Inside the head of an NBA shooter: Why go so cold?

Feb 6 2014 - 9:01pm

Images

Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20). (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz's Trey Burke (3). (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20). (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz's Trey Burke (3). (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY - The crowd at EnergySolutions Arena earlier this week for a Jazz-Raptors game was listed at just over 17,000, well below sellout range.

But the place was still rather noisy.

No, not because the game was particularly intense - it wasn't - or because the fans were particularly crazy - they weren't - but because the rims were rattling.

Clang!

Although that's a bit of an exaggeration it's at least somewhat indicative of how poorly the Jazz shot the ball during their 84-79 loss. As a team they hit only 41 percent from the field, but take away the combined 17-for-30 effort of teammates Marvin Williams and Alec Burks and everyone else shot 31 percent.

Clang!

"We missed shots," coach Tyrone Corbin said in a Wilt Chamberlain-sized understatement.

Of late, missing shots has been a problem for the entire team, but specifically for its starting backcourt. Point guard Trey Burke and shooting guard Gordon Hayward combined to shoot 7-for-25 against Toronto and before that they went 5-for-26 in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Before that they went 5-for-20 in a loss to Golden State and 7-for-23 in a victory over Sacramento.

In his last 10 games Burke is shooting just 33 percent from the field. In his last six contests, Hayward is shooting only 36 percent.

Those numbers add up to a bona fide shooting slump for the two guards and that presents a dilemma for them. They play a game that rewards good shooting and their positions on the floor require them to hit open shots when they're available. The question then becomes, should slumping shooters continue taking shots and risk losing more confidence or should they take fewer shots and wait for the slump to subside?

"Just keep shooting, the next one's going to fall," said Hayward, repeating a long-held shooter's mantra.

"I've been through rough patches before," he added. "This one's not that big of a deal."

Hayward said he believes the key to getting out of a slump is to continue shooting while focusing on finding better, higher percentage shots. When that happens - when those shots start falling - a player's confidence grows and that, in turn, should allow him to expand his shooting range.

"If the shot's not falling, you've got to do things to get to the free throw line, get yourself going in transition - little things to help yourself," he said.

Hayward's comments reflect the teachings of former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who routinely preached the importance of shooting layups and foul shots before launching 3-pointers.

"Get yourself to the line, get yourself a free one," Hayward said. "Get something in transition - a layup, whatever - see the ball go through (the hoop). That always helps you out."

Shooting slumps often take on lives of their own, coming and going throughout the course of a season.

Case in point: In late 2013 Hayward went through a two-game stretch in which he shot a combined 6-for-21. A day later he went 8-for-16 in a victory over Milwaukee followed by another 8-for-16 performance vs. the Lakers.

Suddenly with a little more confidence, he had arguably the best game of his career three days later when he hit 13-for-16 from the field and scored a career-high 37 points in a victory over Oklahoma City.

Like Hayward, Burke repeats the shooter's mantra.

"I think that's how it is for all players at any level," he said. "If you miss some shots that you know you can make, your confidence wavers. But you can't allow that to happen because it doesn't only effect you it effects the whole team."

As a point guard, Burke quarterbacks the offense so at any given moment he's got four other teammates requiring his attention. With that sort of responsibility he doesn't have time to sulk over missed shots.

"For me I think it's about continuing to set up everybody else, letting the game come to me and picking and choosing my spots," he said. "It's very important (to set up other players). You may not be effecting the game in one area but there's always other areas, especially with me being a point guard and basically running the offense."

Williams, a veteran forward now in his ninth NBA season, advised his young teammates to adhere to the shooter's mantra.

"You've got to keep shooting, keep shooting," he said. "You've got to have confidence in yourself as far as shooting the basketball because (if you don't) no one else will.

"They've made big shot throughout their career and they'll continue to make big shots. When you're not making 'em, you've got to keep confidence in yourself. Continue to shoot 'em and they'll fall for you."

So perhaps there's no dilemma at all. Perhaps in the mind of NBA shooters it's all about taking open shots when they're available and never, ever giving in to the slump.

Maintaining confidence is the key.

As the mantra says, keep shooting and the next one will fall.

Swish!

Contact reporter Jim Burton at 801-625-4265, or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo.

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