Learning to Play Jazz
Often at the youth clinics that I run, I will set aside some time for coaches, parents, and players to ask questions. Many have never been around anyone directly involved with the NBA before, so it is a great chance for them to ask about what it’s really like. Sometimes the questions get a little silly (we did a good 5min on Vegemite and Tim Tams at a clinic in Australia), sometimes they are thoughtful, and sometimes they strike a chord on an idea that is very easy to overlook.
One coach several years ago asked one of my favorite questions I’ve ever received. It was very simple, but an important point as we move forward and learn about shooting.
His question was, “What do you do with NBA players to make shooting technique more difficult?”
It is such a great question because it speaks directly to the most common misconception about shooting. We should never be trying to make shooting more complicated. That is the job of the defenders. They are trying to stop the shooter, and since they can’t fully stop a shooter (the shooter can always just throw up some TERRIBLE shot) all they are really trying to do it make the shot as difficult as possible. The more moving parts, the more variables, the better.
Now imagine that the shooter is going to go about making the difficult shots their HABIT. They are going to try to forget any fundamentals and even in open situations in practice, they are going to shoot with the same habits that defenders try to force shooters into in games. Off-Balance, fading, turning, double-clutch — all of it. Sure, they improve at those shots in a practice situation, making 25% of them instead of only 10%.
But then the game comes and the player has these complicated habits even on the open shots. Instead of making 50% of open shots, they only make 35%. But that’s ok, they think. I’ve been working on the really tough ones. They shoot some contested shots, just like the ones they have been practicing. But instead of making the 25% they do in practice, they realize the defender is now able to make this shot even more complicated STILL. The player makes 10% of these shots, and the team loses,
So now we have worked BACKWARDS, making fewer open shots, and only slightly more difficult shots that the coach doesn’t really want us shooting.
The answer I gave to the parent that asked the question, and what I really want you to understand here — We aren’t trying to make shots more difficult or complicated in the NBA level. We are still trying to simplify everything. If we complicate anything, it is the situation in which the player gets the shot, not the shot itself. But even that, our goal is simple. Make a quick decision, create a mismatch, get a lay-up, dunk, or open shot.
Everyone seems to want to play Jazz. They want to to go off on these seemingly spontaneous riffs that are exciting. No one wants to learn music theory. No one wants to be a classical musician. But the reality is you need to become a great classical musician before you can learn to play great Jazz.
Try to avoid getting caught up in “fancier” or “more complicated”. Focus on simple, easy, and be able to improvise off of that when needed.