Guys, it’s hurtful. It’s hurtful when you say that I didn’t mean to do this. Just look at me coming out of the huddle, down two with two seconds left on the clock. You can see the game plan right on my face, like “Yeah, I’m about to post up at the three-point line, catch it with my back to the basket at a real funny angle, fake like I’m going to pass it to CP3 (nah, son), spin around behind the line with a hop-step and launch the trey before stumbling back into the front row.”
Doc always says it. When the game is on the line, you give the ball to Young Fundamentals.
Did I mean to ricochet the ball off the front of the rim so that it would look like a brick before gently kissing off the top of the backboard and in? You tell me.
So I don’t understand why everybody was so surprised when it went in.
Hurtful, you guys.
For real though, that shot was huge for me personally. Do I like a jam or two? Sure. I do it for the children. But honestly, there’s nothing more satisfying than hitting a jumper. People have been telling me I couldn’t shoot since I came into the league. I remember when I was drafted Skip Bayless even said that I would never amount to anything more than “a poor man’s Dennis Rodman.”
Dang, Skip. I can’t even be a middle class Rodman?
Honestly, they had a point. My first few years in the league, I was relying on my athleticism to get me by, because that’s what got me to the NBA. The problem with that is, you end up getting really, really tired by February. My rookie year I tried to get out of bed on a road trip near the end of the season and I was like, Am I physically able to walk right now? I went out on the floor that night and ran up and down just trying to look like a real NBA human.
So you were correct, haters. You became, as the kids say, my motivators. I needed to work on my mid-range game. You can print that. Editors, can I get a pull quote?
Wham. Pull quote.
Two years ago — even a year ago — I wouldn’t have taken that three-pointer at the buzzer. I didn’t have the confidence. I’ve read articles talking about how I’ve changed my jump shot this year. It’s not that simple. I’ve actually been working on changing my technique for about three years. When your muscle memory is so ingrained to shoot a certain way, it takes years to tweak different parts of the release.
I’ve put up more than 250,000 jump shots with my shooting coach Bob Thate over the past three years in order to re-wire my brain. That breaks down to roughly 300 shots per day just on my mid-range form alone. Bob has a saying: “How do you build a mansion? Brick by brick by brick.” It’s kind of like how Apple releases versions of the iPhone. Each year we’ve worked and worked to be able to roll out a new feature of my shot.
The first and hardest thing for me was letting it go at the top of my jump and not shooting it on the way down. This is pretty crucial when you’re playing against the ridiculous length of an Anthony Davis or a Tyson Chandler. To put it in perspective, an average NBA player, even a big man like me, can knock down about 80 percent of their practice jumpers with nobody guarding them. But when you have a guy like Tyson contesting your shot, it’s a different story. You either have to lean back awkwardly or release the ball at the absolute apex to even get the shot off. It was so hard to get used to. It felt like I was going to shoot the ball over the backboard every single time when we first started working.
The second thing is that I was bringing the ball back too far behind my head. Not sure where that came from. You mold your shot as a kid and then over time, you start picking up bad habits. I was in the post most of the time in high school and college so I didn’t really work on perfecting my jumper.
The third thing is that I’d be leaning back instead of jumping straight up and down. The fourth and last thing is that I wouldn’t finish high enough to get enough arc on the ball (you want to finish with your hand in the cookie jar and get enough air under the ball so the cameras capture you doing that cool slow-mo moonwalk down the court like CP does.)
I love Bob, but we’ve put up so many shots together that sometimes I close my eyes to go to sleep and I still hear him whispering “feet together, finish high” in my ear. The man doesn’t even look to see if the ball goes in. He just stands there watching my form. It’s disturbing.
Love ya, Bob.
Editors, can I get an illustration?
So we’re on version five now, and still some days I wake up and I’m like I am a bad basketball player today. I cannot shoot a basketball like a professional basketball human. But overall, it’s definitely helped me take advantage of what defenses are giving me. That’s the thing. It’s not like I’m going out every game thinking, “Well, if I shoot 17 shots tonight, I need to make sure 40 percent of them are from mid-range.” It’s not about proving a point. It’s about making defenses respect me from everywhere on the floor.
You hear all the time that a player needs to “fix” their shot or improve their defense, but what some people don’t understand is that it takes hundreds of hours to make that tiny difference at an elite level. Why? Because other guys are spending hundreds of hours working on whatever you’re trying to stop. While I’m shooting with Bob, Tyson Chandler is in a gym somewhere trying to contest shots better and make me sad. With our travel schedule, you only have so many possible hours to put in that work. So what do you choose?
For so long, all I heard was “The Clippers will never win because they don’t have a big who can knock down a mid-range jumper.” And you know what’s crazy to me? I don’t think I’d care as much if people were constantly critiquing my game if I didn’t work as hard as I try to work. Sometimes I’m like, “Man, what am I working for? People just want to see me throw down a lob.”
But I was at my parents’ house a few years ago when I found something in my old room that really motivated me. It was a newspaper clipping from The Daily Oklahoman about Adrian Peterson’s workout routine when he was with the Sooners. When I was an incoming freshman at OU, my strength coach gave it to me. I taped the article to the wall in my dorm. It was the first thing I saw every morning when my alarm clock went off. You know what it said? Peterson used to run all the football conditioning drills — the ones that would make people damn near break down in tears — with a weight vest on.
Everybody sees the highlights, but they don’t necessarily see how the sausage is made. Whenever people say stuff like “That guy’s a freak,” what they should be saying is, “That guy works like a freak.”
When I got home from the game that night after hitting the buzzer-beater, I was pacing around my house like a crazy person. I tried to go to sleep around 1:30 in the morning and I spent 20 minutes laying there staring at the ceiling before I was like, Welp, this is not happening. My adrenaline was still jacked. I watched TV for a while and I don’t think I nodded off completely until around around 5 a.m.
When I was staring up at the ceiling, my mind kept switching between sinking the shot and something else. Something more painful. Something that happened three years ago in Golden State.
Even with all the mechanical tweaks that have gone into improving my shot in the past few years, the biggest challenge is always going to be the mental. The hardest part about basketball is constantly training myself to have a very short term memory and to forget about the last missed jumper. Even if it goes off the side of the backboard, you have to believe the next one is going in. There’s a quote I really like that describes the mentality you need to have in this league in order to keep your sanity: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Brick by brick, you guys.
Animated Illustration by Alex Kayaian