For Celtics, Gordon Hayward’s Practice Not Necessarily Perfect

Why star forward could actually being doing more harm than good with his passionate drive to get back on court

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Guest Post by Art Rondeau

Five minutes into the NBA season, Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward experienced a horrible, season-ending injury.  Players and fans were aghast at how terrible it looked and there was an immediate concern for how long it would be before Hayward could even start to do any rehab.  So there was a lot of enthusiasm when Celtics GM Danny Ainge tweeted out a picture of Hayward sitting on a chair in front of the free throw line at the Celtics’ practice facility and shooting at the basket.

But I, for one, was concerned by what I saw.  I’m happy that Hayward feels well enough to be working on his game but I’m very concerned that shooting from a chair will mess up his shooting form enough that his return from his leg injury, probably next season, will begin a process where he’s trying to undo habits he’s forming while shooting from a chair and trying to reinstall habits he installed over a number of years leading to his new $128M contract signed this past summer.

Shooting a basketball is not just about hand-eye coordination, although that certainly plays a part.  A jump shot worthy of roughly $30M per season is a combination of power, arc, speed, touch, and aim.  A player with that type of jump shot shoots tens of thousands of shots jumping the same height from the floor at the same speed, adding power and arc as his body extends and he releases the ball toward the basket.  If his jump is too low, he has to add arc to the ball, meaning more power.

If his jump is too powerful, he needs to add touch to make the shot “soft” enough to nestle into the net and not just clank off the rim.  Different muscles are firing off in sequence and with certain amounts of power.  The combination of all this, with lots of practice, is a made basket.

Make enough of them and you, too, can sign for $128M.

Legendary Coach John Wooden is credited with saying “Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”  Hayward’s shot, with no jump – in fact, with no power from the lower body at all – and extra power and arc being generated from an upper body that’s in a seated position well below where he, at 6’8” would normally release the ball, has very little, if anything, in common with his coveted jump shot.  He’s practicing imperfectly and installing some new physical habits that are going to confuse his body when he’s back on his feet and taking jump shots again.

Gotta have some fun within the grind! Can you make a half court shot in a chair? (Harder then it looks) #improveeveryday

A post shared by Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) on

Keep in mind, a major problem with shooting, in general, is that we tend to label success based on the result – a made basket – rather than on the form that the player shoots with, whether it was a wise shot to begin with (based on location and, possibly, when in the shot clock it was taken or if another teammate was open for a better shot).

But if it was a terrible shot, for whatever reason, when it was launched, making that shot doesn’t turn it into a good shot, it turns it into a successful bad shot.  Applying that to Hayward, the mechanics that will allow him to make a shot from a seated position are flawed and it’s a “bad shot”, regardless of its going in.

Great shooters have to be wary about considering success based on making the shot. Someone like Steph Curry, who has outstanding “touch” and proves it night-after-night-after night making shots from a variety of spots on the floor, can likely make shots without sticking to his proper shooting form.

I often see great shooters who start shooting from their hips or shot-putting the ball from their shoulders and still make the shot.  Their improper form needs to be brought to their attention immediately because a “good” shot is one where you do all the proper things and shot-putting the ball is not a proper thing, made basket or not.

A small difference in how you practice versus how you play can have a major negative impact.  I often see clips of some NBA player practicing 3-point shooting and making shot after shot after shot.  But I watch his jump and he’s barely coming off the floor.  He seems almost sleepy, like he should be shooting in his bathrobe because he’s putting such a small amount of power into his jump.

Then he gets into the game, jumps a foot in the air to shoot over the outstretched arms of a defender, and everyone wonders why he only shoots 1-for-9 from behind the arc.  It’s because he practiced imperfectly.  I’d rather see players take fewer shots at practice and take them correctly then to take more shots and take them incorrectly.

Want to experience how a slight difference in how your muscles move can make you miss more shots or hit more shots?  Go to a Pop-a-shot and warm up.  Take your time with each shot because we’re experimenting with making shots, not how fast you can heave up 20 of them. Shoot with your feet flat on the floor and with your thighs touching the machine itself (so you can lean, if you want to).

After you take 20 of them, do it again but stand on your toes (keep your thighs on the machine to keep your balance) with your feet extended like they would be if you were taking a jump shot.  Many of you will find that your percentage goes up when you’re on your toes.  Some of that may be the extra arc from a slightly higher release but a lot of it is that standing on your toes has the same muscles elongated (and contracted) as if you were shooting a jump shot.  It’s how your body is used to being when you shoot the shot you practice most of your life.

Celebrity fun fact: I showed this to Neil Patrick Harris at an arcade on Maui after a seminar that we both attended in the mid-90s.  Although his score was terrible when he was shooting flatfoot, he set the record for that Pop-a-Shot machine when he started shooting on his toes, elongating his muscles.  He was around the rim constantly for both games and had great hand-eye coordination.  That one switch to his shooting form made all the difference.

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Dizzy Dean changed his pitching motion to avoid putting too much pressure on a painful broken toe.  That change ruined his pitching mechanics and ultimately ended his career.  Hayward would be better doing other upper body exercises to stay in shape and keep his hand-eye coordination at its peak and leave the shooting for when he’s given the okay to shoot actual jumpers after his successful rehab.  If he continues to shoot from a chair, it’ll likely take him much longer to get back into his former All-Star shape than it will to just get back on the court at all.  That would be bad for him and bad for the Celtics.

About the Author:
Art Rondeau is a shooting coach and mental performance expert whose unique free throw
program has fixed terrible FT shooters at all levels of the game from the NBA to high school. His “mental zone” program has helped elite athletes in a variety of sports quickly break out of slumps and helped turn a seven-year pro into a first-time NBA All-Star; helped a World Cup skier win a gold medal in an event he hadn’t finished in the top 10 in during the prior year; and helped a WTA player ranked in the 80s pull a major upset over a player ranked in the 30s. You can find Art’s blog link and other contact information on his Twitter profile @artrondeau.