• Ian Stacker

Some thoughts on shot selection

I must admit that when I watch the NBL these days I cringe at some shots that are attempted by players. There often seems little context is given to the flow of the game, the likely hood of victory while playing with reckless abandon and even the real chance – based on logical percentages – that it will actually go in.

Now anyone who played under me in the NBL, or even those who competed against teams that I coached, would find it interesting to hear me preaching about the benefits of better shot selection. My teams were known for taking the first shot that came along and we were certainly capable of putting points on the board.

It wasn’t until I got to the AIS and started my philosophical journey on improving our National team’s shooting techniques and shooting percentages that I started to think far more about the importance of shot selection.

Now that I coach high school players I am constantly amazed by the little thought players have about whether the shot they just attempted actually had a reasonable chance of going in. It would appear that any shot attempted by them is a good shot or maybe they haven’t touched the ball for a while and it’s their time to jack one up. Coincidentally I also see this same thought process seems to apply to our NBL and WNBL players too at times.

I certainly think that as a coaching and playing Nation we could think a little more about what constitutes a good shot and how we can go about creating better shooting opportunities.

Speaking to players who have played professionally in Europe they often comment on how their coaches over there reacted the same way to a poor shot as they did a turnover.

Now when we start thinking about things like preaching about teaching players the importance of shot selection we also need to keep it context of when such things are very important. So if you are playing a team who you expect to beat comfortably then of course you can play a more flamboyant style of play as you probably have the advantage of superior talent to ensure you get some second and third shot attempts from rebounds along the way. This is certainly how the USA played for many years, they were pretty crummy outside shooters but were such great rebounders they would simply pound teams with offensive rebounding and superior athleticism. Unfortunately for the rest of the world the US have learnt, again from the Euros, and now shoot the ball exceptionally well.

In a game where you do not expect to blow the opposition away and you know it will be a tight contest then things like shooting percentage often will be a deciding factor in the game.

So how do you educate players and coaches on what constitutes a good shot? Good question I say and if someone has a simple answer please let me know.

For me personally what I have done with my program at TC (Templestowe College) is a range of things that I hope will get my players thinking more about what appropriate shots for them are.

Firstly, I keep stats. We play an inter squad game each week and we play in tournaments and among other things we keep a record of field goal percentage, foul shot percentage and three-point percentage.

We also are constantly talking about how to create good shots with a major emphasis on offensive principles that help create penetration and kick out passes. Penetration can occur by a player driving to the basket and then making a decision about whether to attempt a layup – usually the best percentage shot of all – or to kick the ball out to players who have moved into quality receiver spots. Penetration can also occur by passing the ball to players posting up or cutting through the key, these players then make the same decisions about whether to shoot or kick it out.

It has been my observation over many years that perimeter shots, following a kick out pass or an extra pass after a kick out pass have a very high chance of going in.

It has also been my observation that shots attempted by players who shoot it the first time they handle it in a half court set do not go in as much as shots taken the second time they handle it – so offensive principles that promote passing and player movement will often result in high percentage shots.

Our stats and our offensive principles allow me the opportunity as coach to point out to players whether what they just attempted was a good shot. So someone who is shooting 10% from the three-point line should only be attempting three point shots off kick out passes with about two seconds on the shot clock – in other words they shouldn’t be attempting threes. When they have proven in practise, over time, that they can now make that shot then they can earn that right.

When I was assistant coach with the Melbourne Tigers under Al Westover there were many times when in our half court set we would have great ball movement, some fantastic penetration and then a kick out pass to a player wide open on the three-point line. I would have a fleeting moment of glee at the beauty of the basketball only to realise it was Nathan Crosswell left wide open. Now Nathan was a very good NBL player, one of the best penetrating guards in the league but a three-point shooter he was not. To his credit he also realised this. The reason he was wide open was that other teams would often cheat off him when he was spotted up outside. He rarely tried to take the three, rather he would go to his strength and penetrate again or he would look to make the extra pass.

Often I will ask players. “Why did you take that shot?” The reply is almost always, “I was open!” Then follows my tutorial on just because you thought you were open doesn’t mean it was a good shot. Maybe you were left open for a reason!?

While at the AIS when the team played the type of basketball that created high percentage shots and we scored I would often call out “now that’s basketball!” It got to the point where the players started to enjoy playing that way and they would often, as a group, beat me to the punchline. I’m also happy to say that one of the kids I’m coaching now is thinking of creating some t-shirts with “now that’s basketball” on them. It’s certainly still part of how I coach and it appears that the players are buying in.

So not every shot is a good shot. If we as coaches, players and parents can understand the importance of teamwork in creating good shots, what actually constitutes a good shot and also get players to understand that hard work and commitment to improvement will allow them more opportunity to take shots – as their percentages indicate its likely to go in – then we will be producing more players who can play a purer form of basketball.

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