Time to Retire the Granny Free Throw

Time to Retire the “Granny” Free Throw

(originally published at the late, great Hickory-High.com in August, 2013)

It’s seems like it’s free throw week here at Hickory-High.com.  Ian Levy and I discussed them as part of his inaugural podcast that he released this past Monday.  On Wednesday, Ian posted an article I’d written (with substantial input from him) which presented ideas on the controversial and suddenly hot topic of eliminating free throws from the game.  In it, reasons for NOT eliminating them were presented, as well as an idea that would help to speed up the process without hurting shooters’ chances for making the shot.

Before the “eliminate free throw” controversy got hot, however, Ian and I had discussed Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ open letter to the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond  posted on ESPN.com last Friday.  In it, Ethan implored Drummond, a very poor free throw shooter, to adopt the “granny” method for shooting free throws.  This underhand method was used with great success by NBA sharpshooter Rick Barry during his illustrious career.  Barry is often interviewed about it and suggests it as an alternative for many chronically-bad free throw shooters.

Drummond is already on record, in response to Strauss’ letter, stating that he won’t shoot free throws underhand.  I believe that’s a wise decision for him.  For reasons that I’ll list below, I’m suggesting that the idea of shooting the “granny” be retired for good, at least as a suggested solution to chronically-bad free throw shooting.

Here’s an example of NBA All-Stars Rick Barry and Jamaal Wilkes shooting free throws in a video hosted by the great Boston Celtics Head Coach Red Auerbach. One big thing here is what both Barry and Auerbach say at the end: use what works for you.  Another big thing is that Barry demonstrates how to shoot the underhand free throw.  All this actually helps me make my case.

A major reason that people push the “granny” is that Rick Barry was so successful with it. This is actually a great qualitative reason not to use it.  The fact that Barry, one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, could hit a particular type of shot is not news.  We’d be hard pressed to think of a particular type of shot that he couldn’t hit and hit at a high percentage.  As we’ll see below, the “granny” is a much more difficult shot to execute than a typical free throw.  It was an easy shot for Rick Barry because, well, he’s Rick Barry.  He was named as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.  100 years from now, he’ll still be one of the greatest shooters to have ever played the game.  His shooting ‘touch’ was incredible.  So there’s no “if Rick Barry could hit it, anyone can hit it” argument to be made.

Why is the “granny” a harder shot to hit than a traditional free throw? Mainly because there are 4 pairs of opposing body parts that must stay in sync with each other throughout the entire shot or the shot will be off.  They are the left and right legs, the left and right arms, the left and right wrists, and the left and right hands.  Not only does the entire body have to flow – as it also does in a successful one-handed set shot free throw – but the left and right sides have to work in parallel as well.

As you can see in the video, Barry’s body is centered on the basket with his feet an equal distance to the right and left of the “dot” that is put in the middle of the free throw line with a nail. This puts his head, and the ball, directly in line with the basket at 90 degrees from the backboard.  He bends his knees and then begins moving upward.  His arms, fully extended with his hands below his waist, begin to move upward.  As they approach full extension above his head at about 45 degrees from his torso, he cocks his wrists and, as he hits full extension, releases the ball from both hands with a lot of backspin.

Barry did this to perfection, time and time again. But what would have happened if either of his legs pushed up harder or faster than the other?  His body would have gone off to the opposite side of the faster/stronger leg and that momentum would have been imparted to the ball.  What would have happened if one of his arms moved faster than the other?  Not only would the ball most likely have headed in the opposite direction from the faster arm, this would have begun to impart some side spin on the ball, as well.

Let’s say Barry’s legs and arms worked in parallel (and, for him, they did). What if one of his wrists cocked back more than the other?  What if one of them moved forward faster than the other?  Or imparted more of a backspin than the other?  What if one of his hands released the ball a fraction of a second earlier than the other?  You guessed it: the ball would have moved off toward the opposite side with some side spin imparted.

As we look at the shot in three-dimensions, we can notice that the term “it’s not rocket science” does not apply. To some degree, it is.  And, like launching a probe to land on the moon, exactly where any incorrect angles are encountered has a big impact on the success of the launch and the ability to eventually land the probe on the moon.  Be perfect until it’s almost to the moon and then be off by a few degrees and it would miss the moon by a few hundred miles – possibly a small enough amount to save the mission with a last-second fuel burn (or, in our free throw example, a fortunate bounce).  Be off by those same few degrees as the launch begins and the probe would miss the moon by thousands of miles.  Be on track for the entire mission, as Barry often was, and the probe lands safely on target and the basketball nestles softly in the net.

Today’s player isn’t used to making the type of motion that Barry demonstrated so easily, so there’s no existing muscle memory that can be tapped into. Almost every shot that today’s player takes is based on a dominant hand and a support hand.  If you’ve ever seen a jump shooter leave his support hand on the ball too long, you’ve seen exactly the kind of side spin I’m talking about.  Do this to the probe and it goes spinning out of control (see ‘Space: 1999’ on IMDB for a similar example.  It was the premise for the entire series.)

Today’s typical set shot free throw requires leg, arm, hand and wrist coordination, too. But, except for the two legs, it’s just one arm, one wrist, one hand.  There’s no coordination between opposing sides.  Assuming the player gets his support hand off the ball prior to the release, it’s just a matter of getting his strong side appendages to work in sync.

Many of today’s players are substantially stronger and more coordinated when they shoot with their dominant hand than with their other hand. The idea that, while trying to coordinate both sides, one side might move faster or stronger – or weaker or slower – is easily in the realm of probability.  It’s the rule, not the exception to the rule.  And even if a player learns how to coordinate both sides shooting the “granny” while healthy, what happens when he plays with an injury to his non-jump shooting arm or his non-dominant leg?  The injury itself could easily cause enough damage to the coordination and fluidity to throw off the shot significantly.  The impact of a non-dominant-side injury to a one-handed set shot?  Potentially none at all.

As Ian and I discussed in the podcast, fixing terrible free throw shooting is a lot easier than most people realize. As we also discussed, many of the techniques I’ve used successfully with my clients have involved changing their pre-shot routines or shot itself to make it more like what THEY do elsewhere on the floor and less like forcing them into the “perfect L” that’s described in many books on free throw shooting.  Remember what Auerbach and Barry said: “use what works for you”.  Unless someone has grown up with the “granny” shot, trying to change them to it because they’re missing when they shoot a set shot adds a level of complexity that isn’t really needed, won’t easily be adapted to, and is nothing like what they shoot the other 80% of the time on the floor.

In the video, Red Auerbach pointed out that “forty years ago”, everyone shot free throws by using the “granny”. But his video was probably shot in the mid-1970s.  So that means they shot them that way during the 1930s.  While the free throw hasn’t evolved at the same pace as the field goal – everyone would be shooting one-handed jump shots from the free throw line if it had – it’s evolved well beyond what was comfortable for players to shoot eighty years ago.  And, let’s face it, if everyone had shot free throws in the 1930s as well as Barry shot them in the 1970s, I wouldn’t be writing this article.  Everyone would have been shooting the “granny” for decades.

To date, the only person other than Barry whom I’ve seen shoot the “granny” was Ollie in ‘Hoosiers’.  It was an inspirational moment and one not likely to ever be duplicated – at least with that style of shot – by anyone playing the game today or in the future.  It’s time to give “granny” a rest.

It’s Time for a Kinder, Gentler Hack-a-Shaq

Although there are many arguments on both sides of the “should Hack-a-Shaq be allowed in the NBA?” question, currently it is the law of the land. Regardless of which side of that argument you’re on, all of us (okay, most of us) don’t want to see a player get injured because someone tried to put him on the free throw line.  Shaquille O’Neal, the inspiration for the term “Hack-a-Shaq”, had his thumb broken when he was intentionally fouled while playing for the Orlando Magic.  So the idea that a bad free throw shooter can get injured and miss games being intentionally fouled is based on history.

A simple rule change in one situation can help to avoid injury to a player being targeted because of being FT%-challenged (how’s that for PC?). It could actually be implemented immediately.  And if the NBA doesn’t do it now, they’ll end up doing it after a player gets seriously injured and his insurance company comes calling to the Association asking why they should pay for the injured player’s salary when the injury was caused by a bad rule and could easily have been prevented with some common sense.  Maybe the insurance company will try to recover money by suing the player who caused the injury.  Maybe they’ll sue his team.  If you don’t think that could happen at some point, you need to read more about insurance companies.

On Christmas Day, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova was instructed to intentionally foul Golden State’s Andre Iguodala as the Cavs tried to make a last minute run to come from behind at the end of regulation.  The way Dellavedova fouled Iguodala, jumping on his back as soon as LeBron James released his free throw, was legal according to the current rules.  As you can see in the video, it was also very dangerous.

AI is listed at 6’6” and 207 pounds while Dellavedova is listed at 6’4” and 198 pounds.  We’re lucky that Iguodala isn’t being treated for a separated shoulder or a back injury.  AI had almost 200 pounds of shorter player land on his back and shoulder while he was jumping up and both gravity and Dellavedova were pulling him down.  If, instead, the Cavs tried to do that to Andrew Bogut, who has a history of injuries and was recently dealing with back spasms, we’d be very lucky if this very legal tactic didn’t cause a significant injury to the Warriors’ center.

And it’s not all fun and games for the guy doing the fouling. Dellavedova could have fallen off AI (or been thrown off) and gotten hurt after landing on the hardwood floor after more than a 6-foot drop.  The potential for injury to both players on this type of play is significant.

This isn’t the only time this type of mugging has occurred in 2015. As Jeff Van Gundy said in the video, J.J. Redick did it earlier this season.  And in last year’s playoffs, Chris Paul tried to mount Dwight Howard after a missed Clipper free throw in what I thought was the launch of “NBA After Dark”.

Intentionally fouling off a free throw is currently dangerous. Since big men tend to be the favorite targets for Hack-a-Shaq, you’ve got a player close to the backboard looking to rebound from a standstill, he’s going to be jumping, and he’s looking at the rim, not the person who intends to foul him.  Unlike the Hack-a-Shaq tactics of fouling away from the ball with the clock running (where the defender tends to just wrap his arms around the designated Shaq) or when the bad free throw shooter is trying to score a field goal (where he knows he’s a target, can prepare for it, and is protected by flagrant foul rules), intentionally fouling after a missed free throw puts the player being fouled at a greater risk for injury.

What can be done? Since Hack-a-Shaq is a strategy or a tactic (depending on your definitions) and coaches are responsible for coming up with strategies and tactics, let’s have the coach who wants to have the player fouled tell the referee that he intends to have designated fouler so-and-so foul designated Hack-a-Shaqee so-and-so if the free throw is missed.  Then, the following happens:

  1. The shooter hits the free throw and play resumes as normal. If the coach wants to employ Hack-a-Shaq, the much safer “wrap your arms around him” tactic can be used once the ball has been inbounded.
  2. The shooter misses the free throw and the defensive team comes down with the rebound. At that point, the ref blows the whistle and calls a foul on the designated fouler, who should have been lined up right next to the designated Hack-a-Shaqee prior to the free throw being released. The designated fouler would not have actually fouled the designated Hack-a-Shaqee but, since the coach had already told the ref who would be doing the fouling, the foul would be assessed appropriately.
  3. The shooter misses the free throw and the offensive team retains possession. At that point, the game continues and no Hack-a-Shaq foul is called.

We see coaches tell refs their strategies and tactics in other sports and other situations. Many times, a coach will tell a ref that if thus-and-such happens, he plans to call time out.  This eliminates the potential for the clock to wind down because the ref doesn’t hear the coach screaming for a timeout at the end of a play.

Making this minor rule change will help to protect the NBA’s players from injury while they keep trying to become better free throw shooters. And since this type of dangerous fouling only happens when the clock is stopped and a team is lining up for a free throw, it’s entirely in the ref’s control.  That means that the NBA can make the rule change now.

Let’s make this a kinder, gentler Hack-a-Shaq, before someone gets seriously hurt.

Cavs’ Dellevedova Needs to Keep Up With the (Caffeine) Joneses

Cavalier’s guard Matthew Dellevedova, who’s made a name for himself during this year’s NBA playoffs based on his hustle and intangibles, needs to go back to the future before Tuesday night’s NBA Finals game 6 in Cleveland.  What he’s got to go back to is his ritual of drinking coffee before a game.  Although he stopped taking it for a good reason, in fixing one problem (dehydration) by giving up coffee (a diuretic), a couple of additional problems have been introduced, problems that Delle and the Cavs can’t afford to deal with if they want to win game 6 and go back to Oakland for a game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.

Delle had to be taken to the hospital after game 3.  He had severe cramps and was so dehydrated that he needed to be put on an IV.  As I, along with many others, learned before game 4, Delle has a ritual of drinking coffee before the game but didn’t drink it before game 4 or 5 to avoid getting dehydrated again (diuretics cause the body to eliminate water).  His combined shooting in those two games was 5-for-23 (22%) from the floor and 3-for-14 (21%) from behind the 3-point line.

There are both mental and physical problems with eliminating coffee as a pre-game ritual.  From the mental standpoint, if an athlete has a pre-performance ritual and believes that it’s important, it is.  Look at the example of a baseball player who believes he has a pair of lucky socks that help him hit well (this is not farfetched if you’ve watched baseball over the years).  One day, the player forgets to bring those socks.  He’s at the plate against a pitcher who throws a 95 mile per hour fastball and, instead of being totally focused on the pitch, a part of his brain is focusing on the fact that he’s not wearing the lucky socks.  How do you think he’s going to do at the plate?

So even if Delle’s ritual was just about lucky socks, it’d be important for him to either continue with the ritual or work with someone like me to change his belief that the socks were lucky and an important part of his success.  As a general rule, never take something away without first replacing its benefit.  In the case of a general ritual, that belief that the ritual contributes to the athlete’s success must be replaced with some other belief that will allow the athlete to succeed at the high level.

However, Delle’s ritual isn’t about socks, it’s about caffeine.  Caffeine is known it improve mental focus.  It’s known for elevating blood sugar, which increases energy.  And Delle is getting big minutes in the NBA playoffs because he’s an effort player.  He needs all the energy he can muster to play the minutes that he’s playing and to try to limit Steph Curry’s offense.  The latter isn’t something that has been done with great success on a consistent basis this season but Delle has done a nice job on him at times during the series.

In game 5, Delle looked a half-step slow to me.  He didn’t play at the speed he often plays at; walked at times when he would normal run full out; and he kept an additional step back on defense so he wouldn’t get beaten to the basket.  Give Curry an extra foot of space to get off his shot and you can expect him to go for the 37 points (57%) he went for in leading GSW to the game 5 win.

If Delle needs to drink additional water before and during the game, so be it.  But changing a ritual mid-Finals is not a good idea and changing it by eliminating a brain/body stimulant is worse.  The NBA is a level of sports where tenths, or sometimes hundredths, of a second is the difference between a play being successful and being a failure.  Delle needs to be at his hustling best in game 6 if the Cavs are going to win.  Going back to his pre-game coffee ritual will help him do just that.

My @WojYahooNBA Moment Shows NBA Free Throw Shooting Can Be Fixed

Before Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) became a nationally-known NBA writer with an uncanny ability to announce NBA Draft picks before the teams doing the picking announce them, he covered the New York Knicks as the beat writer for the Bergen Record.  Woj covered them during the ’98-’99 lockout season, the same season that I worked with Knicks’ backup center Chris Dudley on his free throw (FT) shooting.  Chris was notorious for his poor FT shooting and would be interviewed any time he made two in a row in a game.  So it’s no surprise that Chris made national news that season when, after we put in an adjustment the night I saw him miss two against the Bulls on national television, he had a made-FT streak that spanned four games, easily the best of his career.

At that time, “social media” meant having a drink with a reporter, so not many people saw Woj’s article.  I’m posting it below because, with some of the horrible free throw shooting seen in the NBA over the past few seasons, it’s time to get it fixed.

In addition to being able to tell that it was the first time I was ever interviewed (yikes!), you can see what is actually possible as far as fixing bad free throw shooting.  There’s no reason that anyone in the NBA has to shoot less than 70% from the free throw line.  But I can guarantee that if people try to fix it with the same methods that have failed for the past four decades, it’s not going to get any better.  This article, as well as my FT quotes page, shows that I know what I’m talking about.

Thanks to Woj for writing it and thanks to Chris Dudley for being a great client and for the great thing he said to then-mega agent David Falk about me that’s at the end of the article.

Here’s that “Vintage Woj” article from the Bergen Record (no longer on their site, so I can’t just link to it):

EWING FILL-IN HAS PROVEN HE’S NO DUD

June 5, 1999 Section: SPORTS Edition: All Editions Page: S1 The Record ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI

Chris Dudley was a success story, a fourth-round pick out of the Ivy League, turned over time into a millionaire center. Long ago, this truth was lost in the eyes of fools. They believed the lousy free-throw shooting made him a failure. As soon as he walked to the line for two shots, the anticipation of air balls and bruised backboards had everyone gearing for a good laugh. He was a “SportsCenter” staple, as clich’ed as the stock car crash and the snoozing fan in the stands.

Amazingly, Dudley never let people see his frustration. He just absorbed the humiliation and hustled back on defense, refusing to react to the taunts on his misses and mock cheers on his makes. Still, this sorry saga had to make him the most tortured soul on the floor.

Everyone’s favorite punching bag is expected to be in the starting lineup for the Knicks tonight, replacing Patrick Ewing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. He’s a $28 million insurance policy on a Hall of Fame center, an investment paying remarkable dividends in the playoffs. Slowly, there’s a growing appreciation for him, an understanding Dudley doesn’t deserve to be showered with a stooge’s shame.

All along, he never has fit people’s picture of the stereotypical NBA player. He was the third generation of his family to graduate Yale, the grandson of Guilford Dudley, an ambassador to Denmark in the Nixon and Ford administrations. For a man of privilege, Dudley, 33, has stayed a champion of the underdog.

He has committed several hundred thousand dollars to guarantee a college education for a class of 76 fourth-graders in Portland, Ore. As long as the kids get the grades, Dudley funds the free ride. Using his own affliction with the disease as a source of inspiration, he runs a summer basketball camp for children with diabetes.

Despite his struggles with something as silly as shooting free throws, Dudley never let himself become the charity case. Just maybe, his good faith will soon be rewarded.

“I think a lot of comedy writers are going to be getting some work now, because people are going to have to find something else to laugh about it,” Art Rondeau said Friday, just after leaving the practice court at Purchase College with Dudley. Rondeau is a 43-year-old computer consultant out of San Diego who, until last summer when he connected with Dudley, had been searching for a lost cause free-throw shooter to validate the theories bouncing around his brain.

He had worked with a few college players over the years, turning a 59 percent shooter into the Western Athletic Conference free throw champion in 1999. Over time, Dudley has witnessed an endless parade of gurus promising to remedy his 46 percent career free-throw shooting – prescribing everything from underhand tosses to the occult.

One day, Rondeau chased him down at a La Jolla, Calif., health club, preached his philosophies of proper balance and release, and Dudley was so intrigued with the ideas, he was willing to work with this perfect stranger.

“He’s been good for me,” Dudley said. As always, he’s much more comfortable working on his free throw troubles than discussing them. After Dudley missed five of eight to start the season, Rondeau could see on television that Dudley was reverting to his old problems. He called him, shared his thoughts, and soon started the best run of Dudley’s NBA career.

Almost immediately, Dudley connected on nine consecutive free throws. It was a snail’s streak, strung together in mid-March across several games, but it was uncharted territory for Dudley.

“And then he fell on his hip against the Lakers, hurt his hip, and then had a 2-for-12 run,” Rondeau said. “Take that early streak, and the one when he was hurt out of the equation, he’s shooting almost 80 percent for the season.”

Run that explanation by Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and listen to him laugh. His experience with searching for saviors usually has resulted in the finding of frauds. But, hey, Van Gundy is a Yale dropout, so he’s happy to let Dudley listen to Rondeau’s advice. If Dudley’s comfortable with a computer consultant, it’s all right with Van Gundy.

While understanding Dudley’s shooting percentage has improved little from a season ago – from 44 to 47 percent – Van Gundy agrees his center’s form and frame of mind has. “His shot definitely looks better,” he said. “You haven’t seen streaks of air balls like you used to see. When he does miss, it’s softer now.”

Dudley never has made it to the conference finals as a pro, and wouldn’t it be sweet justice for him to be the starting center in the NBA Finals? Every free throw he takes the rest of these playoffs figures to be the closest watched, most scrutinized of his life. For the first time, maybe Dudley isn’t so alone on the line anymore.

After Game 3 of the Atlanta series, Dudley and Rondeau were standing in the hallway outside the Knicks dressing room. Dudley had the best playoff game of his life, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, prompting super agent David Falk to call out to the hero of the day: “Hey, Chris, what’s happened to you?”

So, Dudley smiled and nodded over to Art Rondeau, saying: “It’s him.” As usual, Dudley was trying to be generous. Just maybe, the computer consultant is right that people will have to get a laugh at someone else’s expense now. Finally, they can rub the silliness out of their eyes and see the truth they were missing all along: Chris Dudley is nobody’s stooge.

Knicks Fans Need Hardboiled Attitude at MSG

The NY Knicks lost a tough game against the Utah Jazz on Friday night. It was a disappointing loss that dropped the team to 2-8 and extended their losing streak to 7 games. Although some media “pundits” are shouting down Head Coach Derek Fisher’s efforts to find some rays of light in the darkness that so much losing tends to create, Fisher is absolutely correct to be taking the approach he’s taking. I wrote about the Knicks needing to embrace this attitude during the playoffs a few seasons ago and I believe that they need to continue to embrace this attitude now. I’ll explain briefly why that is and then tell you how Knicks fans that will be at their 1 pm game against the Denver Nuggets at MSG today can actually help them win what would, under other conditions, be considered an easily winnable game.

Friday night, the Knicks came back a couple of times when they were far behind. Sure, fans would like to see them lead from the opening tip until the final buzzer but they’re not at that point in their “triangle” evolution right now (is that “triangulation”?). So coming back at all, never mind multiple times, is a very big deal. Only a game or two before, people were upset because the team seemed to be throwing in the towel when they got behind. So making it a game against the Jazz, and actually tying the score with under 3 seconds left, is definite progress.

On top of that, remember that they were without Amar’e Stoudemire by design and then without starter Iman Shumpert seconds into the game by accident. They could have mailed it in at that point. Instead they hung in; Melo played lights out; and Pablo Prigioni, a point guard who is “pass first” almost to a fault, scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and hit two very big 3s and a huge “keep hustling until the play is over” layup along the way.

Right now, while the Knicks are learning a new system under a new coach, they are like babies who are learning to walk. How many of you have kids? How many of you WERE kids? When babies are learning to walk, they bump around a lot and when they finally stand up, they wobble like Weebles who WILL fall down. Yet we praise them, we encourage them, and then one day they’re motoring around on their own two feet. We don’t yell at them for the early mistakes. If we did, and if our parents did that to us, we’d have a society of people who slither because they never learned to walk (your lawyer joke goes here…).

Now, how can the fans at MSG help the team today? Don’t wait for the Knicks to do something that makes you cheer. Instead, cheer them early and you’ll soon find that they give you something to cheer about. Think of the team like an egg, MSG like the pan, and the fans like the water. If you put a raw egg into a pan of cold water, nothing happens. But if the water boils, the egg starts to cook. So, too, will the Knicks if you bring the Garden to a rolling boil early on.

Why do you pour cold water on an egg after you remove it from the boiling water? Because once it starts to cook, it’ll keep on cooking on its own. The cold water stops that. So, too, will booing if things aren’t going as well as you’d like.

I’ve kept track of the Knicks since working with Chris Dudley and Allan Houston and have seen many examples of how the Garden crowd can help them turn things around. Unfortunately, the crowd normally waits for something to cheer about. But when that “something” comes, the fans make a very real difference. During the ’00-’01 season (if memory serves), there was a game at the Garden where the Knicks were just stinking up the joint. Play was sloppy and the team was way behind. The Knicks threw up a garbage shot and the other team grabbed the rebound and started the fast break. But the guard dribbled the ball off his leg and it started going out of bounds. Allan tripped trying to get to the ball and slid about 10 feet but managed to grab it and while staying inbounds. While sitting on the floor, Allan saw Larry Johnson all by himself under the Knicks’ basket and threw a bounce pass (one that bounced a few times, actually) to LJ. The crowd was already cheering Allan’s “seat of his pants” save and then went wild as LJ stuffed the ball home. The Knicks started to play like a team inspired, the crowd stayed with them, and the Knicks ultimately pulled out the win.

This whole “cheering” first idea gets into “vibrational energy”. Trust me, Phil Jackson knows about this. So do Kevin Love’s Uncle Mike and his cousins (the Beach Boys). They released their Good Vibrations album in 1967. Almost 50 years later, Knicks fans need to release their own “good vibrations” today at the Garden. We don’t need any Knicks players “hanging ten”, we just need them to play harmoniously, keep their energy high, and play their best basketball. Knicks fans have more to do with this than they may currently imagine.

Teams don’t turn things around easily when they’re not only learning new things but dealing with adversity. They need an assist. If you’ve got a ticket to today’s game, you have the right to sit back and wait for the Knicks to entertain you. But if you want to go home with that “we just won a game” feeling, you’ll cheer early and often and help hardboil the Knicks into victors.

For Knicks, Orange is the New Blech

An announcement made by the NBA toward the end of the 2014 Summer League most likely means that the New York Knicks will go into Wednesday night’s 2014-15 regular season opener against the Chicago Bulls having already lost at least six regular season games. That announcement, reported by ESPN NY’s Ian Begley, stated that the Knicks “will wear their orange alternate jerseys again…” this season. The announcement was made by Christopher Arena, the NBA Vice President of Identity, Outfitting and Equipment.

These are the same orange jerseys that the Knicks wore to an underwhelming 0-6 record last season. Including last Christmas’ orange uniform, the Knicks were 0-7 when dressed not as Dr. Julius but as Orange Julius. The alternate orange jerseys were thought to be “cursed” by many who watched the Knicks’ failed attempts to win at least one game decked out in orange.

Why am I writing something like this so early in the season, particularly at a time when fans look forward to a new system under a new head coach and a new President? Because I’m hoping to keep the damage limited to 0-6. According to an article written by Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale last season, alternate uniforms can be worn no less than six times and no more than eighteen times. And according to a Tweet from Ian in answer to my question the other day, the NBA hasn’t announced how many times the Knicks will wear the alternate uniforms. By writing about the possible 0-6 hole that orange uni losses could put the Knicks into, I’m trying to prevent up to an additional 0-12 from being “added” to their record.

According to an article by Ben Golliver in Sports Illustrated, the Knicks’ announcement of Phil Jackson’s hiring, the first year President is “in charge of all basketball decisions.” But as you’ll see below, the alternate orange uniforms impact the ability of the team to play the game. So, in this case, the decision to wear the alternate orange uniforms is a basketball decision, albeit one made by the league and not by Jackson. In a season where, despite installing a Triangle offense that’s known to be difficult to learn, the expectation is to make the NBA Playoffs, knowing you could lose six games because of your wardrobe could be unsettling. Knowing you could lose eighteen games because of your wardrobe could make the playoffs seem like an unattainable goal.

If this orange uniform rant seems familiar to you, it’s because I’ve written about the topic before. Those times, however, it was because of the Knicks Marketing department’s attempts at an “Orange Out” by giving orange t-shirts to fans at home playoff games, a decision that, if successful, could have significantly harmed the Knicks’ shooting percentages. Not only does Jackson need to get the league to agree to keep the number of times the alternate jerseys are worn at the minimum six, he also has to get his own Marketing department to stop with the orange giveaways.

There are two main reasons that the alternate orange jerseys should never have been reauthorized for this season: they interfere with players during the game and many people think they’re cursed. Here’s why those reasons are so important:

Orange uniforms interfere with execution. Uniform color can have a detrimental effect on a player’s ability to play the game. For example, there are studies which show that in some sports, referees call more fouls against teams wearing black uniforms than they do against teams wearing other colors. Not the case here but something that the Brooklyn Nets should have considered before going with an all-black road uniform.

The reason that an “Orange Out”, where fans wear orange t-shirts given to them by the team at the game, is bad is that Knicks’ orange is very close to the color of the rim. Accurately determining the distance to the basket is vital to the shooter making his shot. If he either has trouble determining distance because the rim blends into the orange t-shirt background or the extra time it takes to determine the distance messes up his timing, it will result in a miss. An orange rim in front of orange t-shirts is not a smart thing for a team to do to itself.

As far as the impact of an orange uniform on the Knicks’ floor performance, remember too that the ball is an orange-ish brown and the lanes at Madison Square Garden are dark orange, too. Just a momentary delay in determining distance or speed because the ball is blending in with the lane or the other players is enough to cause a turnover on offense or a momentary lapse on defense.

Other examples of colors impacting performance can be found in professional tennis and Major League Baseball. For decades, pro tennis players were only allowed to wear all white clothing and they played with a white tennis ball. Imagine how difficult it could be to pick up a 100 mph serve of a white tennis ball when it blends into the server’s all-white tennis outfit. Pro tennis went to the fluorescent green ball decades ago so that players could more readily see the ball and determine its speed and distance.

As far as MLB is concerned, when Red Sox right fielder Tony Conigliaro made a miraculous comeback after being hit in the face by a fastball during the 1967 season (the injury that prompted MLB to add ear flaps to the batting helmet), he found that he couldn’t pick up the ball when it was in front of a group of center field bleacher seats. To fix the problem so Conigliaro could hit better, the Red Sox blocked off the seats and covered them with a black tarp to make the ball stand out more. They called this blocked off section “Conig’s Corner”.

People think these particular uniforms are cursed. Are they? Who knows? But if the players believe the uniforms are cursed, they might as well be cursed. Because wearing the uniforms will be a distraction and negatively impact their performance. I previously wrote about some negative “team beliefs” from when I worked with Allan Houston during the 1999-00 season and how changing those negative beliefs to positive beliefs improved his performance.

In addition, the Knicks have hired a mindfulness trainer. Mindfulness will help them focus and stay in the present moment when they could be easily distracted. I was recently interviewed for an article about the benefits of the Knicks taking the training and my opinion is that it will be beneficial to the Knicks. But mindfulness is somewhat wasted if the distractions that you’re tuning out are distractions that you’re consciously inflicting on yourself. It’s like putting on gloves so you don’t hurt your knuckles when you hit yourself in the head over and over. The better thing to do is to stop hitting yourself. Or, in this case, never wear these particular orange uniforms again. Because even those players who don’t believe that the orange uniforms are cursed will end up thinking about it when the reporters ask them if they’re thinking about the curse when they wear those oh-fer alternates.

While it seems inevitable that the Knicks will be stuck in the orange alternate uniforms for at least six games this season, they should never have had to wear them again after last year’s horrible results. That was a poor decision by the NBA. But if the Knicks are supposed to wear these orange monstrosities more than six times, Phil Jackson needs to flex his muscles and get the extra games changed back to their regular uniforms. If he wants to do something esthetically pleasing, he get convince Knicks Marketing to focus on the “blue” portion of the orange and blue team colors and let the Rangers wear the orange. When the orange-colored unis cover well-padded hockey-playing Rangers, they can face off against the Killer Tomatoes and probably pick up Minute Maid as a sponsor. The Knicks, on the other hand, will be able to concentrate of learning their new system and making the playoffs again, something best accomplished by limiting self-inflicted wounds.

Breaking Down Knicks’ Breakdowns

It’s been a very strange season for the New York Knicks. Despite last year’s 54-win season, one that saw the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time since the 2000 NBA playoffs, the Knicks became a weak team in a very weak Eastern Conference. Although “guarantees” that this year’s team would win the NBA Championship or, at least, make it to that final round, seemed a bit overstated early on, no one, except ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and the SCHOENE projections, would have guessed that the Knicks would not even make this season’s playoffs. SCHOENE projected 37.5 wins this year and the Knicks can only hit 37 if they win their last two games. Outraged as many were at the lowball figure that SCHOENE projected, 37.5 wins now seems like SCHOENE was an optimist.

Games are lost for many reasons and certainly injuries played a part in some of them. But many of the losses were due to mistakes. Mistakes can be corrected, if you know why the mistake happened. Knowing “why” leads to proper solutions. There are three major types of mistakes and I’ll explain a bit about them here. That’ll help come up with the correct solutions so the Knicks don’t lose next season the same ways they did this season.

The three main types of mistakes are “mental”, “physical”, and “hybrid”. “Hybrid” is my term and, as you’ll see, is actually the cause of most mistakes.

Mental Mistakes

A mental mistake is made because of simple mental oversight. These oversights include things like a lack of focus and being unaware of the current status of the game. Knicks fans saw this happen a few times this season: JR Smith and Andrea Bargnani each launched shots at the end of games where the situation called for the ball to be held. Fortunately, Bargnani’s mistake only forced another overtime, one where the Knicks prevailed. But in a more perfect world, Bargs would have held the ball and the Knicks would have won the game earlier.

We also saw this type of mental oversight when Carmelo Anthony brought the ball up slowly at the end of the Knicks 1-point loss to the Wizards in mid-December. Unaware that there were only a few seconds left, Melo was forced to heave a desperation shot as the clock ran out. There was plenty of time to get a good shot. Melo’s error was compounded by the fact that the Knicks had a timeout and would have been well-advised to take it to set up the proper play.

Two more examples of mental mistakes: losing to tonight’s opponent because you’re focused on the team you’re playing tomorrow night. And, of course, there’s calling timeout when you have no timeouts left (I’m looking at you, Chris Webber…).

Focusing on the opponent at hand and knowing the current game situation eliminates these types of errors. For more on this, see my article on the Psychology of Focus. It’s got some juicy tidbits from last year’s Knicks flameout in the playoffs that you may find interesting.

Physical Mistakes

A pure physical mistake is one where an athlete does something unsuccessful purely because of physical forces. This happens a lot less than you would think, as you’ll see later in this article.

J.R. Smith, for example, has not learned that the momentum in his body transfers to the ball. So he often shoots after spinning around and the ball spins the same way out of the rim. Or he’ll fall away from the basket and then the ball falls short. Compare that to when J.R. catches, goes up straight, and shoots and you’ll see exactly why his spinning/falling away shots are physical errors.

Another physical mistake would be missing a free throw because your shooting arm had been hit during the foul and you didn’t realize that the muscle had tightened up. Ideally, free throw shooters would take a practice free throw without the ball (like a baseball player in the on deck circle) so that he both stretches out and is able to determine if anything hurts. If it does hurt, he can adjust before the first real free throw. Most times, however, the shooter realizes the problem as he’s missing the first free throw and then adjusts so that he can hit the second free throw.

“Hybrid” Mistakes

These are, by far, the most prevalent type of mistakes. They are physical mistakes that are caused for mental reasons. As with all or most teams, the majority of Knicks mistakes are hybrids.

Look at their typically dismal showings in 3rd quarters. This is something that’s been happening for years. It’s actually something that Allan Houston and I successfully addressed when I worked with him during the ’99-’00 season. Since I don’t have firsthand experience with this year’s team, let me tell you what happened back then. The Knicks were terrible in the second game of back-to-backs (also a hybrid error) and Latrell Sprewell’s first game back to Golden State was going to be the second game of a back-to-back (B2B). I knew that Latrell would be so pumped up that he might break the backboard with a layup. Allan and I discussed the fact that Allan was going to have to carry the scoring burden that night. The tabloids all said that the Knicks believed that they would lose the second game of a B2B, so we did a process to ensure that Allan believed he would play well in the second games as well.

I traveled to Oakland on game day, back in pre-historic times when you couldn’t read the newspaper on your phone. When I got there, I got to watch Allan work his magic. He was the high scorer for the game and shot well in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters. However, he was 0-for-5 in the 3rd. After the game, I asked him what had happened in the 3rd and he mentioned that the Knicks weren’t playing well in 3rd quarters. As it turned out, the tabloids all had that bit of news on their back pages but I hadn’t seen it because of traveling. Allan and I did the belief change process again, this time regarding his ability to shoot in 3rd quarters. The game after we did the work, Allan went 3-for-5 to start the second half.

Another type of hybrid mistake is when a player does something uncharacteristic, like dribbling a ball off his leg, at crunch time. Sometimes, it’s a simple mental mistake. But other times, you’ll read something after the fact like “we knew we couldn’t beat them”. The physical mistake is made in order to make the belief come true. Barring working with someone like myself who knows how to install positive beliefs, often the only way that the belief gets changed is because of an “accident”.

When I coached women’s softball, my team was dominant against a certain team during the regular season but, for reasons unknown, couldn’t beat them in the playoffs or the tournaments. These were double-elimination events and we’d often have beaten the team 5-or-6 times in the regular season and then lose to them twice in the post-season. About four years into this bad streak, our power hitter lofted an easy fly ball with a runner on first, our team down by one run, and two outs in the last inning. Our shoulders slumped as we watched the ball head towards the outfielder. As it turned out, the groundskeeper hadn’t pushed the sprinkler into the ground far enough and the outfielder tripped on it. The easy out became a two-run homer and we won the game. For the next few years after that, we never lost to that team in the playoffs or tournament again.

Two other major hybrid mistakes were noticeable with this year’s Knicks. The first has to do with Coach Mike Woodson and his in-game decision making. To me, he seemed to be much more hesitant this year than last year and did not coach at the level that he’s shown himself to be capable of. Often that kind of hesitation comes from having conflicts that need to be resolved in making the decision. For example, if the smart coaching move is to take a player out of the game but the people in power (owner, front office, CAA?) have pushed to have the player get major minutes, it causes what would have been a quick decision to become painfully slow and, perhaps, to be made for the wrong reasons. Based on news reports, I’ve got to believe that this type of thing caused problems for Woodson. He may not be a perfect coach but he’s certainly better than his performance this year shows him to be.

The other major hybrid mistake is making decisions based on emotions rather than logic. The problem is that we all do this from time-to-time (just look at commercials if you want a bunch of examples). Over the past couple of years, the Knicks have had a lot of examples of this. The most recent one bears mention: during the April 4 loss to the Washington Wizards, Carmelo Anthony’s shooting arm went numb from the shoulder down. Yet Melo stayed in the game, made only 5-of-14 shots (35.7%), could barely pass the ball (your joke goes here) and some of his teammates didn’t know he was injured. Whether Melo didn’t tell Woodson until after the game or Woodson knew but didn’t tell the rest of the team isn’t known. But Melo without a shooting arm is not a better shooter than a lesser offensive player with a good arm. Staying in the game and shooting that many shots was a poor decision and one based on emotion. Drawing up a play for Melo to shoot or pass when he could do neither was a pretty bad hybrid mistake as well.

But it didn’t stop there. Melo decided that, dead arm and all, he was playing against the Heat two nights later. He went 4-for-17 (23.5%), so taking that many shots when he had no chance of making them wasn’t a good idea. He wasn’t “Carmelo”, he was barely “Carm”. Needless to say, the Knicks lost by 11.

When you consider that the Knicks will miss the playoffs by one or two games, you realize how costly those emotional decisions were. The missed shots were “physical” but being in the game at all and then taking so many shots was “mental”. So their last gasp efforts at securing the 8th spot were undone because of “hybrid” mistakes.

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