Breaking a Shooting Slump is as easy as ABC

As a Peak Performance Coach, I’ve often been called on to help a basketball player out of a shooting slump.  When the player is already a client and I’ve previously customized a “mental zone” program for him, we can break the slump over the phone in about 5 minutes. 

But many times, the player has been referred to me moments before they call.  We’ve never met but the player needs to break the slump that night.  At those times, I tell the player the ABC’s of slump breaking so that he can experience some success while we arrange a time to get together.

With many players in the NBA shooting poorly in this lockout-shortened, highly condensed season, I’m going to share this information in the hope that the right people will see it and, more importantly, will use it.  This article will cover the physical things that players can do to get out of the slump.  Another article in the near future will cover the mental exercises and tricks that players can use to make more shots and give their teams a better chance to win.  Since so many fans also play the game, I’ll address the rest of the article to “you”, the shooter.  Here goes:

A – Angles

B – Backboard

C – Catch-and-Shoot

For this to make the most sense, I’ll describe them out of order.

Backboard

Use the backboard more.  Use it when it’s appropriate.  Find more ways to make it appropriate.

When you shoot at the rim, a lot of things have to be within limited tolerances for the shot to go in.  For example, the speed of the shot and the height of the arc have to correlate for the ball to go through the hoop.  Too much arc and speed?  The shot sails over the basket.  Too little arc and speed?  Most likely short by a foot or more.  Proper speed with too little arc?  A long hard rebound if the ball clears the rim.  A short hard rebound if it doesn’t. 

Also, if your body has too much momentum in any direction, that momentum is transferred to the ball and often results in a miss.  Square up to shoot, duck down and to your left as a defender runs by, and then quickly square up and let it fly?  You’ll probably see the ball make the same “left-to-right” motion inside the rim that you made to elude the defender.  In mimicking your motion, the ball will also elude becoming a made field goal.

And if you fall backward as you shoot (as opposed to consciously taking a well-practiced “fall away” a la Earl Monroe), the ball often hits inside the back rim on a hard angle and rebounds long on a somewhat similar path.  It’s like watching planes land and take off at the airport.

But when you use the backboard, you can shoot a bit too high or with a bit too much power or at a less-than-ideal angle and still hit the shot.  You can shoot on the move without squaring up perfectly  If a player is slumping, he needs to eliminate the things that might affect his shot until his shooting is back to a level where he can shoot at the rim and have a decent chance of making the shot.

One reason that the backboard is often ideal is that a player who’s moving too fast or is somewhat out of balance can still shoot the ball off an area of the backboard that will bring him success.  And if the shot’s a bit too hard?  That’s when it will hit the inside of the front of the rim and stay above the cylinder (often hitting the backboard again), giving the shot multiple opportunities to become a make.

My personal belief is that shooting off the backboard is something that should be done at every practice.  Maybe the backboard’s only used for a quarter of the shots that you take when you’re working on your game before and after practice.  But being used to shooting off the backboard in practice will make it more natural for you to do it in a game.

Angles

As much as possible, you should position yourself so that you’re not only in position to shoot from a standstill but that you still have a viable shot if you have to dribble a step to your left or to your right (“ULR” for Up, Left, and Right).  Being in shooting range is great but if you need to shoot (shot clock running down, for example) and have to drive right to get free, it does you no good if driving right puts you at an angle where you don’t have a good shot at the rim and can’t use the backboard to bail you out.

This is probably the easiest of the ABC’s because you can figure out if you’re at a good ULR angle long before you ever get the ball.  If you set up and then realize that taking one dribble to your right, for example, puts you in a bad ULR position, in many cases you can change your position by a foot or so, putting yourself at a good ULR angle.  If the play requires you to stand in a certain spot that’s at a bad ULR angle, you may be able to take an extra step towards the pass and put yourself at a good ULR angle as you’re receiving the ball.  If you’re aware of how important angles are to your options, you’ll know what to look for and how to correct it before the ball ever comes your way.

Too many times, a player moves right or left and realizes too late that the shot he’s in the middle of taking isn’t a good one.  He misses because it’s a bad place to shoot from but, in his mind, a miss is a miss and that miss is chalked up to mis-shooting rather than mis-positioning.  Putting yourself at a good ULR angle and having many good shooting options is just smart basketball.

Catch-and-Shoot

Assuming that you’re in a location where you’re comfortable shooting and often make the shot, one of the best ways to make that shot during a slump is to shoot off the catch and not off the dribble.  Why?  Because during a catch-and-shoot, you’ve already made your decision about whether or not you have a good shot before you’ve even received the ball.  There’s less thinking to do and fewer physical steps to take.  You catch the ball, square up, and shoot.  No muss, no fuss.

Dribbling before the shot, however, adds a decision to the process (“Should I shoot from here?” “No”: “How about from here?”).  It gets the conscious mind involved and doing that during a shot isn’t going to end the slump.  They don’t say that a shooter who’s lighting it up is “unconscious” because he’s thinking while he’s shooting.  You want to think as much as necessary and not any more than that.

Also, it’s a little more involved to shoot off the dribble than off the pass.  There can be more momentum in your body and in the ball; there are additional physical steps involved in changing from dribbling to shooting, etc.  Nothing that’s a problem under normal circumstances but when you’re trying to get out of a slump, every little bit helps.

For a “pass first” point guard in a shooting slump, using the Catch-and-Shoot can be vital.  If the point guard has been in “distribution mode”, he’s been looking for someone to set up for a good shot.  To switch from “distribution mode” to “scoring mode” adds some mental and physical steps that it would be better to avoid during slump breaking.  But if the point guard gives up the ball and then shoots when he receives the pass, he’s had time to do all the things listed earlier in the article and to prepare himself to make the shot.

In Conclusion

What’s common to all these techniques is “simplifying”.  Knowing before you have the ball that you can go straight up, right, or left and have a good shot eliminates the need to figure that out after the catch or after you pick up your dribble.  Using the backboard keeps you from having to coordinate so many things so precisely in order to score.  And shooting off the catch eliminates the need for evaluating if and when you’re going to shoot because you’ve already decided. 

You’re not skipping steps; you’re just taking those steps in a way that makes it easier for you.  If it takes an hour to pack for a trip, it’s going to take an hour whether you pack the night before or you pack right before you leave for the airport.  But for most of us, when we spend that hour packing is going to make a lot of difference in determining how much we enjoyed the trip.

These techniques work at all levels of play.  Using them now will make NBA games more fun for the players to play.  Coincidentally, it’ll make those games more fun for the fans to watch, too.

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