Getting up shots is a consistent worry for coaches over the course of practice. One of my areas for growth last off-season was finding drills that allowed my team to take more three’s. And we found three-point volume heavy shooting drills thanks to Bob Romeo. In looking at the end result, all of the extra reps resulted in static growth in the percentage of made three-pointers. Our personnel remained mostly the same. After seeing Virginia practice, I came away convinced that we can do more in our drills to simulate defense and take more contested shots.
Practicing a shot without a defense is still a healthy habit. Every great player who ever played practiced this way. Virginia took many shots without defenders in their practice. Shooting uncontested exclusively will cause problems in games though. Getting just a snap shot of what Virginia does for a day, my biggest takeaway with how they develop offense is the balance they get in taking contested shots and uncontested shots.
Drilling Contested Three-Point Shots
The image above is a shooting drill that Virginia used in a practice I attended recently. The flag represents a coach. The coach will pass to the 1, the 1 will immediately reverse it to the 2 who will shoot it. Right after 1 throws the pass to the 2, the coach fires a second ball at 1 for a catch and shoot. Alternatively, Virginia fluctuated from 1 clicking a pass to 2 to having 1 drive and kick. After 1 kicked, he sprinted out to catch and shoot a pass from the coach’s second ball.
One issue that might need to be taught explicitly to players in this shooting drill is for the defenders to close out properly. Executing a proper closeout on a reversal will compound the value of the drill in making it a defensive drill. It also will be a better game simulation for the shooters.
At all levels sometimes the greatest issue in shooting is the pass. Passers need to be putting the ball in the “strike zone” for shooters. The shooters need to quickly transfer from receiving the pass to shooting. Being shot ready and making a clean catch are not skills that happen over night. I remember watching Florida State in the NCAA Tournament and the commentator mentioned that one of their 7-footers had playing the game for only about a year. Coaches and managers literally played catch with him off to the side at practices to build up hand coordination that we often take for granted.
Drilling Contested Shots in the Lane
Virginia worked on finishing at the rim with strong contesting defenders as well. Looking at the drill above, it is as simple as it gets. The player up top throws to the coach and the coach gives it back to the cutting player. You might have heard of the action “give and go.”
What I found helpful about the entire process was that there was the genuine effort of the defender lurking at the rim. Their defender happened to be a manager using an extended arm. It was more padded than other arms, but the general idea was to simulate a shot blocker. The manager would block more shots than he would not. The players that were able to get shots successfully past were often missing opportunities to finish. Too often we ask players to do a lay-up drill or a passing drill and they finish uncontested at the rim. It almost never happens in a game though.
In addition to catching the ball close to the rim, Virginia also drilled players working against dummy defenders to post up in the high post, reverse pivot, and attack a defender at the rim. Players were able to use floaters, step backs, and also go directly at the rim. The diagram below shows the initial start.
Off-Balance Shot Progression
Virginia closed their one-hour practice with a drill that they referred to as off-balance shot progression. Each part of the progression went for 30 seconds. The drill does not involve contested shots, but incorporates balance necessary in taking game shots. First, players did a jab-step into a shot. Next, they simulated a catch and shoot. Third, they turned sideways, took one dribble and in that motion got square to shoot. The fourth progression was similar to the third progression, but they added players going behind their back (in the air not as a dribble). Fifth, they had the players dribble through the legs twice then shoot. It was all in the name of balance which is guaranteed if you are shooting a free throw, but almost never in an actual game.