Andy Toolson's got it, but Jeff Malone doesn't. Chris Mullin has it but not Magic Johnson. It's that classic look: The perfect-form shot.
Since shortly after Dr. Naismith hung up his first peach basket, coaches have made careers of trying to teach players how to shoot the basketball.It has never been just a matter of throwing the ball in the hoop. It has to look right, it has to feel right. What did Coach Wierinski tell you in eighth grade? Relax the shoulders. Spot the ball. Keep the elbow in. Backspin. Follow-through. And most importantly, square the shoulders.
For every Mullin or Toolson - examples of classic shooters - there's the not-so-classics. There's the Laker's Johnson, backing in stiff-legged and eventually throwing one up off the wrong foot. There's Jeff Malone, fading, fading, fading, going from right to left, and letting go just before he touches the ground.
"The first time you'd see Jamal Wilkes shoot, you would want to pull him aside and make some quick corrections," says Frank Carbajal, a Jazz scout who worked with Jazz players on shooting last summer. "There are some shooters who have been tremendously good, but had horrible form."
So apparently there's much more than form. Once a player gets to the NBA, says team psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen, shooting is mostly mental.
"I think once you get to the level of the pros, a great percentage of shooting is mental," says Henschen. "These guys have shot so many times, their bodies know exactly what to do. It's almost like auto-pilot. Any shot they do here, they've shot 10,000 times before."
As the Jazz await tonight's game with Orlando (5:30 on Channel 13), they have to wonder about shooting. They began the year hitting 50 percent of their shots only three times in 15 outings. That was followed by 50 percent-plus showings in eight of the next nine. But in Thursday's loss to Atlanta they fell back to 43 percent shooting.
Forthwith, a look at the two main aspects of good shooting:
Nobody's going to make a shot if he's thinking too much about it. Jeff Malone, one of the NBA's purest shooters, made a tepid 40 percent of his shots early in the year. Part of the problem, he admitted, was thinking too long and too hard.
"The problem," continues Henschen, "is when they start thinking about taking the shot. The important thing at that level is not to have to think about it."
Henschen, who talked with Malone when he was shooting poorly, said they worked on focusing on something besides the mechanics. "Jeff is a rhythm shooter and a great shooter," said Henschen. "If he has to think 'Should I shoot?', he's dead."
Prior to Dec. 3, Malone was making just 45 percent of his shots. Included in that was a 5-for-15 game in Tokyo against the Suns, and a 37 percent effort (6-16) against the Spurs. But since Dec. 3, when he says he began relaxing and not worrying about his shots, he has made 58 percent.
Henschen says some of the players in the NBA he considers mentally geared to shooting well all the time are Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, Jeff Hornacek and Byron Scott.
The key, he says, is taking the shot automatically.
"Many coaches teach form, and form really doesn't have much to do with it on this level," Henschen continues. "Jeff (Malone) seldom shoots a form shot, but it's beautiful. Watch his shots, and most of it is rhythm."
There is, to every shot, the mechanical side. A player can't simply will the ball into the hoop. In the mechanics, the variations are great: From Mullin's perfect delivery and rotation to Malone's twisting fade-aways. From Michael Adams' pushing motion to Jeff Hornacek's classic release.
"I think if there's one thing physically about good shooting, it would have to be practice," says Carbajal.
A case in point is Malone, who began shooting on an 11-foot hoop at his home as a kid. That probably didn't do much for his form. But he shot enough times he eventually became one of the best shooters in the league.
Now he can be seen jumping off the wrong foot, falling down, or any other number of odd things to get shots off.
But, says Carbajal, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. "You'd be crazy to mess with him," he says.
Carbajal also points out that Malone does do one critical thing straight out of the books: He squares his upper body to the basket. "People don't understand - he's not textbook, but he doesn't have bad shooting form," said Carbajal. "His upper body form is very, very good. What throws people off is that it isn't set up in the traditional way. But his upper body form is squared up and his head is always going to the basket." And, of course, there is the soft wrist release.
Magic Johnson wasn't a great shooter out of college - in either form or percentage - but through practice has become a good scorer. "He put in so much time, he got pretty good," says Carbajal.
Johnson's teammate, Byron Scott, doesn't have great form, either, says Carbajal. But his practice has made him a deadly outside scorer.
Even Larry Bird, a standard for all aspiring shooters, doesn't always show textbook form. "His delivery is sometimes kind of unorthodox, but he's spent more time in the off-season than anyone learning how to shoot," says Carbajal.
Among those he rates with exceptional "textbook" form are Michael Jordan, Tom Chambers and Danny Ainge.
"Even if you have bad fundamentals," says Carbajal, "repetition helps to find your own groove."
The consensus appears to be that when players are young, they should work on proper form to become great shooters. But after growing up, form takes a back seat to the mental aspects. Then get out of the way and let the man do his job.
GAME NOTES: Orlando, coming off a 128-126 loss to Houston, has lost seven straight and is 1-15 on the road . . . Although this will be the Magic's third game with Utah this year, they still have two more remaining . . . Terry Catledge, who gave the Jazz troubles last time they met in Orlando, totaled 28 against the Rockets on Thursday. Teamates Dennis Scott and Scott Skiles scored 35 and 31, respectively - both career highs . . . The Magic's Sam Vincent has been sidelined with an injury and did not play against the Rockets.