Preseason is the time when we all overreact to the new tool that an NBA player has supposedly added to his game. "He's working on a corner three" is the new "I've gained 10 pounds of muscle." These things so often don't carry over to when the games actually matter.
Still: Watching Blake Griffin stroke jumper after jumper in the Clippers' preseason opener against the Warriors was eye-opening. The same man who hasn't cracked even 38 percent from mid-range in his NBA career nailed his first six shots, including ... yes, a corner three. Watch them all here.
Afterward, Griffin explained the resurgence with typical platitudes. "[I'm] just trying to be confident, take the shot and, miss or make, try to keep that aggressive mentality," he said, via Fox Sports West. Confidence is the perfect shorthand term -- it's an essential trait in every good shooter, yet it explains little for those trying to analyze said shooters.
Actually improving a jump shot requires more than mental tricks. Shooting coaches walk a tight balance. Tinker too little with a player's shot, and the same issues remain. Tinker too much, though, and the player has no frame of reference and loses their precious confidence. (Unless you're coaching Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who needs loooots of tinkering).
Upon close examination, Griffin has struck this balance. On the left is one of the six shots he made in the first quarter on Tuesday night. On the right is a missed jumper from last February from the same spot with the same kind of pass delivered to him.
The difference is verrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy slight at full speed, but it's clear when you slow both clips down. On the left, Griffin gets into his motion sooner and thus fires the shot sooner. On the right, his stance is open, his motion is slower and the release is choppier. The shot on the left looks like one shot. The shot on the right looks like a step-by-step guide for how to attempt one shot.
If you prefer, here's all that in picture form:
The key to the improvement begins at the start. On the left, Griffin's feet are already set. He's ready to shoot, as coaches love to say. On the right, he's still yet to step into the shot, which takes additional time and slows the entire process down. Your grade school coach may have told you to position your feet like Griffin did on the right, but in the NBA, where rhythm, fluidity and time are at a premium, a shooter has to be significantly faster in his delivery.
Like many players, Griffin's shooting motion incorporate an element called "the dip," where he brings the ball below his right hip before firing away. Some coaches don't believe in the dip at all, preferring that a player catch the ball and go directly to his shoulder, but that's faulty, especially once players get to the highest level. Rhythm is essential in the NBA, where the game moves so fast. Players naturally want to wind up for their shot, so telling them not to is often counterproductive.
Instead, the key is speeding up the dip so it becomes second nature. The slower a player's dip, the choppier the shot. That's why it's noteworthy that Left Griffin is already at the bottom of his dip when Right Griffin is just starting.
This has an immediate effect. Because Left Griffin has dipped quicker, he's already about to shoot with plenty of time before his defender closes out. Right Griffin, on the other hand, is only now finishing his dip. And thus, Left Griffin is able to actually release his shot much quicker than Right Griffin.
Left Griffin's smooth, efficient release results in a bucket. Right Griffin's mechanical motion leads to a miss on a less-contested attempt.
It's important to note that one doesn't develop this fluidity overnight. It takes years of practice to fine-tune a shooting motion, and that's only if the precious confidence that Griffin noted after Tuesday's game isn't shattered by all the misses. Griffin's mid-range shooting has steadily improved over the course of his career. If the more fluid motion he flashed in Tuesday's preseason game carries over, expect another jump this season.
Blake Griffin with a consistent mid-range jumper? The thought should freak opponents out.