, each of whom collectively offer us an endless amount of wisdom, if we choose to dig deeper.
While we may never replicate or reach their professional sharp shooting achievements, we’re not that different from them.
So what are these differences and similarities between maturing basketball players and advanced professional athletes?
What can we learn from them and apply in our own game, realistically?
What can we learn about how they learn?
How can we think like a pro and what impact does this have on our minds?
How can we continue improving without putting in the effort that the dedicated players do, if the game of basketball is purely just a hobby?
How can we use the web to improve our learning, increase our self-reliance and help others develop their game too?
Learn how to properly shoot a basketball with accuracy and graceful form
This guide is for any maturing student athlete who simply loves to play: in school with peers, outside at the park, in leagues and tournaments with a team or in the driveway by yourself. And if you love to play because you love to shoot, then this guide here is for you.
To help you gradually improve your jumper over time.
To help you maintain a correct form and consistent accuracy against greater competition.
To allow good shooting to enabling you in playing a better all-around game on both ends.
This guide is based on 2 principles: continuous improvement and productive fun.
Continuous improvement is the art of making small changes to get big results. Productive fun means you do something not because you have to, but because you love to.
Shooting Guide Contents
- The importance of shot location & variety of shot types
- Step-by-step shooting form evaluation
- How to calculate accuracy and measure progress
- How to shoot in big games as well, or better, as you shoot in easy games
- How good shooting benefits you and the team on both ends of the floor
- How a continuous improvement and productive fun mindset in basketball spills over to work and life
- Tools and training accessories that accelerate improvement
- Inspiration & examples from the best shooters in the world
- The Paradox of perfect jump shooting
- Free-spirited learning on the web, in books and in everyday, ordinary things to see basketball differently
The Types of Basketball Shots & Picking your Spots
Location matters more than distance.
There are 5 spots on the court and an array of shot types players have to pick and choose from while training or during games. The more identical training and in-game conditions appear to players, the better a player performs when it matters most.
Point blank range, short range, mid range, long range and deep range.
Layups, post shots, bank shots, jump shots, free throws, long 2s and 3 pointers.
Each spot on the floor carries risk and reward equally, this guide does not assume close up shots – due to their high percentage accuracy – are better than long range shots. Ultimately, the quality of the shot is determined by your level of focus, rhythm, stamina and mechanics at any given point in the game.
How comfortably and confidently you get a shot off is more important than where you shoot from. As you aspire to become a marksman, remember that you will miss over and over, that will never change. You can’t let that dissuade you. Be prepared to shoot every shot the same and forget both the misses and makes quickly.
The only way to build comfort and increase confidence is to never stop shooting. In practice after a few hundred jump shots. In games you struggle vs a tough defender or struggle, period.
It’s simple. In individual shoot around sessions, in practice, in exhibition games, in regulation games and in playoff games, you’re presented with different challenges and pressures. However, one thing that doesn’t change is the physics of a jump shot. Whether it’s a layup, free throw or a long jumper, you need to spot up, eye the rim, get in your regular form, release the shot and follow through full-circle.
You need to be ready in any one of these scenarios to shoot with confidence. The goal of this guide is fundamental in nature. It focuses mostly on individual shootarounds. This is because I’m a firm believer of thoughts and habits. The more you align your focus and your mechanics, the better you perform. The best way to improve your muscle memory and your mechanics is by dominating individual shoot-arounds.
When trying any system or training to improve your shooting ability, always pick a spot or area on the court you want to master and the type of shot(s).
By choosing, you only improve your shot selection AND you have a baseline to measure your progress against. Once you master a shot spot/type, move to the next area and repeat. Read this post on basketball shooting drills. Your ball is your partner, go get a good one. I suggest the rock I’ve played with for the last 8 or 9 years – the Wilson Evolution Men’s Indoor Game Basketball (29.5).
Now let’s talk about the make up of a marksman. What makes a marksman different from the average and garbage shooters?
My favorite shooting drill is simple. To shoot jump shots from as close up as possible. You know, the dotted line around the rim. I’m not talking about layups. I’m talking about jump shots, with mighty arc and strong flicks of the wrist. This is a much tougher shot than it looks. If you really want to improve your close, mid, long range jump shooting, start from within. Shoot as many of those as possible. It develops form and perfects muscle memory. Once you get the form, flick and follow through right, go further out and adjust the power in your jump and in your release accordingly.
Characteristics of assassin shooters and scorers
Not all shooters are scorers and not all scorers are shooters but the one thing they both share an incredible ability to put the ball in the basket. Michael Jordan was an average shooter early on, but he realized how important it was to have an accurate stroke so he devoted thousands of hours to improvement. And well, you know the rest of that story.
Steph Curry, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr. They all play different positions and play different roles but their shooting ability is world-class. It’s a specialty. Each specialist carries a common set of character traits rooted in excellence.
Sharp shooters pursue excellence. They shoot harder and smarter than everybody else. They don’t settle for good, they chase greatness with work ethic. It doesn’t matter what level you play at or how better others are than you, the point is you need to simply focus on being better than yourself. Keep raising your own bar so you don’t settle for being just an average shooter.
Sharp shooters shoot with the same form. Over decades, millions (yes, millions. Do the math.) of shot attempts sharpen their muscle memory with each repetition. As you seek to improve, don’t just track makes/misses. Observe your mechanics start to finish and be mindful of your state of mind. Did you follow through? Did you give enough arc? Did you remember to focus on the center of the rim/hoop as you release your shot? Did you adjust your strength and trajectory for body position and momentum? What were you thinking about as you shot? Were you scared? Did you get distracted? What could you do better on the next attempt?
Gradual improvements lie in these details, which most players are not willing to focus on, perpetually.
Sharp shooters understand their sweet spots and they practice patience. The ability to shoot out lights doesn’t carry them away into jacking up 30 shots per game. (And yes, Steph Curry – the inevitable Ray Allen record-breaker – is a worthy exception). Coaches and teammates give them the green light to shoot at will, but the sharp shooter understands dumb shots from smart shots. He lulls defenders to sleep, picks his spots, gets the rock and launches without hesitation.
Sharp shooters are gym whores. They get in the gym earlier and leave later than most players because shooting is a numbers game. What separates extraordinary shooters from the ordinary is the number of shots they put up. Throughout their life, this number can add up to over a million shots. Record-breaking shooters, with their robust work ethic, shoot more because they know how to increase their overall capacity of attempts.
The younger you start, the higher your capacity. The longer the hours in the gym, the higher the capacity.
Most players frankly just don’t think it’s worth their time to chase shot perfection. This is your advantage. Be unlike most players.
Sharp shooters are students of the game. They’re always learning and thinking of old and new ways to shoot more creatively and efficiently. Kobe and Lebron go to Hakeem after winning titles in the offseason. DRose locked himself in a Cali gym during the summer of Lebron and won MVP. After losing in the 2006 Finals, Dirk renewed his focus on scoring and capitalized on a second opportunity. The new Dirk shot 49% FG, 46% from 3 point FGs and 94% from the FT line.
Sharp shooters and clutch scorers are never out of the game. The best shooters will and do have *off *nights on which they struggle. Badly. Still, somehow they’re able to make shots in the clutch time after time again because they ‘forget’ all the misses. The next opportunity they get, they take it with confidence and redeem themselves.
Sharp shooters become naturals in performing when it matters most. Elite shooters and scorers rely heavily on their preparation in crunch time.
Sharp shooters shoot the ball, fundamentally. Even if their shot technique and form looks different from that of other fundamental shooters. Even with they take the shots of great difficulty. Mediocre players get too fancy and too cute with their shots. They’re the ones who get overly happy when they make and dramatically frustrated when they miss. Don’t be that guy or girl.
If you want to be a sharp shooter, find inspiration from the elite and go to work. By inspiration, I mean learn from their on-court and off-the-court habits, their demeanor and from their strengths and weaknesses. Study them deeper than your opponent does and go to work. Test everything. Challenge their ideas and find better answers.
By now, you understand the importance of habits and thoughts. Let’s go over how you can become a better shooter by developing effective habits and destroying the silent bad ones.
The Habits of Highly Effective Shooters
One of the highest selling books in the business world is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It sold over 40 million copies and was listed in ‘The 25 Most Influential Business/Management books’ by Time Magazine for its’ simple, practical advice which not only applies in business, but life in general. It applies to sports too – especially basketball – because every player and person is a creature of habit. If you really care to explore how habits influence our life, read the Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business.
Here are the 7 Habits from Covey’s book, as applied to basketball shooting.
1) Be proactive.
As a player, you need to be proactive in your approach to shooting. Only you know what your goals and values are – both in basketball and in life – so think about the importance of effective jump shooting. Are you serious enough to take responsibility for your actions and consequences? Will become a better jump shooter take your game to the levels you wish to attain?
Before you jump into any program, ask these tough questions and be brutally honest with yourself. Ask friends, family and/or coaches to give advice. If you’re truly passionate about long-term domination, you’ll develop a natural and proactive approach to the way you train. Being constantly proactive trains the mind and kills laziness and procrastination.
2) Begin with end in mind.
Again, think about your goals. If you’re in high school, how do you see yourself as a player in college and beyond? Do you see yourself playing professionally, casually or in-between? What about when you grow older and have family?
If you don’t know what the future holds, ask yourself: if you invest in the game, will you be happy with the results, even if life doesn’t go the way you planned?
I knew that I would never play college or NBA ball, but I’ve always felt that basketball habits would benefit me both on and off the court. Years of playing, learning and growing from the game of basketball confirms this to be true. The investment pays dividends continuously at basketball, at work and at home for me.
For me and for professional shooters, there is no end in mind. I strive to improve my shooting throughout the different stages of life. This is how I can stay forever young. If I can shoot the ball the rest of my life, I know I will have lived meaningfully.
3) Put first things first.
What is your greatest weakness, as a jump shooter or as a player? How do you turn it into a strength? Where is the greatest opportunity for improvement?
One of Michael Jordan’s greatest weaknesses out of college was a weak jump shot. He prioritized it, went to work and well, the rest is history. He finished with career averages of 50% FG, a respectable 33% 3-point shooting and 85% free throw shooting. Lebron James continues to do the same today as shooting has always been a weakness for him.
Get honest feedback from a coach or trainer. Instead of focusing on 5 different things, find the most critical and get in the gym.
4) Think win-win.
Don’t just think about yourself and your game. Think about your team and your coach’s system. How can you improve your game so that both you and your team(s) benefit?
This is an extremely important question because in basketball, shooting is often associated with selfishness. Scoring is exciting so it’s easy for a good shooter to believe all he needs to do is jack up shots. In 21 or 32, it’s fine. In real games, it’s not. You’ll hurt yourself and your team because the goal isn’t to take more shots, it’s to take and make better shots.
In games and in practice, think about how each shot helps/hurts your team’s chances at winning. A smart shooter who takes less frequent, but great shots helps his team more than a great shooter who takes too many questionable shots.
5). Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
In other words, understand the game first before you decide the type of shooter and player you wish to become. Every shootaround, practice, game is different when you consider all the environmental factors such as team chemistry, game tempo, the competition, etc.
The best players ‘let the game come to them’ and strike when they see the opportunity. So observe everything you possibly can about your own game and the game of basketball in general.
Shooters should understand what type of shots the coach encourages and discourages. Smart shooters understand the role of teammates and gel in accordingly. Smart shooters understand their point guard’s ability or inability to get him/her the ball in sweet spots. Smart shooters understand what they need to do on-ball and off-the-ball to keep the offense flowing. Shooters should understand the defensive spacing. When you regularly observe these nuances, you become an instinctive, reactive player who uses the game ‘settings’ to get off quality shots.
Most players egoistically impose their will on teammates and try to get them to center their game around him/her. This is how even the purest of scorers – like Kobe and Melo – cause team friction and chemistry issues.
As you become better at observing your court surroundings, you routinely start understanding your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. The more you understand, the more you appreciate, the better you can complement each other. The most successful teams aren’t the ones that have the best shooters, but rather the ones that have a combination of good passers, rebounders, defenders, scorers, glue guys like Shane Battier, etc.
When you synergize, you increase your own potential and your overall team’s potential. You make others better and your competition nervous.
The 2013 Bulls have been incredibly successful, relative to their pre-season expectations, because they’ve been able to synergize and make the most of each other’s strengths. The 2013 Lakers on the other hand, due to injuries and a lack of synergy, underachieved.
Synergy builds character and trust in each player and it is incredibly contagious. International players overall lack the athleticism that American athletes possess, but they focus more on synergy and therefore, end up seeing tremendous success. When the USA Men’s national team plays European/South American international teams in Olympics, we often struggle even though we have the best athletes in the world. We win most of the time, but don’t expect 30-40 point blowouts against the elite teams.
Synergy is one of the most transferable skills you can adopt, in basketball, in school and in life.
7). Sharpen the saw.
As you continue to progress and get better, it’s important you not only maintain your newly acquired skills but that you continue to raise the bar and push your own limits. You can bet your competitors are so never be satisfied. Do whatever you can to improve. Don’t chase perfection, as that’ll only lead to frustration. Instead pursue excellence by trying to be better today than you were yesterday.
For shooters, continue to ramp up your shooting training. Keep working to improve your accuracy and shot count. But don’t stop there. As you age, complement your shooting training with physical and mental training. Check out Lumosity and work on brain training exercises to sharpen your focus. Strengthen your arms, shoulders, core and legs. Work on your off-hand shooting, dribbling, pump faking and ball handling. All these small pieces add up and give you incredible competitive advantage.
Bad habits hurt your game and they hurt your team. Fancy passes, over-dribbling, lazy defense, failure to box out. These are common habits that destroy player and team morale. For shooters, bad habits include overshooting, taking bad shots, changing form constantly, practicing shots you can’t simulate in real games.
Some habit change are effortless, while others require more dedication, but the results of successful habit change pay off big time.
8) Know your Friend and Enemy.
The internet is both your friend and enemy. It finds information that solves problems to help you live better. It’s a source of inspirational and interesting stories. Same with the TV especially during the winter months. Computers, TVs, tablets, phones and all other screens and machines are tools that have proven effective in turning humans into lifeless tools. They drain your brain, make you lazier, kill your time and keep you from achieving your important goals in work, in sports and in life. Be suspicious of these silent killers.
You have 2 brains. There’s the human brain which inspires excellence and then there’s the lizard brain – a self-defense mechanism – which inspires fear. Your human and lizard brains are also your friend and enemy because at any point, you can choose to destroy one with the other. Pick wisely.
The lizard brain has the right intention – to shield you from harm – but it has no right to impose its’ will on you. Fear is real but it can be channeled and controlled so it doesn’t prevent you from achieving your goals.
**Bonus Tip:** Find your voice, listen and act.
The more you commit to basketball, the louder your inner voice becomes. It’s the voice that hints you to push harder, to play smarter, to keep your composure and to ball fearlessly. Every player has this voice guiding them but most choose not to listen. They’re too busy blaming others, too busy talking trash to opponents, too busy showing off. Your game will only go so far if you focus on the trivial.
Instead, find your voice, listen and act. You will go farther in basketball.
Why your best efforts at Habit change fail and how you can overcome
The brain fascinates me with its’ ability to learn new habits. It’s crazy. Bad habits – like become a Facebook addict – form so quietly and effortlessly. On the other hand, good habits – such as training regularly – are much harder to develop even with strong willpower.
That’s a good thing. If it’s hard to do, you’re on the right track. You’re not the only player who faces habit challenges. Everyone does. The players who take the challenges head on and push through these self-imposed limits by the lizard brain excel more than others. Get yourself an Evolution basketball and go to work. You’ll eventually overcome the anxiety.
Your lizard brain is pre-conditioned to steer you away from fear, pain and discomfort. It makes you procrastinate, it discourages you, it distracts you from doing real work with cat pictures, Facebook updates and reality TV. The lizard brain doesn’t value these things more than your human brain, it just seems them as easier and safer.
It’s clear to see how the lizard brain can form bad habits and hurt a scorer’s game. It can force you to chuck long contested jumpers instead of driving for easier buckets. It can prevent you from taking physical contact when going up for layups. It can paralyze your decision making in crunch-time. It makes you take shortcuts, it makes you lazy, it makes excuses and it ultimately makes you a weaker player than you actually are.
When you try to form new, meaningful habits, the lizard brain fires up excuses to stop you at all cost. Here’s a list of the most common excuses. Fortunately, each one has a solution and it’s only a matter of willpower and persistence to put the lizard brain back to sleep.
- NBA Shooting Fundamentals
- NBA Coaches Playbook (Available in the NBA Hall of Fame or at Amazon