12 March 2012
Breaking Down CJ Miles’s Inconsistency
We’ve all seen it before; CJ Miles goes out for 40 points, and then he lays a few eggs the week after. Truly any man who is able to score 30+ on any given night has the ability to do it every night, right? Then naturally, we raise the question of why CJ Miles is unable to knock down his shots consistently.
As of late, CJ Miles has started to replicate Alec Burks a bit by slashing/driving more to the basket, which helps explain Tyrone Corbin’s controversial decision to continually give CJ more minutes than Alec (and no, this isn’t a #FreeAlecBurks campaign). When CJ is not settling for jump shots and is driving to the basket more, he is much more effective to this Jazz team. However, that is not the case; he still has an addiction to those jumpers- spending nearly a fourth of his possessions on spot-ups and converting on only 34% of them throughout his career. To see why this is occurring, we turn to Sports Science (or at least my cheap rip-off version of it).
Let’s start at the fundamental concepts of shooting a basketball. In order to be a good shooter, you must have both a shooter’s mentality and a proper shot mechanics. From the percentage of possessions he uses on spotting up from the 3, I’m sure no one is questioning his confidence in his shot. Shooter’s mentality—check. Now it’s time to look his shooting mechanics.
Everyone has their unique method of shooting, whether it’s Kyle Korver’s beautiful form or Rashard Lewis’s unorthodox form. What differentiates a consistent shooter, however, is a consistent form; that is, the shooting form must be consistent on every jump shot you take, along with good balance and an optimal release point. Keeping these three aspects constant is vital for creating a rhythm, and judging by CJ Miles’s inconsistency, there must be something wrong in at least one of the three.
Consistent Shooting Form
A true shooter should always have the same arm positioning throughout all his shots, no matter the contortion of the body. As you can see from the above pictures, CJ Miles’s elbow position and angles are fairly the same throughout all his shots. His shooting form has the characteristics of a true shooter, therefore there must be another aspect that is changing.
The balance of a player’s shot is all based around the positioning of the feet. I mentioned earlier that the positioning of the arms should be consistent on any shot, whether it be a wide open three or a fade away baseline shot—the same applies to a player’s balance. Whenever a player shoots a shot, it is important to first jump straight up with a solid foundation, and then you can contort the body however the situation allows (i.e. all of Millsap’s “Houdini” shots).
The term “squaring up” is a simpler way of a coach telling a player to have proper balance on his shot. All shooters are taught from day one that squaring up is the essential for knocking down a shot, from the shoulders all the way down to the feet. Looking at the pictures above, CJ Miles only gets half the job done; his shoulders are squared to the basket, but his feet aren’t (positioned about 45 degrees away). In short, the mechanics of his upper body is great (consistent shooting form and squared up shoulders), but his lower body is off.
Another good way of looking for balance is by following the path of the tip of a player’s shoes from start to finish. If the player has good balance, then the tip of the shoes will stay in the same vertical plane relative to the basket from start to finish (i.e. if you drew a line from the tip of a player’s shoes to the point directly under the basket, the front tips of the shoe should stay on that line throughout the entire shot). Because CJ Miles’s shoes are positioned at an angle, the tips of the shoes do not stay in a straight line path throughout the shot. This is an indication of the lack of balance because the path of his center of mass is not in line with the path of the basketball when heading towards the basket. Aiming a basketball isn’t solely reliant on the upper body form, but also the balance from the uplift—and that is what CJ is missing.
Using Math & Physics (skip if you don’t like the technical stuff): This one was a little tricky because I do not have the advance software of ESPN’s Sport Science, so I had to rely on the old-fashion Paint application. In this picture, I have zoomed up closer to the original size (the original size aspect can be seen at the top of this article). I created a time lapse of the different positions of the ball, and connected them each with a line to create an approximated parabolic arc. I then had to establish a 3-D coordinate system in order to get correct measurements, which is why I created a 3-D white box around the court. Using this shape, I then redefined a sub-axis at the point of CJ’s release and then plotted the points to create a quadratic regression equation of the path of the basketball. Once I figured the kinematics (motion) of the path, I needed to take into account the dynamics (the different forces acting upon the ball). In this situation, there are only two forces; gravity and air resistance. Gravity is constant force (~32 ft/s^2), while air resistance is differentiable force that is proportional to the square of the tangential velocity. To figure the velocity, I needed to parameterize the position of the ball into a function of time. To calculate the air resistance, I needed to redefine another sub-axis relative the ball and tangential path because the air resistance is changing with the direction of the ball’s path. Once I have the air resistance, I can calculate the optimal angle, which is the path the ball takes so it has the least velocity when it hits the basket (this takes into account the release velocity and the amount of air resistance used to lower the velocity while counteracting the acceleration due to gravity).
What I Found: The reason I did all these calculations for the path of the basketball was to find the optimal release angle, which was approximately 49.6 degrees for a 6’6” player. The purpose of a jump shot in comparison to a set shot is gain additional lift. This lift is important because the closer you get your release point to the horizontal plane of the basket (10 ft.), the smaller distance between the ball and hoop, and therefore less velocity needed to make it. I have illustrated this with the light blue lines. The top blue line is the vertical plane of the basket, the second line is CJ’s release point in the screenshot, and the bottom line is the release point if CJ shot a set shot. The optimal release point therefore is at the climax of his jump, and with my calculations, requires a release angle of 49.6 degrees (assuming he jumps to his apex each time).
In CJ’s case however, he does not take advantage of these optimal conditions. His release angle is about 55 degrees, a whole 5.4 degrees larger than the optimal angle. In order for the ball to make it to the basket, CJ must release the ball with a greater velocity because of the increased angle. Because the angle is higher, it will be in the air longer and the gravity will give the ball further acceleration, increasing the velocity. The faster the ball, the harder it hits the rim and makes a “brick”. Furthermore from the film I looked at, he did not release at the same point in all his jump shots, varying a few inches each time. This forces him to change the release angle and release velocity (because of the changing distance between him & the basket) each time he shoots the ball, which is very difficult for any player. A true shooter will release from the same point of his lift, therefore will only require a pre-calibrated angle and velocity which allows him to consistently knock down the jump shot. I have no doubt that CJ puts up thousands of practice shots, but the reason it’s not working as well as he hoped is because he has to vary his shot velocity and angle each time he shoots, as opposed to a single angle like Ray Allen or Kyle Korver.
So it turns out that there are some things that CJ is doing right, like consistently shooting the same way, but there are also things that is holding CJ back, like improper balance and release point. If CJ Miles can somehow change his shot to take in account these aspects, then he is bound to become a knock down shooter—however it takes years to redefine one’s form, something CJ does not have. Therefore it can be concluded that the best option for CJ is to stop spending a quarter of his possessions on spot-ups, and start driving the basket more. He simply isn’t a shooter, and the mechanics show it.
You can follow Alec Lam on Twitter @AlecLam14 (and he’s pretty awesome if I do say so myself)
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