Hoop Improvement

Originally published in SLAM 134:

Kevin Garnett Illustrations by S. Goggi.

How To Be A Leader

by Kevin Garnett, 12-time All-Star

1. You lead by example. You can do a lot of talking, but at the end of the day, you never tell someone to do something you don’t do yourself.

2. Always speak your piece and tell it like it is, keep it 100 with everybody, make sure they understand what the team needs. At that point, you’re a piece of the puzzle, trying to help and carve out your niche of what you bring.

3. Whether you’re on or off the court, the role doesn’t change. Guys, players, even coaches respect you when you’re doing, not running your mouth out here talking about something, but when you’re out there actually backing up what you’re talking about or even doing it.

4. Say something, but have respect for others. It’s a fine line to not cross over a guy and disrupt what he’s talking about. You got to try to put it together and make it a combination and lead together. One person don’t make a team; you need a team full of leaders to be successful.

Dwight Howard Illustrations by S. Goggi.

How To Block A Shot

by Dwight Howard, 2008-2009 Defensive Player of the Year

1. Step one is to find the target, find the prey. Once you locate your target, you need to get in front of the basket.

2. Even if I’m tall, I’m playing against the best athletes in the world. To block a shot, you have to jump. There are few times you can block somebody’s shot while you’re on the ground. You have to really make sure every time somebody goes up, you have to jump and you have to time it right.

3. You have to make sure that you block the ball before it’s coming down and before it touches the glass. You have to get it on the way up and make sure it doesn’t touch the glass so it’s not a goaltending.

4. The final step is blocking the ball into the crowd and pumping your chest because you got your block. I don’t celebrate too much, though. To me, I feel like if you do something that you normally do, why celebrate? That’s one of the things I learned from one of the best running backs, Barry Sanders. He never celebrated touchdowns because he was used to getting touchdowns. So when you’re doing something that you do, you don’t have to celebrate or get cocky or whatever with it. But there are some times when I’m having fun with the crowd and I might block a shot and salute, or act like I’m looking in the crowd for it or look at my hand.

L.A. Lakers Illustrations by S. Goggi.

How To Win A Title

by the L.A. Lakers, 2008-2009 NBA Champions

1. You need to play as a team. In our system, everyone can make decisions with the ball, but if we get too competitive, we can sometimes lose sight of the basics. I’ve figured out when to get guys involved and when to take over. These last two years, having better teammates makes that balance easier—they make me look better than I actually am.—Kobe Bryant

2. Team defense is very important. There’s a difference between playing confident and playing cocky. You can’t always play for the blocked shot. You make them try to beat you from the perimeter.—Lamar Odom

3. Staying healthy is a blessing if you can do it, but it’s one of those things you can’t control. With conditioning, you do what works best for you. I do a lot of yoga to stay flexible, and I’ve been running more sprints. I rarely touch weights. I’ve had two injuries and neither one was my fault.—Andrew Bynum

4. You need motivated leadership. We have guys like Kobe and Fisher who keep pushing the envelope with the other guys. Our biggest challenge with players is how they handle adversity. That’s when we work really hard on keeping guys as sharp as possible, so that adversity, when it comes, becomes motivation.—Phil Jackson

Kevin Durant Illustration by S. Goggi.

How To Score

by Kevin Durant, 2007-2008 NBA Rookie of the Year

1. You want to start out by getting yourself close to the rim, get a rhythm by getting to the basket and getting wide open shots.

2. Quick release jump shots. I’m a taller guy, so if my man’s on me a little bit, what I try to do is get my shot off fast before he can get to me and adjust, force me one way or the other.

3. Get to the free-throw line. Get to the basket and get fouled, that’s a way to get yourself going, get a rhythm, get easy points.

4. Always be a killer, always be on the go, always be ready to attack and be aggressive.

How-to spread from SLAM 134.

How To Shoot A Jump Shot

by Ray Allen, second all-time in three-pointers made

There is no proper way to jump shoot. Most people [don’t] even shoot jump shots anymore—people just shoot with their arms. The key to a jump shot is legs. You have to train your legs to give you that constant energy, whether it’s first quarter or fourth quarter. If you get enough lift on your jump shot, you can still make it without following through. You can shoot a lot of different ways; just whatever your shooting form is, square that up at the basket.

This game is so fast-paced, you can’t try worrying about being too perfect. Really it’s just having your feet prepared and being ready to get the ball up. The second hand is always the guide hand; you don’t want it to be in the way too much. But again, the ball needs to be sitting in your fingertips, to give it a good guide and some strength. I always know a guy’s going to miss if the ball’s in their palm. The whole palm [area] is irrelevant. People catch the ball in their fingertips; you catch a football in your fingertips; you throw a baseball with your fingers; you hold a golf club in your fingers. You never hold anything in your palm. Guys who hold the basketball in their palm have no feel, and feel is everything. Thinking the ball is going to go in is important. You have to dunk it that way, shoot free throws that way. If you don’t think that way about anything you do in this game, you shouldn’t play at all.

How To Cross Someone Over

by Tim Hardaway, five-time All-Star

Once I finished grade school, I never again planned a move, that’s the first thing to understand, and that’s the funny thing: You have to practice the crossover all the time, but slowly, while thinking about it. Stay low, push off the outside foot, and coordinate the hands and feet. When the ball changes hands, you push with the outside foot.

After years of practice, it happened in games without thinking or planning. I would come down the floor, and if someone didn’t play me honestly, it was a reflex reaction for me—bang! I’d cross him up. Then I started adding the “killer crossover,” what other people call the “UTEP two-step”—something I learned by watching Pearl Washington of Syracuse. Initially, I’d change direction by putting the ball between my legs and just go. But if the defense took the bait, then instantly after the between-the-legs dribble, I’d change direction back again with the crossover. Essentially, I was changing direction twice. Visually, it may have looked difficult, but really I was just putting two simple moves together. That’s the thing that a lot of players don’t understand—you don’t need dozens of moves. Just a few simple ones, and then “counters” to those moves when you get overplayed.

How To Improve Every Year

by Danny Granger, 2008-2009 Most Improved Player

Basically, I have a routine that I like to go through in the offseason that prepares me for the season, and I kind of just focus on one or two things to work on that summer. That works out for me. I won’t do just the generic drill that all the coaches put you through or something like that. It’s pretty much something where I know what I have to do and I know what I have to work on, so I kind of have to do it by myself. I do it every day. I put it in all of my workouts. Whether I’m doing a shooting or dribbling workout, whatever special thing I’m doing, I’ll put it in.

During the offseason, doing individual basketball workouts, I spend about an hour, hour and a half, and then I’ll play for about an hour later on that evening. I always want to improve my dribbling and isolation moves, so I worked on that a lot this offseason. I think you have to analyze your own game. People try to put you in a mold: “Do this workout, do that workout. You’re good for this, you’re good for that.” Well, I don’t think everything works for everybody equally. You really have to look at your game and see what works for you the best and do that. The year goes by in such a blur with so many different games, I have to watch myself on tape and see what I’m doing. If I don’t do it that way, then I just go from game to game and I’m playing game to game and I’m not realizing what I’m doing right or what I’m doing wrong.

How To Play With A Superstar

by Romeo Travis, high school teammate of LeBron James

First thing, you don’t want to make any waves. Playing with LeBron, it was easy because he was unselfish. Some superstars are spotlight-happy, ballhogs—just want everything to be about them. LeBron is the total opposite, and everybody on our team knew their role, so it wasn’t hard. Plus, he was arguably the hardest-working guy in practice. Jealousy was never an issue. The only real danger sometimes was getting caught up watching. Some of those games in high school where he was going for 50, it was almost impossible not to stop and watch. Offensively, it’s OK to get a little lazy; the hard part is not letting it happen on D. The other team is still running their offense, and if their best player’s a big man, he’s still coming at me at the other end. You do have to be careful with outside perception, though.

When you play with a guy like that, people will think you’re a bum and that he’s just carrying the team. You might start believing it, but you never know when you might need to have a big game—that’s good for your psyche. When the opportunity comes, you don’t even think about it. You just do your thing.

How To Rebound

by Blake Griffin, 2008-2009 NCAA rebounding champion

Watch the shooter. It’s hard if he’s shooting over the top of you, but if a shot comes from the side you can tell if it’s coming off right or left. Then I spin and seal the defender away from the basket, and keep a body on my man. If you just put your hand out, they will use it to their advantage, so you have to feel them with your body and keep it on them so you know where they’re at at all times. When the ball hits the rim, you can tell if it’s coming off toward you. That’s when I jump. Some guys are naturally good at being where the ball comes off and some guys can read it. If you can have both, you’re an unstoppable rebounder.

How To Take A Charge
by Shane Battier, All-Defensive Second Team

The first thing you have to do is have awareness. It’s not so much a matter of thinking—in less than half a second you have to determine whether the offensive player is out of control or if he has enough control to avoid contact. That’s the instantaneous decision that you have to make. Once you determine the offensive player is out of control, next you have to be square between the rim and the player charging toward you. If you’re out of that line, you’re not going to get the call. In the NBA, the next thing is that you have to be outside of the “no charge” circle. So, not only do you have to have awareness of whether the offensive player is out of control, you have to have awareness of where you are on the court.

Once those criteria are met, probably the hardest thing to do is actually take the charge. First, you protect yourself, because you don’t want to get injured. The best charges are taken square in the chest. Once you take the contact, you fall backward and make sure you land on your butt, not elbows or wrists, and if you took the charge square and you weren’t moving at all, you’ll get the call. It’s an instinctive play.

How To Be A Mascot

by Benny The Bull, longest-tenured mascot in the NBA

As far as I can tell upon careful study of our family tree, I’m a sixth generation Benny. My family name has been in the NBA since the ’60s. In my years here, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff.

My interaction with fans is a great opportunity for them to have tangible interaction with the Bulls brand. Dunking is always a popular element with fans—it’s just a bizarre thing to see a furry animal flying through the air doing tricks with a ball. Half the time I think the fans are secretly hoping to see me get stuck in the basket or land in the front row. Dunking ability is expected by most teams, but as with everything there are exceptions to the rule. For example, my friend Clutch the Bear in Houston is a rather portly fellow, which does not really lend itself to “high-flying dunks.” One thing that obviously makes a big difference in how the job goes is how your team is playing. Imagine telling knock-knock jokes to someone who just had their car stolen. That’s kind of how it is when I’m trying to inspire excitement or laughter when we’re on a five-game losing streak. Those are the times when you really have to not patronize the crowd and expect them to jump up and down like they just won the lottery. All you can do is be positive and find other avenues to keep the fans from focusing on the negative. That’s usually when it’s a good time to pull a cute little kid out of the crowd and make him the star of the show. I mean, how are you going to scowl and brood at a 7-year-old doing the worm?

How To Shoot A Free Throw

by Chauncey Billups, 89 percent career free-throw shooter

My approach is, I always start a free throw lined up at the goal, my toe on the line, right in the middle. So my first bounce, I’m looking at my toe, and then my second two bounces I’m looking to make sure I’m lined up at the rim. And then my fourth bounce, when I bounce it I look down and I’m looking, just visualizing the line the whole time to make sure everything’s good. And I spin it, take my breath and just let it go, man. I just let it go. I’ve been doin’ that since high school.

I learned to always just take a breath and knock it down, no matter what the score is. The ones that I do miss sometimes, my rhythm is off, I’m going a little too fast, because maybe on that play—I’m breathin’ hard, so I got sped up a little bit. Those are the times that I miss sometimes. But other than that, just going at my pace the whole time, and just knowin’ that nobody can affect that shot but me. That’s one thing I always say: It’s the one shot in the game that can’t nobody reach, can’t nobody even be in front of you, know what I’m sayin’? So it’s my responsibility to knock that shot down.

Hoop Improvement, SLAM 134 Feature. How To Be A Fan

by Clipper Darrell, attendee of more than 350 consecutive home games

It’s all about being loyal, being passionate and understanding the ins and outs of your team. It’s easy to support your team when things are going good, but when things are going bad, can you support your team? You have to understand why we’re going through trials and tribulations.

I plan my days around attending Clipper games. For instance, I get my hair cut before every game. Then when I get dressed, I play 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready For This.” Also, I have to drive a certain way to the arena; if I don’t go a certain way I hate myself. More than anything else, being a fan should be fun. Other people drink and smoke and get high. But this is my high. Cheering for my favorite team, the Clippers, is my high.

How To Shoot A Bank Shot

by Rasheed Wallace, four-time All-Star

My brothers used to use it when I was playing against them back in the day, but I really learned the bank shot from my man, my high school coach. He said, “That bad boy is the best thing for you.” I still use it now, and it’s exactly the same shot. It works just as well in the NBA as it did in high school, because hey, the backboard is the same size. Using the glass is a high percentage shot, because the backboard actually helps you—it does the work. Just hit the ball off the glass at the right angle, then there’s only one way it can go.

How To Stay In Game Shape

by Aaron Nelson, Trainer of the Year

Whether you’re younger or older, our approach is pretty much the same. It starts with a thorough assessment at the beginning of training camp, and then we’ll restructure your corrective program. We’ll correct any strength imbalances and keep you on a program throughout the year. Now, if you tend to be overweight, we have to look at the diet. If you tend to be skinny, we have to look at how to keep calories in you. That side of things is maybe a little bit different. You have to be real comfortable. We try to be very open-minded and encompass all of that. There’s the physical and psychological component to it; but if you approach it correctly, it ends up working out.

Once you get into the season, it’s strictly maintenance. It’s a season-long thing to make sure the right muscles are activating and other muscles are flexible. It’s a huge thing; it’s not: “Here, let’s fix you and you’re done.” You have to make sure the entire body is moving as a unit. Once the regular season and postseason are over, you want to take some time off and recover. That’s huge. You stay away from the arena; go out and enjoy your family and friends. Then, slowly, when you get into the middle of summer, gradually start training again.

Hoop Improvement, SLAM 134 Feature. How To Read The Defense

by Chris Paul, First Team All-NBA

My biggest thing is you gotta know the game. To read the defense, you gotta understand all the different situations, gotta see how they’re defending the ball screen, know if they’re locking and trailing on the screens. You gotta know the game. On the break, I’m thinking about who’s running with me and I’m looking at where the defenders are. A lot of times the defenders tend to go with the taller guy, but if I know my smaller guy is athletic, and they won’t expect it, I try to surprise them and let him go get it. When I drive into the paint, I’m looking for someone to take their eye off me. That split-second when I get into the paint, I’m dancing, I’m looking for that big to miss me, and then I’m hitting someone with the pass. If, in the flow of the game, we start getting stops, then I’m pushing, pushing, pushing. I can feel it then, that now’s the time to go and be aggressive with my shot.

How To Deal With Losing

by Jamal Crawford, eight seasons, no Playoff games

Losses do hurt but you have to shake it off before the next game. There are so many games in the NBA that you can’t just get caught up in one loss. That one loss can turn into five losses, know what I mean? You definitely have to shake it off and continue to move forward and give yourself a chance. You learn from it and continue to move on. That’s why it’s just a breath of fresh air to be on a good team here in Atlanta.

When you’ve been used to something for so long and then you go on to something that is different it feels great, honestly. It’s more of a family atmosphere. Everybody’s on the same page. Everybody has the same goal. The food tastes better. Your days are better. You’re more excited to come to work when you have a chance of doing something special.

How To Watch A Basketball Game

by Charles Barkley, Hall of Famer

When I watch basketball, first of all, I pick out who the best player is. To me, sports are about excellence. So I want to watch and see, What is that guy doing to make him better than everybody else? It’s unrealistic to think you can watch every player on the court at the same time. So you watch the great players, even when they don’t have the ball. There’s a reason a guy gets open and makes shots. Reggie Miller was one of the greatest basketball players I’ve ever seen without the basketball. I used to watch Kevin McHale, who was the toughest player I had to play against, I’d watch him post up. Now, I watch Chris Paul, both when he has the ball and when he doesn’t have the ball.

So, I watch the best players and I watch what they do well. I don’t try to get a feel for the game, I just want to watch the best players and see what they do. For instance, if there’s a dominant big guy, I’ll focus in on his footwork. If it’s a shooter, I’ll watch him moving without the ball, or study the form on his jump shot. Individual players do individual things differently, and that’s always fun to watch.

Compiled by Russ Bengtson, Rus Bradburd, Brian Boyles, Graham Flashner, Adam Fleischer, Ryan Jones, Ben Osborne, Nada Taha, Tzvi Twersky, Lang Whitaker, DeMarco Williams and Nima Zarrabi