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Why the underhand free-throw died and other NBA oddities

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Remember Jack Taylor?

Does 138 points at Grinnell College ring a bell? These are absurd numbers setting a university record and surpassing even Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point NBA game. The aftermath was predictable, Sports Illustrated and ESPN wrote articles about him, The Dan Patrick Show and Jimmy Kimmel invited him on their shows, even Kobe Bryant congratulated him in an interview. But after a few years, things returned to normal — there have been no lasting effects on basketball. What’s much more surprising is that this isn’t Grinnell’s first time having players rating an absurd variety of points. Players like Griffin Lentsch in 2011 had the same game, hanging 89 and Taylor repeated his feat of getting a 100+ point game later in 2013. This wasn’t a one-time incident.

Grinnell’s Jack Taylor holding up the number of points he scored in a single game.

Grinnell’s Jack Taylor holding up the variety of points he scored in a single game.Image: Getty Images

In point of fact, it was less about Taylor and Lentsch and more concerning the scheme they were running – Coach David Arsenault’s gameplan dubbed The Grinnell System. Arsenault had implemented The System in 1984 following a protracted streak of losing seasons. He intended to utilize every member of the team as an alternative of any singular player – to play despite having an absence of talent on the team. But as The System slowly evolved, having a chosen shooter was more efficient. The System proved to have an instantaneous impact on winning. The season after it was implemented, Grinnell improved by six wins, ending 9-8. There have been no prerequisites when it comes to roster make-up as practically any team could run it. So why has it never been utilized in the NBA?

Recent perspectives on the sport, like The System, often struggle to make it to the NBA. The one exception was the 2019 Houston Rockets. The Rockets, led by GM Daryl Morey, implemented an analytics-based offense: give the most effective player the ball, shoot 3s, no mid-ranges. However the Rockets were an exception, the league isn’t known for being susceptible to radical changes.

“Rockets can’t win a championship with James Harden dominating the ball,” – Kobe Bryant. 

There have been serious doubts that a system just like the Rockets’ could succeed. But ultimately, the Rockets were a part of a sea change within the NBA because the league shifted increasingly more toward analytics and a Moneyball-inspired offense. Over the past decade, the variety of 3s has gone up, the pace has gone up, and teams are generally more efficient. So why did this offense work but other anomalies just like the high-scoring Grinnell System, Rick Barry’s granny shot that helped Wilt get 100 points, and 4-on-5 cherry-picking schemes never appear to seep into the league?

How the Grinnell System Works

When Coach Arsenault arrived in Iowa in 1989, the team was struggling – 25 consecutive losing seasons led players to lose interest. “These guys aren’t having any fun. I’m not [having any fun],” Arsenault recalled. The following day, Arsenault began brainstorming. He was searching for what was “fun” and would spark the team’s energy.

The Grinnell system is what Coach Arsenault described as “attempting to create perfect chaos.” His system is an analytics-based system on steroids. Players follow three predominant guidelines:

  1. Shoot the primary shot possible; treat the shot clock like there are only 12 seconds as an alternative of 24. This shot needs to be either a layup or a 3.
  2. Press regardless of what, double the ball-handler, and go for steals. The ideology is giving up layups is best than giving the opposite team a protracted possession time.
  3. Sub out all five players every minute. This keeps players fresh and capable of push the pace.

Push the pace and disrupt the flow of the opponent’s game. Rating fast, run back on defense, and get steals. Opponents who run a more traditional system change into shell-shocked and are outscored.

“The opposite thing I actually love about it’s everyone on the team gets to play every night,” Lentsch said, “so everyone gets to feel they’re really a part of the team and a part of the victory.” Throughout the first season, they averaged 109.2 points and finished with the primary winning record in 30 years.

Attempts of recreating The System

Surprisingly, The System did enter the NBA – type of. King’s owner, Vivek Ranadivé, concocted his own experiment by hiring David Arsenault Jr. as the pinnacle coach for his or her D-league team, the Bighorns. The System was now imported into the developmental league for the NBA.

Briefly, it began as a disaster. As Hassan Whiteside of the Iowa Energy put it after dominating the Bighorns in a 152-144 win, “I loved it man. They only kept driving at me, I couldn’t understand it.” Five days later the Grizzlies, together with other teams, called and he signed a $98 million dollar contract with the Miami Heat, likely due partly to his 30 points, 22 rebounds, and eight blocks on this game.

So why didn’t it work? Mainly as a result of players not accepting the brand new change. Players ignored the coach, refused to be subbed in, and didn’t buy into The System. Grinnell’s players had no reason to keep off, that they had a history of losing and were promised more scoring and playing time for everybody. D-league and college players don’t have the identical value system. D-league players are presenting themselves to NBA teams to potentially make a roster. They need to point out they’ll fit on any team with any offense, winning games isn’t their predominant priority. So a scheme that diverts from an NBA offense, that doesn’t play man defense, and worst of all splits playing time evenly isn’t attractive to players.

The Granny Shot

Rick Barry is credited for popularizing the underhand toss, making 89.3 percent of his profession attempts, a record on the time. Here’s Barry shooting granny style:

Rick Barry Makes Free Throw With Eyes Shut During Bulls/Cavs Game

Theoretically, The Granny Shot is simpler than the standard overhead shot on the free-throw line. The physics behind it shows an underhanded shooting motion is perfect. If you shoot underhand, it gives greater backspin to the ball that increases your probabilities. As well as, players have more control after they shoot underhanded – it minimizes error from the ball being off-target to either side. After being fatigued, players are much less accurate on the free-throw line. Since the shooting motion behind The Granny Shot is more natural, it is far easier to recreate and more consistent than an overhead shot.

Barry stays the loudest proponent of the underhanded shot. He’s tried to persuade players starting from his teammates to greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal. In Wilt’s case, Barry convinced him after he had a season shooting around 50 percent. The impact of his recent form was immediately noticeable as The Stilt’s free-throw percentage went as much as an all-time career-high of 61.3 percent and even contributed to his legendary 100-point game.

But Chamberlain stopped. He opted to return to his regular form, shooting a dismal free-throw percentage the next season. Why did he knowingly decide to be a worse free-throw shooter? In his words, “[because] I felt silly, like a sissy.”

He wasn’t the just one who shared this sentiment. Shaq stated he was “too cool for that” and the remaining of the NBA has felt ridiculous even trying it. Players are actively selecting to make use of a worse method for shooting free-throws and voluntarily leaving points at the road.

On his podcast “Revisionist History,” in an episode titled “The Big Man Can’t Shoot” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the aspects of selecting to not shoot underhanded. Gladwell brings up external aspects prevalent outside of strictly winning equivalent to how players wish to be perceived by the general public. Because shooting underhanded is seen as ridiculous within the basketball community, players like Chamberlain and Shaq have decided they’d slightly be bad free-throw shooters than be decent ones which might be laughed at.

Gladwell argues that for The Granny Shot to be a outstanding a part of the NBA, there needs to be enough individuals with a low “threshold”. The concept of threshold is what he describes as “the number of people that should do something before you take part.” Much like the mob mentality, once enough individuals are using The Granny Shot, almost everyone can be willing to try it. Consider the Fosbury Flop for top jumping. When Dick Fosbury introduced arching ones back over the bar within the mid Sixties it was lampooned. But today? It’s the usual, and has been for many years. The issue with The Granny Shot is, unlike the Fosbury Flop that quickly swept through high jumping, there aren’t enough players within the NBA willing to aim this radical change.

Why do these oddities fail?

James Harden attempted 1,028 3s within the 2018-19 season. For reference, the ’98 Bulls, featured in The Last Dance, attempted a complete of 962 3s as a team. Harden is shooting more 3s now than entire teams were 20 years ago — that’s a radical change.

Image for article titled Change, and how we get there

The engine behind Harden’s 3-point assault was Daryl Morey, then-general manager of the Houston Rockets. Morey is thought across the league as a knowledge guru. Before entering the league, he received a level in computer science at Northwestern and worked as a statistical consultant. The NBA had never seen someone so analytical on the helm of a franchise. The Moneyball revolution that writer Michael Lewis detailed in his book on GM Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s had slowly worked its way into the NBA.

So when the Rockets acquired Harden in a blockbuster trade with the OKC Thunder, Morey now had his conduit on the court later stating, “James Harden modified my life.”

This data revolution has convinced everyone. Teams and players that attempted to carry on to traditional styles find yourself at the underside of league standings. Take the Spurs. Their dynastic era has long ended. However the team has not yet adapted to newer high-powered offenses. Unsurprisingly, in addition they have the fewest three-point attempts within the last three seasons. Like many other teams, an absence of 3s has change into an indication of a subpar season to return. Once a couple of teams were successful at using the three-point line, every team was in some ways forced to maintain up.

Let’s lay the groundwork for what it takes to make a change within the NBA.

There needs to be enough radical leaders within the NBA. That is the Rick Barrys, Ranadives, and Moreys of the world; for there to be change, someone needs to be the primary, the Fosbury. The NBA isn’t known for having many radicals. A giant reason for that’s parity. For teams to have the liberty to experiment with recent ideas, they should already be losing. No team likes to be losing for long.

Once someone gives the thought a likelihood, they should find a way to persuade others that it really works. For Grinnell, its system was unable to beat the D-league. Barry convinced Wilt, but just for a season. Star players have to contemplate their image and brand when stepping outside of the paradigm, and executives run the danger of media calling for his or her job if what they introduce will not be considered the right approach to play basketball.

Finally, the brand new change has to provide such stellar results that it pressures everyone else to hitch. Fosbury winning gold along with his unique style on the Mexico City Games in 1968 got everyone’s attention. By Munich in ’72, greater than half of field were using his ‘Flop”. Teams that refuse to shoot more threes are outscored and find yourself at the underside of the standings. Players who can’t shoot from outside (like Ben Simmons) are liabilities and eventually change into traded or cut. Within the late stage, it becomes about convincing those that are dead set on traditional old-school ways.

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