Why Shooting a Basketball is a lot like Blackjack

Keeping Your Strategy Simple

I make the analogy to the players that I work with that shooting a basketball is like playing Blackjack. In Blackjack there are certain situations where you are supposed to do certain things, like splitting aces, to increase the odds of winning hands. If you do follow these guidelines you increase the likelihood of winning hands, but certainly do not guarantee you will win all hands. I've gone to great lengths to go through each body part with my players and develop habits that will increase the likelihood of that particular shot going in, but we will never be perfect. Teaching shooting is about strengthening habits as much as possible so we can get as close to perfect in an imperfect world. 

Coach Dave Love Shooting Practice

I believe the logic in teaching players to jump forward and lean back to be flawed. The proponents of this technique argue that it is what all great NBA shooters do in games, so everyone should do the same. In my opinion, this assertion is under-educated. 

One of the key points within these Sweep and Sway YouTube videos is that NBA players don't know what their bodies are really doing. (Incorrect - these players see their shots minutes after the games end.) As an example, they show Kevin Love saying he tries to jump straight up and down when he shoots, then say that Kevin Love doesn't know what he's talking about because in reality he sweeps forward and sways back when he shoots in games. The logic they put forward is "if Kevin Love does this, and Kevin Love is a great shooter, then you should do it to." 

But that isn't the point. The point is, Kevin Love is trying to jump straight up and down, there are just 5 other people on the floor trying to prevent him from doing that. Don't copy the imperfect finished product and hope to be great; copy the perfect practice that went into making that shot as perfect as possible in that instant. To lean back and jump forward, plus rotate your body is to lower the ceiling of your potential, or reduce the odds of you winning hands in the game of Blackjack. 

If you look at the great shooters, they likely do jump forward and lean back on long contested 3pt shots in games and the great ones make about 40% of those shots. If you see these same players in practice, in workouts, and on more open 3s, they are much more straight up and down, and shoot closer to 70%. Those are the habits young players, and all players, should be copying.

Of course, in games you are going to be imperfect, but in practice you should be working to strengthen those habits as much as possible. If you do the opposite, and allow these variables to become a part of your technique for no reason, then you are basically doing to yourself the very same thing the defence is trying to do to you – make your shot more complicated.

The process of jumping forward and leaning back introduces a lot of variables into a player's shot, almost identical to those of a fall-away jump shot. I'm sure we can agree, a player shooting balanced jumpers is going to make more than the player that takes fall-away shots. So work to build habits that keep your shot as simple as possible, that is what NBA players are trying to do in their workouts.

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1 comment

  • Great article. My son attended a clinic by a shooting guru who preached the “sweep and sway,” among other “crazy ideas.” This went against so many principles I had learned, and then I explained simple physics to an 11 year old, and that just because the guy could isolate a few video clips of players making shots incorrectly, doesn’t mean that is when they are most accurate. The other issue is that NBA players have crazy athleticism and can make some things work that won’t for the 95%. Again, doesn’t mean doing things they do is when they are most effective.


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