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Coach: Developing a Shooting Guard
Posted By Anthony Macri On July 28, 2011 @ 2:45 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
This is the fourth part in a series of articles on offseason player development at the NBA level. Right about now, every year, players contact trainers and skill development coaches to help them take their games to the next level for the coming year. This may be even more prevalent in this “lockout-enhanced” offseason. The majority of players that contact us at the Pro Training Center are about to enter a contract year, and are looking to put themselves in the best position to maximize their value for future negotiations. For this series, I will examine how we might put together an offseason skill development plan for players at the five positions on the floor, utilizing players who will enter the free agent market in 2012 as examples. Let’s get to it…
Developing a Shooting Guard
The first thing to understand when it comes to shooting guard development is the simple idea that there is nothing we do with shooting guards that we don’t do with every other position on the floor. In fact, while teams may designate players by specific positions, we do very little of that. We teach basketball – and while certain things may be emphasized at one position that are not focused on at another, our goal to help their complete game understanding, and not be too position specific.
With that said, there are a number of guard-centric topics that would take priority when we have guys like 2012 restricted free agents Landry Fields or O.J. Mayo in the gym. Our desire that they be a beast would not change, and while you might not see them beasting it regularly as you would players who tend to be close to the rim a lot, their aggressiveness and attitude will shine forth at other points on the floor.
On the defensive end, much of what players do is determined by their team’s coaching staff and the system in which they are operating. We will give advice on good times to look for gambles (if they can deny an initial entry pass to the wing, and the player they are guarding goes backdoor but does not receive the ball, the second time he pops out to the wing for another entry is a prime time to jump the passing lane for a deflection or steal), but our focus defensively is going to be on rebounding and closeouts. If you’ve been reading this series, you’ll note how we emphasize rebounding for all players – guards, wings, and forwards. We want to pride ourselves on our players being aware and active glass-eaters. It is a statistic that is not dependent on anyone passing the ball – our players control how they rebound 100%. So whether it be tracking down loose balls, getting a body on players and seeking the ball, or using their athleticism (remember, be bouncy!), we will push both Mayo and Fields to become better on the glass.
In terms of closeouts, we teach a very adaptable style. Teams use a variety of techniques to close out on defenders. We will always teach that the primary responsibility is to challenge their shooting pocket (not necessarily their shot), and then to take away the middle drive. We would have them close out on a catch, front hand as a stick hand (like a boxer), reaching in to bother or contest the shooter’s flow, raising up only if the player actually goes into a shot. We want them to square up to their defender, subtly influencing toward the sideline, but not opened up to allow a straight line drive toward the baseline side. A favorite phrase is that we want players to “guard their yard,” meaning they should stop any attack a yard on their right side and a yard on their left side. If they can push offensive players to make a more circular attack, it allows help to be present and prevents easy baskets (and fouls).
For Landry Fields, a large part of what we work on would be his handle. Fields tends to be a little loose with it, and our focus would be getting him to understand the benefits of the ball exploding off his fingertips toward the floor. We refer to this method of dribbling as “hammering nails.” The idea is to imagine the gym floor has 500 half popped nails. We want to use the ball like a hammer, slamming it into the floor with each dribble, pounding the ball so that it would proverbially hammer those nails into the wood. Every drill that involves handling the basketball would have that focus, and any scrimmage or live gameplay, Fields (and the other players) would get a pretty constant stream of the demand to “hammer nails.” By dribbling the ball hard, it spends less time in the air, and more time in our hand, where we have more control. In addition, if we encourage players to dribble so hard that they start making mistakes, that is how their handle improves. Their confidence with the ball gets higher, and they become a more dangerous ball-handling machine.
While they are hammering nails, we also talk about a macro-approach to ball-handling. Younger players may be looking for the next amazing move they can pull off in a pick-up game, but our focus is on what is effective (on what works). The best dribble moves a player can have do not involve a wicked Tim Hardaway double tap crossover, or Jay Williams-esque ability to bounce the ball off a body part to keep it alive. Instead, our guys would be taught and drilled about the importance of changing speed, status, and direction. In many ways, OJ Mayo possesses these skills already – but his judgment as to when it he should be using them (skill deployment) can be a little off. For Fields, skill acquisition is what is important.
In terms of speed, we ask all players to have five different & discernible speeds. We’ll ask them to move up and down the floor, changing speeds consistently, and vocalizing that change by shouting “First Gear,” or “Fourth Gear.” By status, we mean the ability to go from an upright, natural position to a low, sliding crouch, giving them more protection over the ball and a better ability to survey lurking defenders and open teammates. Finally, they need to be able to change the angle of penetration, whether that is against full court pressure or in the halfcourt against man or zone defense. The ideas of speed, status, and direction would be taught separately, but then merged as players begin to understand the advantages to that approach.
Obviously, refining (and in some cases remaking) a shooting guard’s ability to shoot is going to be a big part of our summer plans. In fact, most of the summer workouts we do are two parts – the first part dedicated to hard, rim attack and handle work, but the second part dedicated to shooting – and that pattern would hold for every player in the gym, regardless of position.
Fields already possesses a tight, compact form. It is consistent and he does a very good job of keeping it smooth and efficient. Mayo, on the other hand, tends to be very inconsistent with his shot, and his form can be refined considerably, which would result in a considerable increase in his make percentage from the perimeter. In fact, a few small changes and a focus on shot selection would push him over .400 in 3-point shooting percentage, up from the .364 he shot this past season.
When we work on shooting, our focus is on two major areas: the beginning and the end. We want players to approach the initial catch and load the same, and then we give them some room for personal preference in the middle, but we want them to finish the same way as well. For a player like Mayo, the fundamental problem that he has (which, quite frankly, prevents most players from becoming great shooters), is a failure to load his hips prior to receiving the ball. Mayo (like most players, young and old, pro, amateur or recreational), catches the ball, then drops his hips (bending his knees a little), brings the ball down below his waist, and then rises up for the shot. This dip and lift of the ball causes a flinging motion at the end, meaning his missed shots tend to bounce hard off the rim.
In Mayo’s case, the goal would be teaching him that dropping the hips should precede the catch, not the other way around. We want knees bent, hips dropped, ready to go straight up on the catch. On the catch, the hand should stay behind or even below the basketball the entire time – at no point should the ball be dipped. If the ball is dipped, it is because the player did not load their hips enough to begin with. The end of the shot should feature a full follow through with a locked out elbow, and the first two fingers of the shooting hand pointed at the rim. We also encourage our players to end by bouncing in place two or three times after the shot, keeping their follow-through locked. This ensures they commit themselves to the shot, and aren’t in a hurry to move to get an offensive rebound or scramble back defensively.
A second part in our work with Mayo would focus on shot selection. An early rule would involve not taking any shots outside of 17′ when the shot has a chance of being blocked or bothered by a defender. We want him to hunt open shots, and not settle for challenged shots. Constant reinforcement in pick-up game situations and film breakdown would be the key to success here.
The last piece on the shooting topic that would be critical for both Mayo and Fields is the addition of the “freeze fake” to their games. The freeze fake is different from the shot fake – in a freeze fake, the player’s motion raises the ball from the chest to the chin, keeping the hips down and knees bent. The idea here is only to freeze the defender – not necessarily to get them to jump to block the shot – just to keep them off balance. Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Martin are two players who use freeze fakes with regularity in their games – to great success. Every day shooting with Mayo and Fields would include not just catch and shoot opportunities, but also catch, freeze fake, and shoot opportunities. The idea is that the freeze fake stops the defender, and can by the shooter another second to get off a shot that would have been too heavily challenged otherwise.
In the case of both O.J. Mayo and Landry Fields, the goal is to refine their attack and give them new points of focus – small techniques that can have a huge impact on the way they play the game. In the last article in this series, we’ll look at some specific priorities for small forwards, which will include the notion of catch and attack (which would also be a huge part of what we’d do with Mayo and Fields).
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri opens his notebook and offers an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
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