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P&T film study: Breaking down Frank Ntilikina’s jumper

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Another study on how to fix the Frenchman's offensive struggles

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s ya boy Piragua Prez, back to look at minutiae of player development in longform just like NOBODY ASKED FOR! This is part two of paying way more attention than anyone ever has to Frank Ntilikina’s feet (that we know of).*

*The comment section can get pretty weird, and I haven’t been in it much the last two months, so I don’t wanna rule anything out prematurely here.

There are many ways to have a crappy jumper, most of which we can identify without being armchair shot doctors.

Mudiay has a hitch.

Lance Thomas’ shot has... a lot of things going on.

Conversely, someone like Noah Vonleh has a mostly-fine shot. A little flat, but Mostly Fine. Trier? Little slow on the wind-up, kinda short-arms it, but Mostly Fine! Both have had respectable results this year, and those are two guys who were literally considered non-shooters until this season. Usually, a consistent, mostly-fine-looking jumper gets you to respectability and near-league-average numbers barring horrible shot selection.

Spoiler alert: Frank’s jumper has not been respectable. One may even say it is rather disrespectable. His jumpshots have overwhelmingly not gone in the hoop in every possible situation, even on good and easy theoretical shot attempts. This is indubitably true, despite his shot form being the definition of “looks mostly fine!"

"What’s up with that, Prez?" you might ask. "In the comments last season, you always said you were worried about many things with Frank but not his defense and not his jumper. Are you admitting DEFEAT? Also, I thought you said mostly-fine looking shots are usually mostly fine!"

Well, I was wrong about his jumpshot! So I set out to see why, despite having a shot that mostly looks fine, Frank has been a horrible jump shooter.

How bad has his shot been?

Let’s get the ugly evidence out of the way first, and then work toward understanding what might be the cause of the brick laying. I begin with two of the most gruesome charts you’ll lay thine eyes upon:

The top is this year, the bottom is last year. Yikes. The less said about this, the better.

Some numbers for 2018-19 (all from NBA.com) for you nerds in the audience:

  • Frank is shooting 28.7 percent from three on the year (40 percent of his shots, a healthy frequency).
  • Frank is shooting 38.6 percent on pull-up 2-point jumpers (an unhealthy 31 percent of his shots).
  • Frank is shooting 29.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (28.7 percent of his shots) and 26.7 percent on pull-up 3-pointers. Anecdotally, the former shots make you respectable and the latter shots make you a true threat, especially as a guard, so these are some ghoulish numbers.
  • This seems kind of weird so I don’t know if it is true, but per NBA.com, almost all of his threes have been classified as open (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (six-plus feet away). He’s shot 26.3 percent and 31.3 percent on those, respectively.

“Prez, other people have looked into this, you janky one-hit wonder”

Some housekeeping and video references real quick before we dive in:

  • If you wanna do some fact checking, click here for all of his attempted 2-point jumpers this season and click here for his attempted 3-pointers this season.
  • Kevin Huerter’s shooting coach Steve Dagostino did a breakdown of Frank’s shooting here. Let me go on the record as saying Huerter is a top-15 pure jumpshooter in the NBA as a rookie, full-stop, so this is a guy I’d trust.
  • Tom Piccolo of BBall-Index did a post on Frank’s jumper a while back here.
  • Our own New York Basketball Observer did a video on the subject last February.
  • Lastly, let’s appreciate the insane amount of good Knicks content on the internet these days despite our awful record. I went looking for a Dennis Smith Jr. jumpshot deep dive for my next piece and there was nooooooooooooooothing. P&T alone out-produces some entire other fan bases’ internet presence. #blessed

OK! Let’s get into it.

Planting vs hopping into 3s

I’ll get right to my main point here: I think Frank’s biggest shooting issue, that causes a lot of his other problems, has to do with how he prepares to shoot with his feet. He sometimes has a lot of other things going on (like shooting on the way down, for example) but if I had to pick one thing to fix, I’d choose this.

Mr. Dagostino’s video focused on this, specifically on comparing how Frank shoots planting one foot vs. going off two feet early in the season. I’d actually argue the problem is even more granular than that, because while a two foot hop to prep for jumpers is ideal, some guys can and do successfully use what are called “1-2 steps” to prep for shots and be fine. Frank’s problem is that his “1-2 step”/plant is slow and not dynamic, so he gets terrible leg energy into his shot, and that causes him to use his arms a bit more, aiming and slinging the ball.

But let me back up a minute... Instead of assuming everyone spends their free time diving into basketball biomechanics YouTube and Twitter black holes, let me just define and show some examples of a few terms I mentioned before. I’ll be using clips from NBA.com and from the @bbiomechanics Twitter (which is kind of insufferable in how they use jargon, but useful for providing slow motion video of jumpers).

Two-motion shot

A two-motion shot is when a player’s jumper form looks like it has two segments — bringing the ball up to a set point, then shooting it, rather than doing both of those things in one seamless motion. That’s not to say two-motion shots can’t be fluid: the prettiest, most textbook two-motion shot I’ve seen belongs to none other than Ray Allen. Check out this slow-mo shot of him during the celebrity game this year (lol):

You see him kind of bring the ball up, pause (for like half a tick), then release it. Other notable two-motion shooters include LeBron, Luka Doncic, Joe Harris, and Janis Porzingis' little brother (his name escapes me at the moment). More distance shooters had two-motion shots back in the day (Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant), and most of the ones who have it now tend to be a little bigger or stronger. Two-motion shots require a little more upper body strength, or if you’re not quiiite as strong in the arms, require higher jumps (hence Ray Allen and his giant calves) on jumpers.

One-motion shot

The best shooters today almost all have one-motion shots, where the line between raising the ball to a set point and actually shooting it is very blurred. Steph, Harden, Klay, Buddy Hield and Paul George are notable examples. The increased fluidity and quickness of these releases mean they don’t need to jump as high on their jumpers, since more energy seamlessly goes from their legs and hips to the release and because that release is then faster. Not needing to jump as high means they can do some tougher footwork on jumpers, like stepbacks or sidesteps or things like that.

For what it’s worth, some guys are kind of hard to classify. Devin Booker, Kyle Korver and JJ Reddick, for example, look kind of like an in-between 1.5 motion situation to me. It’s not nearly as bright of a line as I am making it out to be.

A “hop”

Let’s look at that Ray Allen example again.

A “hop” is when a player uses a small jump, landing on both feet together, to load up some leg energy before jumping to put up a shot. It can be done off the catch to prepare for spot-up jumpers, and also off the dribble. Most shooters do this at least some of the time. Some do it more or less than others, though.

Also worth noting in this video:

  • The angle of his feet. Most good shooters will hop right into both feet pointing slightly left of the hoop (if they’re righty), and landing both a little bit in front and a little bit more angled to the left than they began.
  • His knees don't buckle in together in a concave fashion like these inverted parenthesis: )(
    Some guys who are still getting used to their tallness do that a lot. Frank does. KP did it a TON. I had to actually work on that in physical therapy for some knee/calf/ankle injuries. According to my physical therapist, it speaks to weak hips and glutes and core. She’s a NBA fan and spent time in NY and said it’s not a coincidence he does that a lot and he tore his knee up.

The alternative to the hop is...

1-2 step

A “1-2 step” is when a shooter either dribbles or catches, lands with one foot, then the other, then springs into the jump for a jumpshot. I know it’s technically a kind of hop too... don’t shoot the messenger, I didn’t coin the terminology!

With a good 1-2 step there’s a kinetic seamlessness in the transition from catch/gather dribble, to dropping the hips, to landing on the balls of the first foot, to the second foot touching ground and immediate triggering the jump in the jumpshot. Like a hop, you generally see shooters spring off the balls of their toes, without pausing too much upon catching. Some guys spring up REALLY high, like Kemba Walker or Ray Allen; others don’t (like Eric Gordon in the video above).

Two-motion shooters who are big and strong (LeBron, Luka), and one-motion shooters regardless of size tend to use 1-2 steps with a bit more ease, because for different reasons they don’t require quiiite as much kinetic energy from their legs. That’s not to say the leg input is less important, it’s just different. That’s why Eric Gordon doesn’t have to jump that high for his 1-2 step.

OK! Now that is out of the way. Let’s get to Frank and his problems.

Frank and hopping vs. 1-2 stepping

Mr. Dagostino, Huerter’s shooting coach, posited that Frank often misses when he “plants a foot” then shoots. A 1-2 step sort of fits into this category, technically. However, I’d take Dagostino’s hypothesis a step further: the way Frank often plants is a butchered 1-2 step. It’s like a 1-2 step, but instead Frank is flat-footed, rather than on the balls of the toes or not springing into the shot by not really using his hips. You don’t see that kinetic transfer of energy from his steps to the jump. Here’s some typical examples of Frank doing this kinda stuff:

Compare this to the following made jumper by Frank (from last year, just randomly — didn’t pick last season for any reason), where you see the energy transfer nicely from feet to hips to shot:

Frank is a two-motion shooter. By butchering his footwork, Frank doesn’t generate a ton of strength for his shot. We know the legs are how you get enough strength to shoot from distance as a two-motion shooter, unless you got brolic arms like LeBron or have a combo of size and tremendous form like Joe Harris or Luka Doncic. Below is a three where Frank 1-2 steps, but with a nice bounce and rhythm:

Next, he does a hop and has a nice smooth kinetic chain from dribble to hop to shot, ending with his arms up after the release (even though he doesn’t hold the form):

Him shooting “up” rather than “out” is something you might hear from time to time.

Shooting arms: Out instead of UP!

(please excuse the blurry-ass screen grabs that follow)

In Tom Piccollo’s piece, he identifies (correctly) that sometimes it looks like Frank is “shooting the ball out rather than up." His (long) arms are way forward:

That was a miss. That happens more often than his arm angle being higher:

Those were both makes. You always want your arm angle to be higher as a shooter, unless you’re super tall like KD or KP. And even then, guys still often err on the side of shooting up — see any Dirk shot ever, arcing toward the moon before dropping in, all net. Below are some more crude screen grabs from this last 3-point shootout, including a few guys with similar height/wingspan situations to Frank.

How does this relate to Frank’s footwork? Well, by not generating enough energy from his legs due to questionable footwork, Frank has to rely more on his upper body as a two-motion shooter (and also a skinny 20-year-old). He’s stronger than he used to be, but he’s not diesel out here... so instead what you get is him slinging the ball forward from far, making up for his legs with his arms. Not ideal! The video below shows Frank doing one of those useless plant-steps and then slinging the ball with his arms going out more than up:

So... what now?

There are other things we can nitpick about his shot, too. NYBO talked about guide hand inconsistencies, for example. Anecdotally, he doesn’t always release the shot on the way up/at the peak. Like when you hold the shoot button too long in NBA 2K (see below). He does this a fair amount, especially from mid-range.

One important note to remember: nothing in shooting is black and white or certain. If you go through the early link of Frank’s jumpers, you’ll see splashed makes where his arms go out more than up, bricks where his arms go up more than out, makes where he has shitty foot plants, misses with perfect hop steps, etc. Even the players with the most immaculate form like Steph and Klay still miss more than HALF their shots (always good to remember). Conversely, even guys with the most screwed up shots can still make 30 percent of their threes in the NBA too, for the most part. We’re talking about a roughly 10 percent difference in a statistic with a not-insignificant amount of variability. Good 3-point shooting is a perfect storm of doing 100 different things in harmony in mostly the same way, in 100 different situations, in order to make a lot but still miss most of your tries.

In other words: proper footwork, arm angles, feet pointing the right way, knees not buckling in together, hips dropping, and so on and so forth are generally habits that will help more if done more, but guarantee nothing in isolation. Such is the fickle nature of a jumpshot.

What going through all of his jumpers showed me is that Frank has a few small but important problems — like poor footwork in shot prep, shooting on the way down, and shooting out rather than up. These problems aren’t as bad as a huge hitch in your shot or shooting from the left side of your head as a righty (to pick two random ones), but they are impactful enough that if you fuck one or two of them up on any given shot it lowers your odds a ton. If there’s three or four things you’re not consistent about, chances are you’ll screw up one or two on every shot. It’s a sort of anticlimactic cop-out answer to my investigation, but the answer is that Frank needs more reps with better overall technique, especially for his footwork (and more whole body strength as a two-motion shooter) in order to gain a level of consistency that makes him respectable as a jumpshooter.

It’s happened with guys before — Khris Middleton comes to mind, as a long-armed 32 percent 3-point shooter with Mostly Fine form in three years in college before breaking through as a shooter at 22 in his sophomore NBA season — but it’s also far from certain. With a lot of young players, it really is a strength issue, but with Frank that seems to be only one of several factors. So all we can do now is wait and see, but at least now you all can hopefully have a few things to keep an eye out for as you watch him in the second half of the season!