Kyle Wiltjer, "pure" shooter. - USA TODAY Sports
Why is it that some guys shoot well, some guys shoot a lot (but not necessarily well), and others shoot very little, but generally have a high FG percentage? The following model helps me and my little pea brain understand most basketball players, what motivates them, and how they and their coaches could perhaps help them improve. (Disclaimer: I know the model is overly simplistic and that there are a lot of players who may not fit cleanly into it, but bear with me and I think you'll see that it might be useful in thinking about this UK team that we're watching this year.
SHOOTERS. Shooters gotta shoot. The classic Shooter is a cold-blooded guy who has no conscience about how many shots he misses. He's usually not a very good passer, and probably doesn't care, deep down, whether he's liked or not. Regardless of his motivation, whether it's ego or whether his mother told him to do it, he's going to shoot the rock. He may even be streaky good. A classic example of a shooter was one of my high school teammates. One Friday night, I saw him make seven jumpers in a row to start the second half (Heck, I had assists on five of them!!). The next night (yes, we had back-to-back games), he made EIGHT straight to start the second half. Of course on the year, he had the lowest FG percentage on the team, but he was a SHOOTER.
PURE SHOOTERS. These are guys who surprise you when they miss. Their form is great, they always go straight up and their alignment is super. The beauty of their follow-through is enough to make a real basketball fan cry. But they are a sensitive lot, and it hurts them when they miss a few. Even if it's not deserved, they sense the disapproval of their teammates when they miss an opportunity to help the team because they miss a shot. They are nice guys. Their conscience is overactive, and they lie awake all night after a game agonizing about the ones they missed. Their game is technically superb, but they are sometimes perceived as not trying because they're not aggressive enough. They probably look to pass first in order to help others, but may be a little cautious even in their passing so as not to create a turnover. These guys are usually very good free throw shooters, because, on the line, there's time to be perfect.
OTHERS. These guys really don't have very good shots, but they know it and they don't take many unless it's a pretty sure thing. Whether it's lack of coordination, poor technique, or lack of practice, they know their limitations and really don't press the point. They frequently are big men who don't have a mid-range or outside shot, but who rely on the dunk for many of their points. They generally try to make up for lack of a great shooting touch by working really hard on defense and rebounding. They also are nice guys, but sometimes they're so aggressive under the basket that you don't think so.
So what happens when you have the first two of these circles overlap? Man, it can be incredible if it's the Shooter/Pure Shooter intersection. That's where your Rick Barrys and Jerry Wests live. Little conscience, but pure shooting touch. At Kentucky, Dan Issel lived at this intersection, as did Louie Dampier, Goose Givens, and lots of others who scored a lot.
Now if the Shooter/Other circles overlap in one guy, it can be a disaster. He doesn't know when to quit shooting, and he doesn't give a darn if he misses. This guy can shoot you out of a game in a heartbeat.
Of course, there's no overlap between the Pure Shooter/Other circles because they are mutually exclusive by definition.
Through hard work, a player can certainly move into a different circle. Take Anthony Davis for example. I would contend that, at the beginning of the season last year, he was an Other. Very poor mid-range shot. By the end of the season, though, he made teams honor him at the line, and it opened up the baseline and lane for others to take advantage of.
So where are this year's players in this model? I would contend that Harrow is a Shooter, but sometimes overlaps into Pure Shooter. He's had a few games where he's taken pretty nice jumpers from mid-range and even outside the arc. Most of the time, however, he fits pretty well toward the center of the Shooter circle.
Certainly Wiltjer is a Pure Shooter, and Mays and Harrow also fit in this area. They look good shooting, even if they miss. After watching Poythress' two threes lst night and thinking back some over the first few games, I think he's probably a Pure Shooter, too. For all these guys, we'd like to see them be more aggressive about looking for their shots, and taking the opportunities when they present themselves. The team needs them to use what they've got a little better.
That leaves Nerlens and Willie. Watching them take a pass at the high post and seeing their defensive man drop off, I'm not sure how anyone could consider them anything but an Other. These two guys would triple their value to the offense if they could shoot a jumper from the FT line like the Brow did. The impact on the other bigs would be dramatic, as would their own scoring line.
So why is this current crop struggling to win games that should be no problem? I think because it's because they have always had success working in their own circle and haven't been pressed to improve by becoming more versatile. Can you imagine how it would look if you went to a HS game and saw Archie blow by every defensive man time after time, and score on most of them. Or how Nerlens must have looked to a 6'5" post player for some average HS team?
As I say in my profile, I believe the basic requirement for an effective college player is to be able to put the ball in the hole. I know everyone isn't going to be a three-point ace, but mid-range shots aren't beyond most good athletes, so that Pure Shooter circle is the one I'd advise guys who are buried in the Shooter and Other camps to strive for. At least get to an intersection so the defense can't ignore you when you have the ball.