Why Shaq Shoots Sure Shots

The stadium scene.
May 2 2001 3:00 AM

Why Shaq Shoots Sure Shots

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8. Shaq will never improve until he learns to use his legs properlyand to release the ball in front of his head rather than behind it. The old Shaq initiated his stroke by straightening out his flexed knees while bringing the ball back into shooting position in the manner of a dart thrower. That would be fine for drilling a target, but it's ill-suited for lofting a ball into a 10-foot-high cylinder. The new Shaq brings the ball up into shooting position, maintaining a nice "L" alignment of upper arm and forearm, then initiates the stroke by bending his flexed knees downward four to six inches. As his knees unbend, his right hand follows through toward the target. He finally has an arc on his shot—many of his makes are now swishes.

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The most recent all-star before Shaq to fix his release point was Chris Webber, who transformed a slow, decelerating free-throw stroke with a release point behind his head to a crisp, confident stroke with a release point in front of his head. The result was the greatest single-season improvement in NBA history—from 45 percent in 1998-99 to 75 percent in 1999-2000. This season, Webber shot 70 percent from the line.

As for Shaq, he still doesn't have the most graceful or rhythmic delivery on the planet. In effect, he does in two steps what most good shooters do in one. Virtually all good shooters have a synchronized, arms-come-up-as-knees-bend-down release. But the Palubinskas-Shaq method has produced a crisp, compact release that works.

Shaq's success has exposed a host of critics and rationalizers—including Shaq himself—as clueless. The guy has always had what it takes to be respectable from the charity stripe. He just needed the right instructor.

Dennis Hans is a writer, an occasional college professor, and a frustrated NBA fan.