Who’s Afraid of an Open Shot?

I love to pass, I try to hit guys when they are wide open so we as a team can take a higher percentage shot. I love the Chris Paul quote about his job being to make the other team think he’s going to shoot it, drawing an extra defender to him so he can make a pass leading to a dunk or an open jumper. I’ll post up just to hit a cutter with a no-look or someone out on the 3-point line once their defender comes to help (most pick-up perimeter defenders can’t help themselves, they feel they have to help no matter how many times I pass out of the post) yet it seems like for many pickup ballers, being completely open actually drags their shooting percentage down. A great pass leads to a wide open shot from 4′ or 14′ and you can almost see the tension ripple through them as they realize that they (a) just received a very nice pass, (b) therefore it is on them to make the shot otherwise the pass really doesn’t matter and (c) there is very little upside or personal glory in the shot (if they make it the passer gets credit for setting them up, if they miss it they it’s their fault for messing up the play). They shoot, the ball clanks off the front of the rim, or sometimes, the side of the backboard and not only does the opportunity go unrealized, but that player’s confidence may take a hit for the next shot he or she takes.

Sometimes an open shot is the hardest one of all [Photo: basketball.isport.com]
Sometimes I’ll make a pass and my teammate will actually wait until the defense takes a step or two toward them before they shoot, or worse yet they’ll wait, take one dribble and then shoot a semi-contested jumper. Part of this probably has to do with not being ready, not having practiced catch and shoot jumpers, and the other part is psychological, they are not used to the pressure of being expected to make a shot to turn a nice pass into a nice play. Having a defender on them makes them feel comfortable.

Obviously, part of the problem is that pickup basketball players often don’t practice a range of shots, and even if they do, 4 footers from the baseline are seldom in the drill rotation (most people I’ve played with at the University of Texas and the University of Illinois just shoot three pointers between games and while they are warming up (unless they can dunk, then they’ll alternate)). Some shots are hard to practice unless you have several people or you can visualize different situations (as in the clip below).

Last month I passed up shooting a potential game winner in the lane, I was covered but I could have gotten a shot off, when I think about it now there were two issues, (1) I don’t practice shooting in the lane, in traffic, and (2) I usually play pickup on the good court, meaning I’m usually not the guy who takes the last shot. Instead of shooting I passed out to the corner for a three that didn’t beat the buzzer -we lost in overtime.

In life we usually fail at things we do for the first time, things we don’t practice. Give me a few more experiences catching the ball in the lane, in traffic, time winding down and I’ll figure out how to get off a decent shot. Maybe if there was more of a passing culture here at the University of Illinois dudes would be more used to taking wide open shots.

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