Posted Jun 10 2011 5:47PM
DALLAS -- With 1:29 left in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Jason Kidd rose up for one of the most important shots of the NBA season. Jason Terry had broken down the Miami Heat defense and found Kidd all alone at the 3-point line, between top of the key and the right wing. Dwyane Wade was closing in from Kidd's right, but he wouldn't get there in time.
No one has had more 3-pointers in this postseason than Kidd, who now has 41 after draining the shot that prevented the Heat from having another chance to tie or take the lead in Game 5. It was Kidd's third huge three of the Dallas Mavericks' postseason run, and maybe the most important shot of his Hall of Fame career.
Back in February, when Ray Allen was approaching Reggie Miller's record for the most 3-pointers in NBA history, many people realized for the first time who was No. 3 on the list. And, of course, they wondered how in the world Jason Kidd -- once known as "Ason" because he lacked a 'J' -- managed to make more than 1,700 3s.
Longevity has a lot to do with it, of course. Kidd has now played 17 seasons in the league, and only 13 players have logged more games since the 3-point shot was instituted in 1979.
But it's a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, because it's possible that Kidd wouldn't have lasted this long and managed to maintain a starting job for a title contender had he not made a commitment to improving his shot five years ago.
Bob Thate is a shooting coach who started working with the New Jersey Nets in 2004 at the request of then head coach Lawrence Frank. In the 2004-05 season, Thate worked with the Nets part-time, helping just Jason Collins and Nenad Krstic with their shots. The team hired him full-time the following season, but he still had just four pupils: Collins, Krstic, Bostjan Nachbar and Antoine Wright.
"In turns out, in the NBA, the ones that you work with are the ones that want to work with you," Thate says now. "So I was working for four guys."
Well, make it five. Since only a few players were occupying his time, Thate kept busy by shooting around with seven-year-old T.J. Kidd, who was often hanging around the gym. When he wasn't winning shooting bets with the son of the team's star point guard, Thate was teaching T.J. proper form. And the kid was a good pupil.
At one point, Thate told the elder Kidd that his seven year old son had better form than he did. And while Thate wasn't exactly well known, he wasn't afraid to dish out some advice to the future Hall of Famer.
"As you get older, you're going to lose a step," Thate told Kidd at the time. "When you lose a step and you can't make a shot, nobody's going to guard you, man."
But Kidd wasn't ready to hand his career over to Thate until the final few days of that 2005-06 season, when the Nets gave him two games off before the playoffs began.
Kidd, seeing how much Thate had done for Krstic's shooting, was finally ready to trust the coach with his own shot. But Thate knew that he couldn't accomplish much in the week before the Nets opened the postseason, especially with how flawed Kidd's mechanics were.
Thate was ready to end his stint with the Nets after they were eliminated in the conference semifinals that year, but Kidd told Thate that he wanted to keep working with him. So Thate returned to New Jersey the following fall, and when Krstic blew out his knee in December of 2006, he convinced Kidd to work with him every day.
The restructuring of Kidd's shot began with extending his shooting arm. Thate uses the term "lock it up," borrowed from the movie Wedding Crashers, to remind Kidd that his elbow must be straight when he finishes his shot, and even had T.J. telling his father "Lock it up, Dad" when Thate wasn't around.
"When I did shoot early in my career, it was more of a flick or a snatch where I didn't follow through," Kidd says now. "And when you see these guys like Dirk [Nowitzki] and Ray Allen, Mike Miller, these guys who shoot the ball, they all follow through... I didn't have that concept down early in my career."
That was the biggest of Kidd's shooting issues, but just one of several. He also had a tendency to turn sideways or lean back when he shot, so Thate had to straighten him out. And finally, they worked on ball placement, making sure that Kidd's shot began at his forehead and not behind his ear.
All of the changes took time, discipline and trust. And the results didn't come right away.
"By himself, he was good," Thate says. "In practice, he was good. In games he was getting better. It really kicked over in the summer of 2007."
And when Kidd was traded to the Mavs in February of 2008, he got locked in. Over the final 34 games of that season (including playoffs), he shot 46 percent from 3-point range.
Kidd knew how important his shooting was playing alongside a star like Nowitzki and while he was no longer working with Thate full-time during the season, they increased their work in the offseason. Thate's days with the Nets ended shortly after Kidd was traded, but he continues to work with Kidd, Mike Miller and Luke Walton.
In the summer of 2009, Kidd and Thate shot every day for about eight weeks. As a result, the point guard shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range last season.
|Kidd's 3-point shooting, before and after working with Thate|
This year, Kidd's shooting has been down (34 percent from 3-point range), perhaps because he only worked with Thate for about 10 days in training camp. But he's hit some huge 3s in the postseason, including the overtime game-winner in Game 4 in Oklahoma City and the one that cut the Miami lead from nine to six with less than four minutes to go in Game 2 of The Finals. Both came off feeds from Nowitzki.
"The biggest thing is him trusting me coming down the stretch," Kidd says. "If they do double-team him, he's trusted me a couple times in being able to knock down that shot."
Kidd has come a long way since the days of "Ason." And he credits Thate with getting him to where he is today.
"I think he plays a big reason why I'm still playing," Kidd says. "If I wanted to continue to keep playing, I had to make shots from behind that line."
But most of the credit goes to Kidd himself. He was going to the Hall of Fame whether or not he developed a 3-point shot after 12 years in the league, but he wasn't satisfied with that. Working with a shooting coach takes a commitment, one that Thate says only about 10 percent of NBA players are willing to make.
Five years ago, Kidd made that commitment, and it's been paying off ever since. It has extended his career and helped put both Kidd and the Mavs on the brink of their first championship.
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