(Photo Credit: NBA)
In my last piece, I made what I thought was a very salient point. If you’re a young basketball player, coach looking to build a team or anyone not named Erik Spoelstra, copying anything that LeBron James is doing or has done is a bad idea.
A few days after I finished the piece something dawned on me. It was a lesson I was sure I had learned repeatedly. If I tell you what you cannot do, it’s worse than telling you what you can. I’m going to go back through the history of the NBA to find the best players to aid your game. We’ll begin with the shooting guards. This also applies to sharpshooting small forwards and stretch four men.
We’re going to look at the NBA before and after the merger to make sure I’ve found the best examples of the type of player I’m speaking of. For you younger players, there was a time when there were two uniquely different basketball leagues with two different types of players.
I will not discuss dunking. It isn’t fair to ask any young player to mimic anyone else. Be Creative. Come up with your own style.
The videos linked here are available on YouTube. This is a practical tool for young ballplayers seeking to gain an edge.
A jump shot is one thing every young player should have regardless of their position. When I spoke to Steve Finamore, the head basketball coach at East Lansing High School in East Lansing, Michigan, I asked him the best way to develop a steady and reliable jumper.
“Reps. and more reps.” said Coach Finamore, “Seek out a coach and have them check your form. Start in close when working out. Spend time working at it. Confidence is key as well.” Coach Finamore has forgotten more basketball two times, than I will ever know. I believe he’s right. If you need video assistance, here are two players I think you should watch and study.
(Credit: Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images)
Pre-Merger: Fundamentally, there might not be a better guard in the history of the league. I could write an entire segment just fawning over Mr. Clutch. The point is to show you how he became the most fundamentally sound guard in league history (Including Michael Jordan). Watch footage of West when he was in his prime. He did things the way you wanted a player to. Defensively, he was as lethal as they came in an era before all defensive squads were compiled. His jump shot was maybe the most lethal in an era of the NBA when there were fewer teams and the game was more physical. There was no guard in the league shot like him. If the three-point line existed in those days, he would have mastered it.
West made it look so easy. He hit a 60-foot shot to keep his team alive against the greatest dynasty in basketball history, Bill Russell’s Celtics. He fires it off as if it’s nothing. Jerry West gets a lot of credit for his work as a general manager. As a player, he was slick enough to become the league’s logo. West’s slickness is best typified by the ease with which he shot the basketball.
Honorable mention: Pete Maravich. Anyone who could torch Walt Frazier for 68 points and be one of the true sui generis offensive players in the history of the entire sport deserves to be here. Watching Pete Maravich is like watching Ricky Rubio, except he could also shoot like Kevin Durant and pass like Steve Nash in his prime. We will never see his like again.
Also: Bill Sharman. When you’ve led the league in free throw percentage 7 times in your career and averaged over 40% from the field as an outside shooter nine straight years, you deserve to be mentioned on a list like this.
Post-Merger: This was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. The merger happened in 1976. Meaning I had the following sharpshooters to pick from in no particular order: Reggie Miller, Eric Gordon, Andrew Toney, Jeff Hornacek, and Allan Houston. I’m sure if I forgot someone, it will be pointed out to me. There is only one right answer here. The best shooter of the post-merger era is a someone you never should leave open. Even if it seems like he’s never going to make another shot again, do not leave him open.
The answer? Ray Allen.
Those of us who remember Ray Allen coming out of UConn, didn’t think this was possible. If you had asked me, I would have told you at his peak he would have been a tick below a superstar, but a star and a franchise player. This I never saw coming. I doubt anyone did.
Ray Allen, the same player who was a part of some of the last great Milwaukee Bucks teams with Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell, is now a 17-year NBA veteran. He is currently the No. 1 three-point shooter of all time. Sam Cassell is an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards, and possible sleeper agent for the Martians. Glen Robinson’s son is playing hoops at Michigan. Yet Jesus Shuttlesworth is still going.
Look at the YouTube mix. Don’t watch the players. Watch the fans. Watch how they all know what’s coming. Even when Ray Allen had that horrible 0-for-13 in game 4 in the 2010 Finals. No one doubted any of those shots were going in. That is a great shooter.
And that’s why he is the perfect inspiration for all young guards out there. Next, we’re going to try to find the perfect passer.