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Analysis: The progression of Scottie Barnes’ jump shot

Let’s break down the film on Barnes’ jump shot and see if he’s making the improvements needed to become an outside threat.

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, Toronto Raptors fans, no need to be alarmed because the rumours are not true. I’ve heard them all season long, whether it be on Twitter, Instagram, TV, Radio, everywhere you go these lies would be spread.

I am here today with proof! Proof that can relieve an entire fanbase of their stress. Proof that can show the world that even though you are 21, you are never too old to improve.

Yes, that is correct, I am here to show you hard-fast evidence that Scottie Barnes has indeed improved his game from his rookie season. Well, I’m at least going to show you one specific area that he’s improved in.

I don’t even want to get into all of the chatter at how Barnes looks terrible, and he didn’t take this huge leap like everyone expected him to. You can tell Raptors fans don’t know how to act with nice things, because they get a player in their locker room who wins Rookie of the Year, and all of a sudden expect an All-Star to be birthed in year two.

I guess I can’t fully blame Raptors fans, because the general media has been riding this train as well. It is insane how much recency bias can play a factor in our analysis. A young player has a great month, and they’re untouchable because they’re a future MVP. That same young player has a couple months where he makes some rookie mistakes, and he gets ranked number 46 on The Ringer’s Trade Value Rankings.

Nevertheless, like I said, I am not here to prove everyone wrong, and go over the amount of second year players who have actually made an all star leap, because it is few and I have already done that.

What I am here to do, is show you the progression that Scottie Barnes has made on his jump shot.

An area that was deemed a weakness coming out of the draft, for an otherwise well-rounded player. After winning rookie of the year, the jumper, especially from deep, still looked to be the one soft spot in Barnes’ game. Fast forward to today, and it still likely is the weakest part of his extremely effective offensive game, but the visual improvements are definitely recognizable.

Barnes currently shoots 29.9% from 3-point range on 3.0 attempts per game. Compare that to where he was last year, and there is an extremely slight drop off. The fairest way to put it is that there isn’t much of a statistical difference between the two. Last year he shot 30.1% from 3-point range off 2.6 attempts per game.

One thing I do like to see right off the bat is his willingness to take more. Everybody knows the famous Michael Scott - Wayne Gretzky quote:

It’s cliche and often overused, but it is so true. The only way to improve in something is to keep doing it, and fail till it becomes a success. For the majority of players, you can read their confidence like a book by simply looking at their willingness to take an open jump shot.

For a few games, teams would play Rondo-defense on Barnes with their center. Essentially placing his defender under the net, whether Barnes has the ball or not, practically daring him to shoot like you would to your little brother when playing him 1-on-1 on the driveway.

In this play, Joel Embiid is checking Barnes with no care if he takes the shot or not, (spoiler alert: he did, and he missed). This is even closer than a lot of centers were playing Barnes, partially because he isn’t super efficient from deep, but also because he was scared to shoot them.

In the last three games, Barnes has attempted 17 3-point attempts, and even though they haven’t been efficient, this is the fourth highest amount of attempts in a three game stretch in his career. His confidence in his jump shot is growing, and I truly believe that with the improvements that he’s made in his mechanics, we will begin to see the ball drop a lot more.

Release Timing

There is no question that the timing between these shots is wildly different. First of all, simply the time he takes to check his footing is enough to allow a defender to closeout on you in the NBA.

The jump from high school to college to the NBA is wild in terms of quickness and athleticism. It’s like how in the NFL, the gap between a defender and a receiver to be deemed open, tightens up the higher the level.

Basketball is the exact same way. An open shot in the NBA for some guys is a matter of inches. If a player were to check their feet every time they caught the ball, defenses would catch on, and be able to closeout in seconds.

I understand why he did it. The corner in the NBA leaves about enough room for your feet and a couple inches give-or-take. Something like this only comes with reps. This is an improvement that you would expect all NBA players to make, but nevertheless, a sign of growth.

The Dip

Before I start this section, I will fully admit that the pass plays a factor in this. However, there is still a noticeable difference in the level to which Barnes dips the ball before his shot.

For starters, a dip is extremely natural to shooters. If you go and watch kids at a young age, a dip is a common part to all of their jump shots. This initially starts as a way to get enough power to reach the net when you’re young, and then becomes routine like any sort of wind up.

When you throw a baseball or a football, or swing a bat or tennis racket, a wind up is involved. Albeit, these are all vastly different from shooting a basketball. Winding up though, to get into a rhythm or get more power is natural in the world of sports.

It is hard to train dipping the ball out of a shooter’s jump shot, especially when they’ve done it for so long. The reason you want to limit it as you go up in levels, goes back to the concept of release timing.

Dipping the ball adds that extra half a second for the defender to closeout, and if it’s someone like Chris Boucher, sometimes that’s all he needs to get his finger tips on the ball.

In the first clip, Scottie makes a deliberate effort to dip the ball below his waist before shooting it. In the second clip, you may notice a slight dip, but that flows naturally with the dip he takes with his legs. Involving your legs in your jump shot is crucial, because if you can get all your power from below your waist, and just utilize your arms and hands to guide the ball, you will become a much more consistent shooter.

As I admitted before, part of the reason that the dip is less exaggerated is due to the pass, but also because of his shot preparation.

Shot Preparation

50% of a jump shot relies on what you do before. Like anything in life, in order to do something successfully, preparation is involved. Whether that’s practicing a sport or instrument, or setting up for an event, you can’t just show up to the game, rehearsal, or trade show, and expect it to go flawlessly, without putting in effort beforehand.

The same goes with taking a shot in basketball.

In the first clip, Barnes doesn’t have his feet set and he’s standing straight up before receiving the ball. Part of the reason he has to dip the ball in order to gain some rhythm on his jump shot is because he didn’t do it beforehand.

The fact that he has to step backwards while receiving the ball, and then dip the ball in order to crouch into proper shooting position, will throw his shot off nine times out of ten. As you can see by the result of this shot, this was likely one of those nine times.

In the second clip, you can see the exact moment that Barnes realizes he is open and may receive the ball for a shot, and immediately gets into ready position to shoot. He gets his legs ready by getting into more of an athletic stance, and places his hands exactly where he would dip the ball to, so he can gradually rise up from there.

His hands during his shot prep also made a huge difference. Part of the reason that Malachi Flynn was able to make such an effective pass is because Barnes gave him a target to throw to, right in front of his body. In the first play, Fred VanVleet was given no target, and was just left throwing it to where he thought Scottie should and would end up before taking the shot, resulting in a less effective pass and catch.

The Release

Last, but certainly not least is the release of the jump shot. In these next screenshots I show, you can see a night-and-day difference in Scottie’s hands.

Look how much closer his guide hand is to his shooting hand in the second one. The whole purpose of the guide hand is to ensure the ball targets directly towards the net. You want that guide hand to stay right on the side of the ball until the flick of the wrist of your shooting hand releases it.

If you watch the first clip back, Scottie’s guide hand flares out, leaving the ball with no guide, thus an airball. In the second clip, his guide hand stays right in close to his shooting hand, and he holds it there up till the ball is released.

You can watch every single little result and decide of Barnes is improving or not. He’s still young, he’s going to make mistakes, and not everything is going to be perfect. But when you can see such a tangible difference in an area so crucial to the game of basketball, like this, you have to realize that he is improving.

Barnes still may be a multi-time All Star, and this year won’t decide that whether it finishes strong, or along the same lines as he’s been improving slowly throughout the year. Barnes is a hard worker, a great player, and I fully believe this jump shot can get into the 32-35% range, with the improvements he has made on it.