What makes an elite shooter? Suns’ own share jump-shot origins
Jan 10, 2024, 5:57 AM | Updated: 9:57 am
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)
PHOENIX — Arrive at Footprint Center 90 minutes before a Phoenix Suns tip-off and you’re in for a treat.
You’ll get to see five of the NBA’s best shooters continue to perfect their craft.
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen will all go through their pregame warmups over that next hour, featuring shooting displays that are worth the price of admission right then and there.
They are not only five elite shooters. They’ve got five unique forms on their jumpers that fundamentally and mechanically share characteristics all coaches of younger players want to instill. In other words, beyond the technicalities of their shots, they’re also aesthetically pleasing.
So what goes into developing that? And which one on the team is their particular favorite? All five spoke with Arizona Sports to share some of their knowledge.
SHOOTING IN THE LIVING ROOM
When he was told Durant did the same thing, it was an “of course he did” chuckle.
“That’s crazy,” Booker said with a smile.
At a young age, Durant spent commercial breaks of NBA games lying down on the floor and shooting the ball up in the air, attempting to build up proper form instead of shooting from the hip.
“Just to keep my elbow in place and my shoulder high, getting used to having the ball over my head,” Durant said regarding the origin story of one of the most unguardable release points in the history of the sport.
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 8, 2024
Both were not uncommon practices. Booker shared just that one, though. He was one of the few not shooting from the hip as a little lad.
“Everybody does!” he said when told Durant shot from the hip to start. “They try to shoot 3s too early. I think my coaches, they had me form shooting at a super young age and that helped me out a lot.”
When he was told this reporter was the same, Booker showed how his basketball wisdom was present even as a youth.
“Yeah, you wanted to shoot 3s!” he said. “My coaches didn’t let me. I was right in front of the rim, like, ‘The power will come later.'”
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 4, 2024
Durant, who is second in the NBA at 47.4% shooting from 3 this year, credited his godfather with helping show him the ropes when he was 7 or 8 years old. Booker shouted out his coaches, including Vern Anderson in Michigan, but mostly attributed it to his studies on YouTube, where it was consuming a lot of highlights of ex-Detroit Pistons guard Rip Hamilton.
That is not surprising to hear when considering the shooter on the move Hamilton was and why Allen said Booker has his favorite shot on the team.
“That’s a tough one,” said Allen, who is right behind Durant at 47.2% shooting from deep. “It’s either gotta be Brad or … probably Book. Just because of the way he shoots the ball going both directions. A lot of times, shooters have a comfortable side. I feel like him going right, which is unnatural for a righty, (he’s) got a really natural-looking shot drifting right where he can pull the ball from outside his body and get to his pocket. It’s really smooth.”
Booker said that actually comes in part from 1-on-1 battles with former University of Kentucky and Suns teammate Tyler Ulis, who was always sitting on Booker’s tendencies, forcing him to adapt.
The challenge for many when going to that same side as the shot is keeping everything else in check with the form. It’s a fluid, simple motion for righties going left to bring the ball up into the shooting pocket. But the dominant hand side is where getting the feet, torso and shoulders in check becomes difficult.
Which is where we should get a bit more inside the science.
Beal said Gordon has the top jumper on the Suns. But not without some help.
When walking through Footprint Center as he was asked the question following a win over the Orlando Magic, banter was fired across the hallway from Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley in Beal’s direction.
“Book or EG. I want to say Book,” Beal answered while multitasking. When Mosley heard the answer, he was curious about the conversation.
“What was the question?” Mosley asked before being informed.
“I say EG. I was gonna say EG. That’s pure.”
Mosley was told it was Booker’s pick as well because of Gordon’s wide, solid base on his jumper before the coach went on about how Gordon maintains that every shot even at the age of 35. Beal told Mosley that was why he was going to say Gordon too, getting swayed.
“I’ve watched EG since he was in high school and I’ve always been a fan of his base and how he shoots the ball,” Beal said. “So I’m going EG for sure.”
What Beal preached as shooting advice is exactly what Gordon has mastered.
“Always the base,” Beal said. “It always starts with your base. You always work on your feet, all the way up. If your feet are good, you got a wide base and you realize that you shoot with your legs and not just your arms, it creates that consistency for you and kind of gives you that rhythm, that kind of routine.”
This is why Booker’s first impression of Gordon on a rapid-fire run through his new teammates in training camp was “square base.”
Gordon’s advice about shooting a consistent jumper nearly mirrored Beal’s.
“It always starts with your feet,” Gordon said. “Everyone likes to talk about follow-through should be whether you know the ball is going in or not. But I think it’s your feet. Because when you’re balanced, that kind of dictates where the ball is going. Your follow-through, that should be the easy part. Because when you release the ball, you should kind of know where that ball is going.”
Watch both Gordon and Beal shoot and you’ll see it, especially when they warm up.
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 4, 2024
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 4, 2024
What Allen complimented Booker about — his ability to square up going left or right — is where Booker went with Gordon, too. That’s probably why Beal had a tough time choosing a favorite jumper between the two.
“Wide base, square every time,” Booker said of Gordon. “You don’t ever see him fading left or right. The balance is key.”
Allen’s pointers ended up there as well. Don’t worry too much about what nearly everyone focuses on: the hand and arm motion of the release.
“Get into a comfortable spot and then once you get comfortable with your shooting I think it’s more about your legs and your base,” Allen said. “When I get into the gym now, I almost never think about my arms or how I’m doing this because you do it a thousand times. Because once you do it a thousand times it’s second nature. It’s not being lazy with my legs, base and shoulders all pointed toward the rim and getting deep into ’em.”
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 4, 2024
And with saying “what nearly everyone focuses on” when watching a jump shot, there was a specific outlier coming to mind.
A GUIDING HAND
No one on the Suns loves the art behind jump shots more than Damion Lee.
He had to completely change his jumper once he became a pro, and the meticulous five-year process came to fruition last season in Phoenix when he was third in the NBA by hitting 44.5% of his triples.
Lee, currently recovering from a meniscus tear in his right knee, was watching everything from the game’s supreme snipers (and still does today).
“I was lucky enough in Golden State to play with three of the greatest shooters to ever touch a basketball: KD, [Stephen Curry], Klay (Thompson) — and just study them,” he told Arizona Sports. “See in 15 minutes of work how hard they would go, where their ball position was, where their shot pocket was, where their release point was — whether it was high, low, (on) so many different spots on the floor.
“And just studying the game at that and seeing how the repetition of that can learn and grow. And you obviously see that it all pays off because what they do in those 15-20 minute workouts seems effortless when game time comes.”
Lee likes looking at the feet, hips, shoulders, all that. The hands, too. As in, plural. Part of his love for breaking down other shooters is what each does with their off-hand, also known as the guide hand.
It does what it says it does, but here is Lee expanding on that and other aspects of a jump shot with differences most of us don’t pick up on.
“So essentially your guide hand is supposed to help guide the ball,” he said. “Some people shoot with a little thumb flick. Austin Rivers, for example, when you look at him shoot it looks like he’s shooting with both hands. [Damian Lillard], Steph, Trae (Young) are the three probably prominent guys that are shooters at such a high clip but have a lower release point, have a lower shot pocket which actually allows them to shoot from deeper.
“If you look at most shooters, it starts with their base. (They) have a great balance, great leg strength, great balance — all the greatest shooters ever have that. And then it’s just a matter of tailoring and tinkering where is your set point and where is your release point.”
With set points, Lee is talking about the area where players bring the ball toward their body before taking the ball up to where they will release it, the release point.
“Guys that have lower set points generally can shoot from further because they’re shooting on the way up,” he said. “Guys that have higher release points still can shoot it from further but generally they’re more four, five feet behind the 3-point line max but you’re not getting to their shot — Michael Porter Jr., Klay Thompson, KD,” Lee said. “Another guy with a lower set point, Eric Gordon. Book has a higher set point, higher release but he uses a lot more legs especially when you see him whether he’s going left or going right. Obviously in the midrange, him and KD and Brad are three exceptional shooters in their regards.”
When it comes to guide hands, Lee put it between Booker and Durant for the top one in Phoenix. He offered an unpredictable shoutout for another “amazing” one on the team: backup center Drew Eubanks, who is a perfect 3-for-3 from deep this year!
“His left hand comes off the ball, a la Oscar Robertson,” Lee said. “If you ever watch Drew shooting a warmup 3, he catches it, he goes left-right (with his feet), goes up and as soon as it gets to his release point, his left hand comes off.”
You’ll miss it unless you go frame by frame below. But the hand does come off.
Drew Eubanks is currently shooting 100% from three this season ☄️ pic.twitter.com/vPl7HiyO8W
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) November 16, 2023
Ditto for Oscar.
So there you go. A similarity between Drew Eubanks and Oscar Robertson, which is obviously an incredible tidbit from Lee but also hammers home what he loves about shooting.
TRY, TRY AGAIN (AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN)
The beauty in the way everyone completes the objective of the sport, getting that ball through the net, is they all do it uniquely.
And sure, there are better and worse ways to find consistency in doing that.
But to the prior point, Durant’s note for aspiring shooters was fundamentals over trying to look rad (like he wanted to while growing up).
“The main thing I tell guys when I work out with them or I work out with little kids is just to keep your follow-through up,” he said. “Stand straight up in your shot. A lot of times, you like to be cool and flick the ball and bring your hands back, the Jason Williams back in the day. He used to shoot like that, right? I tried to get tricky like that when I was a kid and my godfather, my coaches always stayed on me about leaving my follow-through up, keeping it up, extending, trying to shoot back rim.”
Not something you’d find in a Shooting 101 lecture, and yet, that’s the pointer from one of the greatest to ever do it.
And everyone learned differently, too. Durant from his godfather, Beal his mom (who he still has texts from about keeping his elbow up or putting his legs into it). Booker was on YouTube and Allen was a slasher in high school until his coaches in Jacksonville, Florida, were co-architects behind one of the game’s prettiest strokes. Gordon’s dad stressed the simplicity of good balance and structure since he was 7 or 8 years old.
And as great as those five jump shots are to watch, pure as it gets, how they look doesn’t matter so much.
“Some guys, you look at (Nikola) Jokic and [his release point is] kind of behind his head,” Lee said. “[Kevin Garnett] had the one up top, Rasheed Wallace up top, Rashard Lewis up top.
“And that’s honestly why I think basketball is such an amazing game because there’s no one set shot. It’s like golf. There’s no one way to hit the ball down the fairway or one way to putt. There’s so many different ways you can be effective in those ways.”
The Suns’ lethal company said it themselves with their shooting guidance. Allen stressed comfort over mechanical perfection.
Booker’s with him as well.
“Work on it. Build that type of confidence. It wouldn’t be too much about their form,” he said. “If I happen to have a boy one day or a girl I’m gonna make sure their form is proper but you see guys figuring it out without and I think that’s just repetition over time and the confidence of putting the work in. You just gotta work.”
That’s all it is. If there’s one thing to take away from all this information, work at it. If you really want to be a great shooter, you will be.
“I think anyone can be a great shooter,” Lee said. “It’s just a matter of the work you can put in, how tedious are you in your development, in your growth in that. … It’s just a matter of getting your base and whatever your fundamentals, whatever your base is and being consistent with that day in and day out and just knowing that it’s going to pay off.”
“Repetition is just what got me better,” Durant said. “And been that way since.”