Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hot Shooting from a Seasoned Shooter

Despite research and debate that may negate that a "hot hand" exists in basketball -- as a player, coach, and sport psych educator -- I do believe in the phenomenon, but not for some existential sake. Rather, for pure basketball sake. Simply knowing that practice and performance sometimes fuse perfectly and allow a player to shine.

Ray Allen was hot in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. But not out of luck. His display cannot be contrived as a series of penny flips. Or a string of randomness.

Allen has the physical and mental aptitude to put together such an exposition -- an awe-inspiring record eight 3-pointers made in the finals -- and tonight he happened to be placed in situations that allowed him to knock the LA lights out. It's understandable that hot hands tend to cool quickly. As players knock down a couple jumpers, their self-efficacy (situational self-confidence) increases. Because of that seemingly advantageous fluctuation, they want the ball and the next shot. They believe they are rolling into the zone. And, more often that not, according to the research, they miss because the degree of difficultly shoots up as quickly as their next attempt.

Unfortunately for them, the next field goal try may be an off-balance jump shot. Or a contested 3-pointer. Or perhaps a fade away from the corner. Or a ridiculous leaner. All things considered, the shot isn't like the first two. If it falls through the net, they really are considered hot. If it misses, end of scorching streak -- just like the classic NBA Jam video game.

Balanced. Comfortable. In the flow of the offense. All ideas that coaches preach. Good shots born of structure and teamwork. Shots that put teammates in positions to rebound. Shots that place the other four companions in good spaces, and shots that are created because of good spacing.

These are the scenarios that Allen discovered himself in. Prime real estate on the ultimate stage. He practiced -- and always does practice -- those shots from those spots hours prior to tip-off. That is his ritual. His pregame habit, bordering on obsessiveness. Warm-up to a point of complete control. Put himself in the right frame of mind and his body in the right moments in time. Get balanced. Become comfortable. Make himself feel good going into the game.

And there he was. Ready. Not in foul trouble. Getting touches. Enjoying the moment. And soon to be in a record-breaking rhythm.

His 3-point attempts were smooth. They came from kick outs and transition opportunities. And quintessential set up situations from the offense. A drive and find. A pull up at the perfect pace. A misdirection and screen. Balanced. Comfortable. In the flow of the offense.

With Allen's conditioning level, shooting mechanics, and belief in doing what he does best, he demonstrated what it means to be hot -- and maintain the heat for a half by replicating the previous shot as best as possible. For a game that changes so rapidly with various defenses being concocted to try and slow the heat source, the variance in Allen's shot selection was minimal. And so he continued to remain balanced, comfortable, and in the flow of the offense.

Doc Rivers knew it. Rajon Rondo knew it. And they delivered the ball to the player who knew it. Simple as that.


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