Mark Price Feature Story

On The Mark
Shooting consultant Mark Price has got the Hawks shooting among the best in the NBA.

By Jon Cooper

Atlanta, GA (Dec. 16, 2008) - Few players in NBA history shot the ball as well as Mark Price.

Thanks to Price, few teams in the NBA are shooting the ball as well as the Hawks. Hiring the four-time All-Star, a career .402 shooter from three-point range, was a natural fit for Atlanta, which was perennially near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting.

"When I came in and talked to the coaches and [General Manager] Rick Sund, one of our goals was to become a better three-point shooting team, to have that weapon added to the arsenal," said Price, who lives in Atlanta and was running his own shooting academy where he was visited by Sund and Head Coach Mike Woodson. "We started working on that early in the season, working with guys individually on their shots as well as getting up a lot of repetitions before and after practice. There's a confidence level that has to be there when you're shooting those in the game. It's one thing to do it in practice, but I've been real pleased at the way the guys are shooting the ball and shooting with confidence when they get in the game."

Atlanta entered Wednesday night's game with Boston tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for seventh in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (.380), and had three players in the top 50 in three-point shooting, none of them named Joe Johnson! (Mike Bibby was 21st, tied with Tracy McGrady, at .421, Marvin Williams was 31st, shooting .407, and Maurice Evans was 43rd, hitting .395. Joe was hitting .377 from three, 60th in the league).

In addition, Bibby was second in the NBA in threes made, with 59, with Johnson was tied for fourth only two back, while his 473 career three-point field goals put him only 27 away from tying Dominique Wilkins for fourth all-time in Hawks franchise history.

"It's been a real weapon for us, there's no question about it," said Price. "I feel confident saying we wouldn't be [14-9] if we weren't shooting the ball well from the three-point line. It really makes it tough when you can spread defenses out. It opens things up for Al Horford, for Joe Johnson to drive and do the work that they do. It doesn't allow people to just clog the middle."

A major reason for success in games is a game Price has instituted at the end of practice.

The concept is simple: Players must hit three shots from each of five spots on the floor. They shoot until they miss. It's a race to the end from there. But there is a catch. Miss three shots from any spot before making three and you have to start over.

"We try to do things to get up a lot of shots but put a little competition in it," said Price. "It makes it a little bit more fun for the guys, rather than just a monotonous kind of shooting and so they go at each other, try to see who can get finished first. It's something that they look forward to doing after practice. It's not just 'Oh, we've got to get up our three-point shots now.'"

He's got an eager group of pupils, who are jazzed by the noticeable improvement in their long-distance shooting three, especially Bibby, a career .371 three-point shooter, Evans, a career .366 shooter, Flip Murray, a career .272 shooter who's at .322 and rising, and Williams, a career .231 shooter.

"He makes sure guys are getting in that extra work," said Bibby. "That extra work means a lot. Getting those reps in helps a lot with your shot. He's been making sure everybody's been getting in and doing that and rebounding for everybody."

Just watch and listen at the end of every practice as Hawks players gather behind the three-point line, hooting and woofing at each other.

Evans is a believer in the drill and the results that have shown up come game time.

"The difference with them is when we shoot there are consequences," he said.
"You can't get out of practice until you make your shots. That extra focus kind of helps you in game time situations because, obviously, there are dire consequences if you miss shots in games. So that little extra focus, coupled with the fact that we've been shooting well, it's just great for your confidence when you see the ball going in the hole."

"We're doing drills that are game-like drills," added Flip Murray. "The shots that we're most likely going to get in the game we're working on in practice so I think that's definitely going to help us throughout the season."

Seeing the results adds credibility when Price offers technical suggestions. Of course, credibility was never really an issue with Price, who won back-to-back three-point shootouts during the 1993 and '94 All-Star Weekends, and who is still remembered fondly by current Hawks.

"He was one of my favorites, a great point guard, a guy who could shoot and score and a guy who made his teammates better," said Johnson. "He was a guy that I idolized and I loved watching him play."

"He's got his name up in the rafters in Cleveland," added Bibby. "You can't help but respect him."

Opponents are learning that they can't help but start respecting these sharp-shooting Hawks, who hope to put a banner of their own up in the Philips Arena rafters.

While such a banner might become something of a distraction in future three-out-of-five drills, that's simply a risk the Hawks are willing to take.

Jon Cooper is a freelance writer based in Atlanta