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Monday, August 17, 2009
John Townsend's Hot Summer


Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Henry has delved into the work of John Huizinga and Sandy Weil with great detail. To review, Huizinga and Weil explored whether there's any validity to the conceit that a shooter can "get hot." Through extensive research and data-crunching, their study concluded that there's essentially no such thing as a "hot hand."

Whether you subscribe to the research, or believe that a shooter can feed on the sheer accuracy of his stroke, we can all agree that good shooters drain shots not because "they're hot." That rationale is as tautological as saying that I made the perfect omelet this morning because "I'm a good cook." 

A good shooter is successful because he performs very specific mechanical tasks that increase the probability that the ball will fall through the iron. That's where a shooting coach like the Trail Blazers' John Townsend comes into the picture. 

Wendell Maxey of Hoopsworld has a nice account of Townsend's busy summer traversing the country to work with Jerryd Bayless, Steve Blake, Dante Cunningham, and Jeff Pendergraph.

Townsend discusses his gentle approach in the context of Steve Blake, emphasizing that the best moment for instruction isn't always when a guy is missing ... but rather when he's on. 

"When I got to work with him, he was already a pretty good shooter. He just wants to go up and shoot it. He doesn't want to think about it. I didn't make any changes. I just told him when he's on, why he's on.

"The stuff I do with guys and their shooting is, I wouldn't take your shot and change it. But if you are shooting and there is a stretch where you can't miss; why is that?" John continued.

"There's something different that you are doing for your particular shot. You have to pick and choose your spots. If a guy is off, I might leave him alone. But when a guy is on, that's when I tell him this is what you are doing well.  Guys are going to listen to that instead of overhaul things. I'd be a fool to do that. But a change of the feet or positioning of the hands -- and if they like it -- after that I might just leave them alone. I try to think of two things that they can hone in on that will make them a straighter shooter or better feel."

Re-reading these comments from Townsend ("if you are shooting and there is a stretch where you can't miss; why is that?"), I instinctively return to the "hot hand" debate.

Is Townsend lending credence to the "hot hand" theory? Or is he, more precisely, concluding that on the occasions when a shooter appears hot, that accuracy can be attributed to very specific mechanical features in his shot rather than an abstract sense of momentum?

Maxey has a follow-up post at Beyond the Beat, chock full of longer quotes from Townsend on his teaching technique: 

On working smarter not harder:

"I used to work with Tony Delk way back when. He had to make twenty-five shots from seven spots. So I said, 'what's the reason for this?' And he said he wants to make twenty-five. So I said, 'eventually what's happening is your first fifteen are great. Your next five are okay, and then you struggle with the last five. So why don't you just do ten and do a great ten, and if you feel good then go back around'. He said he never thought about it like that. A great ten is better than a mediocre twenty-five."