The Ball Tells the Truth: An Interview with Chip Engelland
Spurs Assistant Coach Chip Engelland is widely credited with being the technical mastermind behind the improvement that we’ve seen in Tony Parker’s mid-range jumper. Reportedly he’s also spent time working with George Hill and DeJuan Blair on their shooting (I say “reportedly” because Chip will not discuss any of the specific players he is working with). Before last night’s Timberwolves game, I had a chance to talk with the Spurs resident shot doctor about the process of reconstructing a shot, the challenges of range, and the psychology of the shooter.
When you’re working on reconstructing a shot, what’s the length of time that it takes, say from when your first assessing his mechanics to when you’ve reshaped his shot?
That’s hard to say. I think everybody is different. Everybody comes from a different place. They have different habits. They have different scarring. Are you in the middle of the season having games to play? Or are you during the summer when there is a no judgment period and you’ve got a long time before you have a game to play. All those have to be taken into consideration before you touch anybody’s shot.
There are some guys on the team and in the NBA who’ve got pretty unorthodox shots but still shoot the ball at a pretty high clip nonetheless. Do you find yourself being happy with that- what works for them works for them- or do you find yourself wanting to play shot doctor?
Not at all. The most important result is making shots. So if someone can kick it in at a higher rate, we’ll allow him to kick it in. If they can get that shot off in a game. We look at their results, and if they can make shots- if they can do 40% from the 3-point line, 45, 46% from the field, and 80% from the free throw line- we’ll let them be, whatever they do.
So, Michael Redd, who has an unorthodox shot. If he can make shots, we just encourage him and help rebound for him.
There are some guys who have a pretty sweet shot from 18-20 feet and then they push out to that 3-point range and their percentage drops off pretty dramatically. Is that something about their mechanics? Is there something that make’s you think, if you’re working with a guy, “we’re not going to worry about the 3-point shot”?
That’s a great question. Certain techniques can hold up to 18 feet. Elton Brand, for example, who shoots over his head but has a limited connection with his legs and his upper body, and its way back over his shed- that shot, that technique doesn’t take you back to the 3-point line. But he never shoots threes, his game isn’t the 3-point shot. If he was a two guard, he would have to have a reconstructed shot. But he has a beautiful, soft touch. He’s an undersized big who shoots way over his head, so his range doesn’t connect.
I think the form you can see on some peoples shots, they’ll translate. In Al Jefferson’s case, who shoots a nice one-handed shot, playing with Minnesota tonight, his shot translates to 18-feet. He doesn’t need to shoot a 3-ball. It varies for different guys, depending on what their technique is.
What is the key for that range? Is it the use of your legs?
It would be where your release point is, coupled with your motion together with your legs. So it would be, How do you combine those two. How you are using your elbow and your wrist. So it gets pretty complicated, what holds you back from that.
As someone who works very technically with people, how much does psychology impact the shot? And when you’re working with guys, how much do you work on their psychology?
Well, it’s funny. Technique is the first thing. They see results. They get better. Their technique improves. They practice. They’re patient. Once the technique gets better, the mind has to grow with it. That takes longer. The ball tells the truth. If they see the ball going in more then they did before, they start believing in it more. I’m pretty enthusiastic and positive but you can’t cheat the ball. I can say the guy’s doing great but if the ball doesn’t go in, they’re like “something’s amiss.”
So the beauty is, if they see the ball going in, and you keep them patient- moving out one foot at a time as they develop- then they develop a confidence by seeing the ball go in. Your words can help and the cheerleading can be great, but the most important thing is seeing the ball go in.
There are a lot of guys who have a nice mid-range shot and then they get to the free throw line and it falls off. Maybe it doesn’t fall of flat percentage-wise, but you’d think the fact that- is that a psychological thing or is that a technique thing?
The first thing that comes to mind is rhythm. When guys are shooting a jump shot they have natural rhythm typically. When you shoot free throw there are so many variables. Guys subbing in. Am I tired? I have to worry about my defense. Am I getting back on defense? A lot of variables. And everybody is watching them. They lose their rhythm. So I think free throws get tough because people lack rhythm at the free throw line but on their jump shot they have rhythm. And I think a bunch of people are better when they have rhythm.
Is there an age at which you say “I can’t improve on this guys shot. He’s been doing this too long. He has bad habits”? You say forget it, let him do what he’s doing.
The first issue is, the player has to want to get better. If they want to get better- that’s the great thing about basketball and a lot of things in life. If you want to get better at something, there’s ways to do it and shooting’s one of them.
How much does fitness play into a guys shot? Do you find that, if their in better shape, better arm strength, better stamina, Is that helping their shot remain…
Legs and a jump shot go hand in hand. Second half of the season, second half of a game and the fourth quarter, conditioning is a huge part of it, mentally and physically. It’s huge.
How does one become a shooting coach? What was your personal path that you found yourself the shot doctor?
Accidental. I played basketball. Shooting was one of my strengths. I went to Duke. I was doing clinics through my playing days. I’d do the clinics and teach shooting. Eventually that led to doing talks at camps, running my own little camps, boys and girls. Then I started to get more elite players, higher up. And one thing leads to another. It was accidental. It was never a planned path.
How much does your assessment of guys shots and their shooting potential affect the draft decisions you guys make?
That’s the only question I’m not going to answer.