There are so many talented players that have entered the National Basketball Association over the 60 plus years of its existence, but relatively few have become genuine superstars. Players from the past like Jerry Stackhouse, Rod Strickland, and Orlando Woolridge and current players like J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady had all the physical tools that are required to excel at professional basketball, but they all idled in their professions instead of flourishing. These men failed to reach the upper echelon of NBA stars because they failed to learn three fundamental skills that are necessary to be a superstar. The difference between good NBA talents and NBA superstars is knowing how to get good positioning, knowing how to get a good shot, and understanding when to take those shots.
Positioning may be the most important skill and one of the most overlooked aspects of basketball. Where a player catches the basketball on the court often decides whether he will score or not. Most athletes are deadly from inside 12 feet from the rim, however they do not know how to get the basketball within 12 feet of the goal when a good defender is guarding them. Great players know that the work that they put in before they catch the basketball dictates their success once they have it. Getting to a specific spot on the basketball court means navigating between several defenders, jostling with the primary defender to get to their favorite place on the floor, and then stabilizing that spot so that the defender is pinned away from the basketball. Getting to the right spot on the court means using the knowledge of what the defense is trying to do and applying physical leverage towards an opponent to get the best shot that is available. Good players take what the defense gives them, but great players manipulate defenses through positioning.
And, great players also know how to get good shots up on the rim. Fundamentally, a good shot has the power springing from the legs, a fluid release, and good follow through. Strong legs give the shooter the range to knock down long shots, the release puts rotation on the basketball which softens the shot when it hits the rim, and the follow through gives its shooter consistency on his shot attempts. Ideally, a shooter is always balanced when taking a shot with his shoulders squared to the rim and jumping on a vertical line without fading in any direction. Any basketball player should be able to make set shots when there is no defender challenging the field goal, but being a star is not only about being able to hit open jump shots. Being a star is about getting the shot that you want. The difference between making a shot and missing a shot is often 2-3 feet and the ability to have balance on every shot. The limitations of a player’s range is studied through film by opposing defenses. Defenders are trained to push players a few steps out of their range and to make contact with the man whom they are guarding so that his shot is more difficult. However, great players practice their footwork and the subtleties of their offensive moves so that they can take comfortable shots when under duress. Where good athletes are forced to pass the basketball or take off balanced shots, great players take one more dribble or utilize a pump-fake to create separation and allow space for compact, efficient fluid shots. Separation allows players to gather themselves and follow the fundamentals of shooting regardless of outside conditions. And, stardom is predicated in a player’s ability to take good shots with players draped over them.
Some basketball players understand positioning and how to shoot the basketball, but have no concept of good shot selection. And, these players still miss out on basketball immortality because poor shot selection can create chaos on any team. The best teams in the NBA have players that operate within the team concept starting with their best player. When the best player takes the shots that he should take and makes baskets, he sets the tone for his squad. His teammates get easily converted shots because he is scoring within the offense, and even when he misses a shot, the rest of the team is in place to get a rebound or retreat for defense because the star took the shot that he was expected to take. Talented, but immature players take shots out of rhythm so they miss more shots than the average star and they cost their teams possessions and points. When bad shots are taken they put pressure on the offense in transition. Unexpected shots on offense leads to easy fast break points for the other team. Great players take the shots that they should take for the betterment of the team.
Though many things go into being a NBA star, the most important skills remain fairly subtle. The object of the game of basketball is to get as many shots as possible that are close to the rim with as little resistance as possible, and the greatest athletes of the sport used specific skills to separate themselves from other ball players. The best players in NBA history fought for position and took good shots at the appropriate time.