Training as a science: How to perfect your shooting

Shooting secrets of Bogdan Bogdanović and Marko Simonović

Soft hands are a natural gift, but they’re not worth much if you don’t work on shooting throughout your entire career.

Bogdan Bogdanović, in the shirt of PartizanFenerbahçe and the national team of Serbia, has filled opponents’ baskets, while it is not uncommon for him to shoot from long distances.

Marko Simonović has this season been of the best basketball players at Red Star, and his series of three-pointers, both numerous and timely, secure several important victories for the red & whites.

They are among the best shooters in the Euroleague, and in this article for Sportifico they reveal their working methods and what has made them the kind of basketball players they are today.

Bogdan Bogdanović – psyche, 1,000 hoops and original exercises

Shooting is really an exact science and strenuous work is required in order for it to be perfected.

While I was playing at Partizan, I also went for a 1,000 shot hoops during one training session – sometimes I even had lunch and slept in the hall. Before the morning session, then we continue afterwards, then again in the evening before training. When it was a free day, it was actually the toughest for us – one really hard individual training session. Not physically tough, but mentally.

Bogdan Bogdanovic Serbia Rio 2016

Bogdan Bogdanović shoots for three points in the 2016 Olympic final against the U.S.A. | Photo: OKS

Honestly, I did not like training as a junior. I just wanted to enjoy myself and to play basketball. That’s normal thinking for a boy. At Partizan I came to understand how important training is – such training sessions, of course, did serve to make my shooting better, but they had even greater influence on building my character and enabling me to acquire working habits.

Duško Vujošević repeated to me every day: “In order to achieve automatic play, you must have 5000-6000 repetitions on a weekly basis.”

What did training look like? At the beginning you only exercise the wrist – place the ball on the palm of your hand, extend your shooting arm upwards and practice only the final movement of shooting from under the basket. Then you start slowly moving backwards to make shots by keeping the ball near your head. Then you switch to six or seven different positions for 20-30 repetitions and you reach 150 hoops shot just practicing your wrist and the mechanics of shooting.

Next comes tossing the ball (the player himself tosses the ball about a metre in front of himself, then takes it and shoots), entering a triple threat (a stance from which a player can shoot and pass and start dribbling), as well as one dribble and dunking, ten times each from both sides.

All of that represents the warm-up, and after stretching I start with a large series of shooting – 50 hoops shot from each of five positions (two corners, two at 45 degrees and from the middle). Then we repeated the same thing on the other basket.

Then the coach orders shots from specific positions, depending on the style of play and that which should happen during matches – thus we reach 800-900 hoops shot, then follow throws and shooting from the spot to round it up to 1,000.

Ray Allen and insults

For Ray Allen, one of the best shooters of all time, it was a huge insult if someone suggested that his shooting was the result of talent.

According to his own admission, Allen was on the verge of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder, and in the letter in which he announced he was walking away from basketball he wrote pearl that is shared by all the great aces: “The secret is there is no secret. It’s just boring old habits“.

A reporter noted on one occasion: everyone’s jealous of Ray Allen’s God-given talent. “That’s an insult,” responded Ray, “God could care less whether I can shoot a jump shot.”
Only training, not God.

There are numerous ways to work on shooting. When I was injured, I shot from a chair, then from a bed. With a bigger ball, then also with only three fingers, while there are also exercises with gloves.

That is individual, but I really liked that method of working and such original exercises. Apart from further enhancing the feeling, those exercises ensure that training isn’t monotonous.

Why is it important for them not to be monotonous? Because at shooting practice it is easy to lose concentration when it becomes monotonous, and in that way you can’t make progress. You have to be mentally present all the time. Nobody is a robot, and these exercises are a creative way to maintain concentration – if you always complete five of the same things, your brain gets lazy.

Footwork can be critical to shooting, because it provides security and balance.
However, it all depends on the kind of throw – for example, Pero Antić barely uses his legs when shooting, because he does everything from the ground and only lifts himself onto his toes. On the other hand, Ray Allen leapt a metre and a half, then held himself in the air for a second, so for him his legs were everything.

Personally, in order to perform my shooting mechanics I have to jump. I also have strong forearms, which helps make it easier, but I can also properly shoot the ball from the centre because of my legs, not because of my arms.

Kobe Bryant – footwork as a religion

Buddy Hield, the sixth pick of the 2016 draft, described training with Kobe Bryant in an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune. In one part he notes in particular:

“I know people like to say that basketball is all about footwork, but if our workout was anything like what he did during his career, Kobe took it to a whole other level… Kobe treated footwork kind of like a religion. I watched a lot of Kobe when I was growing up and even when he was in his prime there were other guys in the league who were way more athletic. But I think footwork was his cheat code.

It is crucial for the shooting action to be one movement, smooth and synchronised. When I was younger I had a problem, I often delayed and the ball ended up in the first hoop – I fixed that largely with an exercise in which the ball has to be shot towards the basket at the highest point of the jump. Now I’ve sped up my shooting and that also helped me a lot in shooting from pick-and-rolls.

We also did the following exercise with Dule – toss a ball in the air, move beneath it and just jump as high as possible, then it’s less important how you shoot. Then you simply find a balance when you jump and “your own” reflex – one that suits you for shooting.
Situations are not always ideal during a game, which is why it’s important to find alternative ways to correct the upper body. For example, Kobe’s footwork – he always jumped from one foot and dangled the other in front of him. That movement is used by numerous players to establish balance; I noticed that they also use it on me.

Off-balanced shooting can be practised, but there the main thing is still talent – just look at Teodosić, who always shoots off-balance, but his throws are always proper, fast and without delay. The floater is also largely a question of talent – for example, I played with Andrew Goudelock, who throws himself sideways and is completely off-balance when he shoots a floater, but it goes in. It was never clear to me how…

In contrast to that, anyone can learn to be a good dribbler if they are dedicated and persistent. Earlier, in my first season at Fenerbahçe, I did not have good enough control of the ball with my left hand – I couldn’t react fast as I wanted to and to throw a pass. I’ve advanced a lot in that respect, and ball control is a basic requirement for shooting from dribbling.

In this sense, my greatest role model is Kyrie Irving. It’s an enjoyment to watch him. I strive to work on a lot of situations from games, from a position in which I play one on one. Front switch, then through the legs or the front leg, then in front… There’s usually a step-back included in that, because in a game you have to separate yourself from your guard, and that’s the hardest thing.

Now at Fenerbahçe I also practise shooting from the pick after every training session, shooting 50-60 hoops. I place chairs on the court, then imagine the defence and try to fix what went wrong, because as a player you know exactly where you made mistakes and where they got to you because you were a millisecond slower, when you were unable to take the shot…

In the end, the biggest secrets are faith and mental preparation. It’s not just a case of coming and throwing 1,000 hoops, rather it’s necessary to instinctively feel exactly where you want to advance and exactly what you are doing to achieve that.
Push yourself every day to be the best you can be. That’s the recipe I adopted and it’s one that produces results.

Marko Simonović – “punish” your arms until you collapse

For a start, it is necessary to perfect the mechanics of shooting. And in order to do that we need to determine where the problem lies – whether it is up in the arms, i.e. in the throw and method of holding the ball, or in the waist and legs.

If the upper body is not optimal, static exercises are needed – without using legs, shoot very close to the basket with one arm, then only afterwards bring in the other. Then sit on a chair and practise throwing from a distance of two to three metres, in order for the ball to gain the adequate rotation.

Marko Simonovic Red Star Belgrade

Marko Simonović shoots a three-pointer in a game between Red Star and Karpos Sokoli | Photo: KK Crvena zvezda

If the problem is in the waist or legs, i.e. if there is a lack of balance, you first shoot without jumping, then afterwards gradually introduce the jump shot.

The point is for every shot and every throw to be the same. When you improve your mechanics to the desired level, then you repeat such identical shots a billion times. Don’t laugh! Literally a billion times, then afterwards you know immediately when you throw the ball whether or not it is going into the basket.

Dirkenstein’s laboratory

Dirk Nowitzki, at a height of seven feet (214 cm), is one of the best shooters of all time, and he owes a lot for that to his coach from Würzburg, Holger Geschwindner, a man who has studied both mathematics and physics.

Pirouette on the free throw line and shoot (he also practised ballet steps), then shooting after a 360-degree turn, shooting from one leg (both left and right), with the other leg extended or bent at the knee, shooting between steps (74 cm wider than shoulder width), from the backboard with both left and right arms… “Your head spins just looking at him,” wrote one journalist, describing Nowitzki training.

The fadeaway one-legged jump shot became Dirk’s trademark shot, which has caused the collapse of his fiercest rivals and the strongest guards, and Nowitzki brought his Mavericks the much-coveted NBA ring in 2011.

Dirk Nowitzki​'s one-legged jumpers are timeless…literally (…

Dirk Nowitzki's one-legged jumpers are timeless…literally (via tim_cato/Twitter)

Posted by Bleacher Report on Dienstag, 25. Oktober 2016

The next question is how to perform those shots. That depends on what a player uses more during the game itself – which determines whether they practise more standing shots or shots taken after escaping a block.

Throw in some chairs and imagine they are teammates making blocks, and they can be in the most diverse shapes – diamond, stagger, consecutive blocks, stepped blocks… It is vital that is done at maximum speed and with great effort, in order to create a game situation, and after that it will be easier and more natural during a match.

There are also other ways to perfect shooting – for example, use a bigger ball higher or a small hoop. With that it is harder to score, but when you later use a ball of the right size it feels like you’re shooting into a swimming pool. Shooting with gloves can also contribute to correcting the feeling.

You can also simply, as we like to say, “punish” your arms until you collapse – I’ve given myself difficult tasks, which Bogdan Bogdanović and almost all top shooters also do, of shooting two to four thousand hoops per week.

For example, in France the year before last I was playing one game a week, but I didn’t allow myself to train only with the team – I shot 500 baskets every day. That’s extremely difficult – scoring 500 shots requires shooting the ball about 700 times, and it’s not even easy to jump that many times. Both your arms and legs become heavy, but the main message is that hard work pays off in the end.

That’s how Rio’s silver-medallists think and act – commitment, openness to innovation and a genuine desire to succeed. That’s a recipe we owe ourselves.