One of the several areas the Lakers have taken large leaps this season has been in their outside shooting. The Lakers shot 35.3 percent last year on 3-pointers, 16th in the league. This season, they’re up to 37.5, good for seventh in the NBA.
I talked yesterday with special assistant coach Craig Hodges, the former NBA 3-point shooting champ who works with the perimeter shooters, about the progress of Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, who have become markedly more consistent this season.
Farmar, in his second season, is shooting 39.3 on 3-pointers, up from 32.8 percent last year. He’s coming off a career-high four 3-pointers against Portland. Vujacic has improved each of his four seasons with the Lakers from 27 percent to 34.3 to 37.3 to this season’s 44.1, which leads the team.
Farmar’s improvement has been helped by better mechanics, which they spent his fiirst 7-8 months working on vigorously.
“Jordans a very assertive person, very aggressive in his nature,” Hodges said. “He wants to improve, and he wants to improve on every area of his game, and shooting is one of those things, especially somebody of his size — you have to be able to stick open jump shots. Thats been something Ive been trying to talk about from day one is the importance of your mechanics on your shot, trying to get it to be as close to the same every time, where its almost a cookie cutter effect. The more you work on it, the more you start to see the results within the game situation. Thats whats happening for him now.”
For Vujacic, the emphasis has been on the mental approach — being disciplined enough to stay with your mechanics and confident enough to shrug off misses.
“With Sasha, sometimes it takes players a little longer,” Hodges said. “Weve been working on stuff for the last three years, as far as staying with the shot, not floating, making sure he finishes on every shot, making sure every shot is a quality jump shot. Thats the biggest part now is theyre starting to see some results in as far as the balls going in the basket.
“The middle of last year you could see his level of confidence, where you could see he knew he belonged. Sometimes as young players you can have trouble trying to find your way. The last year and a half, hes been more focused on his determination to be a professional. Its not just a game anymore, its a business.
“When you come out here, you have to be of a serious mindset so that you can be successful and have things happen that you want to happen. Especially if youre a shooter you cant have a fragile temperament and worry about misses. Thats what I try to lend to these guys is to have some fun about shooting, but at the same time feel like every shot is going to go in.”
Because of the nature of the triangle offense, which is predicated on ball movement and spacing, most 3-pointers rarely require working to get your own shot.
“I never negate the fact that the system youre running and the passes youre getting from your teammates compliment the shooting,” Hodges said. “A good pass always leads to a good shot, especially in this system, you dont need to put the ball on the floor to be a good shooter.
“Thats the beauty of this system. Thats the thing Id like people to understand that even when you shoot the ball and it doesnt go in the basket, that often times its an assist because you have big fellas around the basket who can clean it up because you shot the ball within the rhythm and the context of the offense.”
Hodges said Vujacic and Farmar have also come to understand their role in the offense — that games like Farmar’s 21-point outburst against Portland isn’t going to be the norm.
“Your shots are going to be limited because of the nature of the team,” Hodges said. “Kobes going to get a lot of shots, Paus going to get a lot, Andrew, Lamars going to get his going at times. Its all a matter of lending yourself into the team concept and knowing what youre trying to accomplish as a unit. Everybody understands who our shooters are and everybodys going to look for them when theyre open. We just have to be prepared to make jumps shots.”
Despite their improvement, when the playoffs roll around, Hodges expects that Farmar and Vujacic will have to prove themselves all over again — that opponents will worry about slowing Bryant, Gasol, et. al.
“Definitely, there’s no question about it,” Hodges said. “Shooting is a premium, especially in the playoffs. You have to make shots to open up some of the paint for Andrew and Pau, and I think thats the beauty of this system. We have the least amount of adjustments to make in the playoffs because the nature of what we run, its not the screen and role, but were reading off what people throw at us. Thats what weve been doing all year. Thats the beauty of why Phils been so successful over the years. Weve had to make the least amount of adjustments and allows us to play a consistent level of basketball throughout the playoffs.”