Learning to Love

1) The love for the game starts and develops at home, whether with a Nerf hoop in the bedroom, an adjustable Little Tykes hoop in the basement or the Huffy portable system in the driveway. Familiarize yourself or your kid with a ball, a hoop and a habit of making easy baskets one after another after another.

2) As you get older, play at school, play in the park and play in whatever gyms you can play friends, strangers or shoot around by yourself.

3) Play all the half-court and full-court games basketball offers: Play H-O-R-S-E, play TIPS, have shooting contests, play 21, play 32, play 1 on 1, 2 on 2, all the way up to 5 on 5. Make up games to challenge yourself.

4) 3 and a half basketballs can fit inside a regulation rim; get confident you just need to get one in. You can consistently do it from anywhere in the half-court with practice.

5) Try (a healthy diet of) trick shots to develop keener sense of basketball aerodynamics: the math, the science and the art form of how a ball goes from your hands and comes out of a basket. Who says you can only learn physics, geometry and english in a classroom?

6) Get off of Facebook. Save your (mind’s) battery. 

7) Some Chicago guy named Lupe Fiasco rapped “build your own station, become your own DJs.” Make a list on your phone’s Spotify, a list that locks you in a zone and keeps you hoopin’ for hours. 

8) Match different workouts to different playlists to turn one-time sessions into regular routines.

Raw Material: Balls, Baskets and Accessories

9) Get your favorite basketball and keep on replacing it when you lose it or when it grows bumps with wear and tear. It could be the Evolution basketball, any Spalding ball or the FIBA Molten Official ball. Test them out and stick with the one that makes you want to keep dribbling, shooting and playing in the gym.

10) Learn the nuances, aka the tiny details that make different basketballs, different. The material, the panels, the air pressure and the precise shape of each rock determine how the ball grips, how it dribbles, how it flies, how it swishes, and overall how it works. 

11) Shoot at different baskets on different court settings: peach baskets (just kidding, these only exist at the BBall Hall of Fame), milk crates (not kidding, these exist in many inner city alleys), ghetto baskets (ditto, except these are real hoops that are missing nets, or have crooked rims), park baskets (some are double-rimmed, some use steel chains as nets, etc.), and the expensive regulation basket hoop systems. Learn the nuances of different targets and be ready to adjust.

12) If you can’t afford youth league registrations, gym memberships or a hoop system at home, make one. Grab a milk crate, hollow out the bottom with a knife, and nail it against a utility pole or any conceivable backboard. It’s not perfect, but if you can shoot a ball into it, it’s a working target. And when you do get to shoot at a regular hoop, you’ll appreciate it that much more.

13) Get the ShotLoc – it’s like brass knucks, but made of foam, and it’s designed to keep the ball from hitting and sticking to your palm. Use it to work on your form (aka FORM shooting) from close-range (2-5 feet around the rim) and your free throws.

14) Try the Shooting Arm Bandit — plastic attachments you strap on your arms that help you memorize your shooting from by limiting your arm’s shooting range of motion — and practice stationary and jump shots from all over the half-court.

15) Try the Shot Tracker — wearable technology that tracks your makes and misses, and monitors progress through a mobile app – and get an accurate measurement and daily, real-time snapshots of your true accuracy. Future releases of the product include shot tracking from any location on the court so you can pinpoint your weak spots and sweet spots. Unlike the above 2 products, this one’s an investment, only spend the $150 if you’re planning for long-term returns.

16) Study the backboard, forget the hoop for a second. How does the ball react as it hits the backboard from different angles, different backspins, using opposite hands, etc. from close-up and from far?

17) For the same reason, practice in alternate settings: lights off vs lights on. Cold weather busted outdoor rims and cozy indoor perfectly regular rims. Short courts, long courts. Used and abused basketballs vs brand-new out of box basketballs. You know the settings and circumstances you most normally play in, but stay prepared to adapt.

18) Play in shoes you love. 

Mechanics

19) Practice with your opposite hand for obvious reasons. Shoot with only it for an extended workout and then switch to your dominant hand; feel the difference in confidence.

20) Forget everything you know about your shot when it comes to free throws: Not literally, just remember it’s a different state of mind. It’s the only uncontested and stationary shot in the game: you need to operate like a well-positioned, well-lubricated machine with every shot.

21) Free throws are not “free” “throws”. They’re “earned” “shots” that earn you points. Kids need to work on this the most. Because it’s a mental shot, bigger, older and professional ballers, like Shaq and DeAndre Jordan, struggle to retroactively fix it.

22) For all other shot types, think like a human with mind like water: You can put a ball inside the basket in an infinite number of ways. There’s no such thing as 1 fixed perfect form, because every shot you take is dynamic and different.

23) Determine what combination of fingers – index, middle, ring and pinky – you feel most comfortable with flicking the ball and stick to that to maintain consistent trajectory and backspin. Use the Splytter by Tim Grover’s Attack Athletics if you haven’t found your combo yet. 

Point-Blank Range

24) No matter your skill level, start your shooting drills at point-blank range (3-5 feet around the rim) and work on your FORM Shooting, step by step.

25) Do the Mikan individual layup drills to learn layups with both hands. 

26) Repeating point 22, a picture-perfect textbook form is a real thing, however, it’s not the only way to a great jump shot. Every player has different mechanics, even if certain aspects look the same. Find your form, one that’s natural, and keep improving it according to the fundamentals. The ‘fun’ (of shooting your own way) comes before ‘da mentals’ (of shooting the right way).

27) FORM shots from point-blank range are the most efficient practice shots: you don’t need to exert power, you don’t need to chase rebounds and you can gain and maintain rhythm because you can shoot as many as 40-50 shots per minute.

28) As you get better at making those shots effortlessly, make them without touching rim, just the net. This is a sign of good arc and proper aiming. This increases challenge to an otherwise boringly easy shot, by decreasing your margin of error. If you hit rim, don’t count it.

29) Focus on squaring shoulders, hips and toes to the rim from left-to-right, whatever angle you’re shooting from.

30) As you extend your range, increase power from the legs, but maintain the proper mechanics of the upper body.

Mid-Range

31) Practice landing into triple-threat position: plant both feet on the catch, get body low and face up. Your landing determines the effectiveness of your next move.

32) Practice shooting from triple-threat: shoot on the catch, one-dribble pull-up jumpers and one-dribble layups. Incorporate pass and dribble-drive fakes before the shots.

33) On the jump shots or bank shots, focus on going straight up and landing straight down; avoid fading left or right as much as possible. This is the important aspect of an accurate mid-range shot.

34) Aiming with the elbow is better than aiming with the hands and forearms. Just ask Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting coach, Holger Geschwinder.

Long-Range

35) This is a scoring tip in pickup basketball. Regulation game field-goals are 2 and 3 points. Pickup games go by 1s and 2s. 2-pointers in regulation are proportional to 1-pointers in pickup, but 3-pointers in pickup are proportional to 1.5. So, you get a bonus half-point in pickup, equivalent to a whole point in regulation.

Distance-wise, the 3-point line in pickup is shorter than NBA. A long NBA jump shot is a 3-point shot in pickup.

So in pickup basketball, the most desirable shot isn’t a layup, it’s an uncontested 2, because it’s shorter than an NBA 3 and you get the equivalent of 4 points for it.

Math pays, kids.

14. The further the shot from the rim, the more your shot mechanics tend to change to adjust for power. If you notice your form changing, you’re exceeding your range. Your max range is the point where you’re exerting max power from your arms, chest and most of all, legs, in your shot. Get stronger or stay within your reach.

15. Kyle Korver has a 20-step checkpoint system that’s worth a read to really understand every detail a true marksman dives into. He’s not only a shooter, he’s a discoverer of details and inner workings that only a pursuer of mastery can envision.

  • Any student of the game can call themselves a pursuer of mastery, not just NBA players.

16. As with close-up and mid-range shots, start low in triple-threat position, remain squared, jump straight up and focus on the basket, not just the flight of the ball. Aim for swishing net without hitting rim to get just a little more precision on your release.

17. No matter how your shot form/technique starts, follow it through with a full-extension of the arm. It’s funny how your arms can still impact a shot even after the ball leaving it.

From Good to Great

 

Training

People who train regularly by habit do so through the habit of starting, the habit of stepping into the gym. The work will start, whether you feel like it or not, once you’re in. For basketball training, invest in new basketballs just to break them in. Like the official Spalding or Molten balls. It takes weeks and months to break these in. Make that your challenge, not the training itself, until you step on the court.

Breathing

Yoga and meditation isn’t just for hippies and Hindus. Learn to calm your ass down to keep the mind and body in-sync, especially in pressure situations.

Maintain deep and rhythmic breaths to keep composure and remain present during games to properly dribble, pass and shoot the ball with precision. Presence triggers muscle memory developed in practice.

Exert energy in harder and variable intervals in practice to assimilate it to real-game pressure. This brings balance and increased mental stamina during late-game, high-pressure situations.

Recent sports science reveals brain exercise directly relates to physical exercise. To increase mental capacity for physical performance improvement, incorporate brain training in aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Warm up with hard dribbling and ball-handling exercises to stretch and loosen up your fingers, forearms, elbows, shoulders and legs; each of which serves a specific function in your shot.

Loosen up your feet from the calves down; no matter how high you jump up on your release, your ankles and feet make the most important role in your shots flying too long, too short or just perfect from longer distances.

Mindset

At 120 years old, basketball is a young game still developing with every new generation of players, new international stages and modern business and economic conditions.

Avoid dichotomies: the inexplicable act of creating one or the other only choices. There is no king. Like hex codes, there are hundreds and thousands of shades of truth.

  • Michael Jordan doesn’t believe there’s a GOAT. We the people – the media producers and consumers of it – do. The Best is subjective. Great minds give equal weight to all possibilities of truth until they find theirs.

Introverted (unspoken) players can maintain just as much confidence as outspoken, possibly more through silence and calm. Your demeanor can inspire greater performance, not only in yourself, but in your teammates. Leadership is louder through action by example.

Don’t confuse humility with (false) modesty. Derrick Rose can be nice and mean in fun and tough situations, as long as he remains true to himself and his team.

As people age, they lose competitive edge because they believe they age in body, mind and spirit. Keep these in check and your basketball performance will indirectly remain or improve over time. Treasure what others take for granted. People who don’t dive too deep into email and social media when everyone else does future-proof their athletic and professional skill.

Find a player, coach or mentor who will frequently train with you and give you their truth freely and keep the dialogue open.

Every good reason you feel compelled to apply to quit hoopin’ as you age is a classic American dream excuse.

Every embarrassing or depressing game is a new opportunity to step up and grow as a better competitor, person and professional of any kind. No pressure – no opportunity to practice courage.

  • Stop telling Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook to stop shooting.

Every golden rule is arbitrary, like the 10,000 hours one. Every mantra, every record set in stone has the potential to be smashed over time. Klay Thompson 37 points in a quarter; Kyle Korver’s 3-point making streak; Lebron James’s efficient shooting streak in 2013-14.

Have short-term goals you can mentally empathize with but remember: most people are terrible at predictions and clairvoyance. “Most people overestimate what they’ll achieve in 1 year and underestimate what they achieve in 10.” – Bill Gates.

  • When coaches repeatedly preach, “one day, one game at a time”, there’s method behind the madness. Try to empathize with the meaning. It’s so easy to think far out, think too big, each and every day, that you forget that the only time you can do something about anything is now.

On to the next one. Next shot, next game, next day. Education never stops with the one, two or three things you’re forever interested in. 

Take misses lightly – “on to the next one” – as positive reinforcement in tough shooting stretches.

Take pleasure in each make – big shots or no big deal shots – as positive reinforcement.

Basketball, or any childhood pastime, is not an act of passing time. It all means something. Only you know what and why; figure that out and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, even if you don’t make the 99.99 percentile of professional ball.

One of the hardest things to do in life, basketball and career: don’t compare yourself to others. Every factor that goes into who you are, where you’re at, what you’re capable of doing carries different weight and depth. Take any 2 red Washington apples and you’ll still spot differences.

  • Let’s assume there is a perfect system for apples-to-apples comparisons: what then? What if you truly find a way to compare Lebron and Jordan and conclude one greater than the other?

Don’t let the fact that you don’t play NBA, NCAA, FIBA, AAU, High School or any other organized acronym excuse you from doing your best. In the basketball world population, only the 99% of people achieve success and only 99.99999% achieve mastery. There’s plenty of room for ordinary players to achieve the 80-99th percentiles, something we do all the time in school and in the real world anyway.

Challenge pundits’, shot doctors’ and any internet people’s opinions (like me) as you do your own. Anyone can talk a good game. Only you can develop yours. True contribution to any art form comes from trying to do right, but understanding and accepting being wrong and getting corrected all the time. 

  • To test this, take any definitive advice you’ve ever heard or believed in, and flip the script. You might not always get a better alternative, but you can, at least, gain an appreciation of the many other sides of the Rubiks’ cube.

Never stop paying attention and imagining new possibilities.

Learn from the best, but learn best from your own methods and techniques. Breakthroughs rarely feel like eureka, so share what you know best without fear of blowback.

If you don’t see progress over time, admit where your approach wrong, go back to the basics and try again until something sticks.

To solve a Rubik’s cube, become colorblind. The secret to basketball is that it’s not about basketball. Chapter 3 of Simmons’ Book of Basketball.

Michael Jordan can be considered one of the purest shooter, simply because he never stopped shooting when people told him to, but later learned to reel it in on his own. The persistence to keep chucking away even against the will of your teammates’ might not be an admirable quality, but one we can all appreciate, because of the limitless courage it requires.

Maintain deliberate focus and practice on in-game shots you’re normally responsible for taking so your practice produces transferrable skill. Every other shot is fool’s gold.

Appreciate Joakim Noah’s sidewinder; Shawn Marion’s bootybump shot; LaMarcus Aldridge’s midrange game; Kyle Korver’s misogis; Steph Curry’s off-the-dribble pullup; Steve Kerr’s catch and shoot; Kobe Bryant’s relentlessness chucking of difficult perimeter shots; Lebron James’ unprecedented shotmaking efficiency; Jamal Crawford’s 4-pointer mastery; Danny Green’s transition pull ups; Pau Gasol’s soft touch inside the entire 3-point line and every other ball player’s consistency of shot making that stretches over the course of 15+ years, each of which consists of criticism from coaches, competitors and bench (couch) warmers.

Stay mindful of the direct and indirect impact that results from weight lifting and other strength / flexibility / endurance training exercise regimen. Adjust your shot proportionately. Basketball players lift weights to become better basketball players, not weight lifters.

Pay attention in physics, geometry and psychology class.

Learn to mentally process decimals and percentages in your head. Added benefit of repetitions isn’t just an improvement in shot accuracy, but an improvement in understanding basic math which translates to all life applications.

Don’t expect to master every shot; master one, spot the patterns and body language, and adjust accordingly on the fly.