Pistons quest to explore all areas for progress leads to hiring shooting coach Dave Hopla

Stan Van Gundy had hiring a shooting coach on his to-do list before his first season as Pistons coach, but it was a looong list and there were other hires – especially on the front-office side – that were critical to getting his administration launched.

So the item floated to the top of the list for his second off-season and the search ended at Dave Hopla’s door.

Hopla is recognized as one of the game’s top shooting gurus, having coached at three previous NBA stops – Toronto, Washington and New York – in addition to nearly three decades running camps, working individually with players and working the speaking circuit.

He got to work over the summer in Santa Barbara, Calif., where Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard trained at the Peak Performance Project, or P3.

Improving Drummond’s free-throw stroke and helping Johnson adjust the release point on his jump shot are likely the two biggest projects on Hopla’s long-term list, but he’ll be available to all players and will be behind the bench for all 82 games charting every shot.

Hopla works with a four-color ink pen, one color for each quarter. He has his own shorthand code to describe each type of shot. He’ll be able to spot patterns over time or even within games to help players learn more about why shots suddenly stop falling or decipher what leads to their successes.

“For instance, maybe I’ll write ‘DLH’ – dropped left hand,” Hopla explains. “Maybe he did that on three of his shots in the first quarter. I can get the first-quarter (video) clips of what he’s doing and show it to him. Maybe in the fourth quarter he has no follow-through at all. He drops his hand. Maybe at the free-throw line, he’s doing something different than he did early. It’s easy for me to code this. First quarter it’s good, fourth quarter there’s a pattern. There’s so much information available now and you have to use it.”

Hopla will also keep a file on each player and communicate frequently with them to show where their hot spots are – the areas on the floor where they shoot better than the league average, for instance – and where they struggle. He’ll break it down beyond that, though.

“They’ll have their Synergy reports,” Hopla said, referring to a commonly used service that charts information in an infinite stream of specificity. “This is what everyone has on you in the league. ‘You can’t go left? OK, we’ve got to improve on you being able to go left. You can’t shoot the three? We’ve got to improve there.’

“It’s all there and then they see their improvement. When guys see themselves improve, their confidence level grows. When they know they’re getting better, they want to work more.”

Hopla, who says in his experience players are almost universally receptive to the information he collects and interprets, charts shot performance in practices, too, and in individual drills.

“I write it here so I can show you that you got better or you stink from this spot,” he said. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure. How did you do today? It’s all there. Numbers don’t lie.”

And, just like that, he veers to an account of a Santa Barbara session with Drummond where he had him stand 2 feet from the basket – that’s where Hopla starts with everybody to work on the proper release point – and saw his most important project make 52 straight.

I’ll have Hopla’s thoughts on working with Drummond and Johnson in the next True Blue Pistons report.