“Most of the league’s 3-pointers are more like touchdown passes than home runs; they involve a key interaction between two offensive players.” – Kirk Goldsberry
Every offseason, basketball players head to the gym to get up some repetitions in an effort to improve their shooting. We view shooting as an individual skill, and consequently players practice their shooting individually. The above comment from Kirk Goldsberry in his article about the NBA’s best spot-up shooters highlights an important, but forgotten element of shooting: The interaction between teammates.
Spot-up shooters serve as the indicator species of contemporary NBA ecosystems. They flourish in the spacing of San Antonio, Golden State, and Atlanta, but struggle among the crowds in New York, Memphis, and Lakerland. Many times their numbers reflect just as much about the health of their shooting environs as they do about the ability of the individual shooter himself. After all, if you’re a catch-and-shoot specialist in the best basketball league on the planet, chances are you’re already pretty good at shooting a basketball.
Developing players are not necessarily the same quality of shooters as NBA catch-and-shoot specialists, but their dependency on teammates may be greater. Few non-NBA players shoot three-pointers off the dribble with the volume of a Stephen Curry; most three-pointers result from passes. Therefore, the individual skill of shooting a three-pointers is not really an individual skill.
Harri Mannonen, an assistant coach for the Danish National Team, addressed this in his epic blog post on shooting, writing that for a shooting drill to be game-like, it must include, at minimum, a teammate and a defender. The interactions between teammates and defenders adds a decision-making or perceptual element to all shots, and this should change the way in which we view shooting drills.
There are reasons not to do game-like shooting drills; primarily to concentrate on changing some aspect of one’s technique. However, when improving for game performance, all the elements should be included whenever possible. Too often, coaches encourage players to practice game shots, but they focus on intensity (speed) and location, but ignore the other elements, such as the interactions between teammates or the effect of defense. The interactions impact one’s shooting and should change the way that we think about practice drills and repetitions.