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Friday September 26, 2008 3:20 PM

Gunning for Improvement


Rockets' new Director of Player Development discusses first month on the job

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

HOUSTON - The job title says it all.

As the Rockets' new director of player development, Brett Gunning's number one priority is doing exactly what the title implies: improving player performance by any means necessary - be it on-court drills or video analysis.

Since taking the job one month ago, Gunning has spent a ton of time at the Toyota Center practice facility, getting acquainted with the Rockets' players and their games. It's allowed him the opportunity to see their strengths up close and personal - and their weaknesses as well.

Addressing the latter, every fan will tell you the Rockets can use some significant improvement from the free throw line. The team ranked 25th in the league last year, thanks to shooting a lackluster 72.6% from the charity stripe.

What's Gunning's plan for attacking the problem? It's all about repetition.

"Just from my experiences, the thing that has proven to be most successful is getting that player to commit to shooting the same way every time," says Gunning. "You can’t, during the course of a game, look at a guy and see that he’s shooting the ball two or three different ways. It’s gotta be the same shot every time. You build confidence by shooting hundreds of thousands of that shot so when you get in the game, whether you make or miss, you have confidence in your shot.

"You look at the best foul shooters in the NBA, they shoot the same shot every time. Maybe it doesn’t go in every time, but their stroke is the same shot every time."

Gunning says repetition is especially important for someone like Chuck Hayes, who typically shoots without a hitch during warm-ups, but reverts to that bad habit come game-time.

"He's just gotta do it hundreds of thousands of times so that he gets to the point where he believes in that shot. I think what he does now is that, when he gets into the game, he reverts to his habit. So what we’ve got to do is make his habit a shot where there’s not necessarily that hitch.

"It takes time. You can shoot all you want in practice when the lights aren’t on and there’s no pressure, but it takes good habits and then the second thing, which is probably even more difficult, is to do it under pressure and gain confidence under pressure. When you’re under pressure, you revert to your habits. You can shoot thousands of shots where you’re fixing the problem, but that all goes for naught if you revert to your bad habits every time you get into a difficult situation. So you’ve got to develop a good habit and then use it when you get into those pressure situations. And maybe you’ll miss, but you just have to keep trying to gain confidence through repetition and then your new habit is going to become your new shot."

Not surprisingly, Gunning says the same principle also applies to a player's three point stroke.

"I think sometimes people tend to complicate it. But you’ve just got to have good form and then repetition of that shot, so that you’re not trying to make adjustments to your shot while you’re in the game. There’s an expression: Shoot ‘em up and sleep on the streets. So you gotta shoot ‘em up and then live with the consequences. If you know you’re putting the time in and you’re getting repetition of the same shot over and over and over again, you gotta live with nights when it’s not going to go in for you."

The best example of this technique: None other than the Rockets' own Brent Barry.

"Oh my goodness, he’s incredible, man," raves Gunning. "He does a warm-up where he takes 200 shots just to get himself going and if he doesn’t make 170 out of the 200, he gets really upset. So you love working with guys like that. But he’s the prime example of a guy who shoots the same shot every time. In my mind, the best shooters are those who shoot 100 shots and every shot is the same; maybe it doesn’t go in every time, but they’re shooting the same shot every time."

Of course, Gunning is working on far more than mere shot mechanics and repetition. He's also been emphasizing the importance of shot selection.

"One example: If the ball is in the post and then it’s kicked out to a perimeter player and you have a defender closing out on you hard, anyone can get a three pointer off in that situation, but is that a good shot? Instead, maybe you can have an opportunity to what we call, ‘Slide Three,’ where you still get a three off, but instead of shooting a contested three with a guy closing out on you, you let him fly by while you take a quick dribble to the side either way where you can still get off a good three. So we’ve just been talking about the difference between good shots and bad shots, and then working on those shots."

Finally, here are a few of Gunning's initial impressions of a handful of guys he's worked with so far:

Ron Artest

"Ron has probably stood out as the hardest worker that I’ve been around since I’ve been here. He hates to leave the gym. He is a perfectionist in that, if he’s working on a certain shot, he will not move on until he has perfected that shot. So that attitude and that effort have been great to be around."

Mike Harris and DJ Strawberry

"Probably two of the hardest workers so far, so that just shows they understand that they have to put the time in. Both of them have good shots. One thing we’ve been working on with Mike is his tendency to fade and not shoot on balance. But his stroke is a very good stroke, it’s just his balance that gets him in trouble.

"DJ is another guy who’s put a lot of time in and he knows how important it is. For him it’s just getting those thousands of shots in the bank. So he’s putting that time in to get to that point with a lot of repetition."

Steve Francis

"Tell you what, it was impressive; he shot the ball very well. I was only with him one day since he’s obviously been rehabbing. But for his first day back in the gym, he had a lot of makes, let’s put it that way. And you always like to see that for a guy in one of his first days out. But he had a real good attitude, came with a good effort and shot the ball real well."

Have a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman via email at: jasonf@rocketball.com.