NBA stars jump through hoops to perfect shot with specialist Bob Thate

Bob Thate teaches NBA stars such as Blake Griffin how to shoot the perfect jumper, one drop at a time

Like most men, I can bury a wad of dirty socks in the hamper from 30 paces. Swish.

But the hamper is 3 feet tall, and no one is guarding me. A basketball rim is 10 feet, and some overtly caffeinated jerk is usually in my face. There lies my dilemma. Or at least one of them.

My jumper, the one that once buried a three-pointer against the Globetrotters, seems to have abandoned me. White men can't jump, but they can often shoot a little, and I once nailed 25-footers like wads of dirty socks.

Doctor, doctor, my jumper has lost its juice.

Bob Thate is a specialist in such things. Remember when they used to call Jason Kidd "Ason Kidd," because he didn't have a J? I kidd you not.

Thate, 68, rescued Kidd back then, turning the aging dribble-drive veteran into a three-point sniper late in his career, rehabbing his jumper (a.k.a. his J), and turning Ason back to Jason.

Now one of the game's elite shot docs is working on me, instilling the same set of shooting fundamentals he does with the Clippers, particularly Blake Griffin, the last three years. When Griffin returns from injury, it won't be before he hits hundreds of shots with Thate as his tutor. The House of Tutor, where Thate is king.

Actually, mechanics are king. Repeat after me: "Mechanics are king."

Ball to the chest. Rocking-chair it to your forehead. Raise it straight up. Snap the wrist. Land in the same spot you launched from. No wobble. No fall away. No drift.

"Front to back," Thate says of the ideal shooting motion. "That way you only miss short or long. You've eliminated two of the four ways you can miss."

Well, not exactly, doc. I once glanced a shot off a cheerleader's chin. In fairness, she shouldn't have been sitting so close to the basket.

But, as with all good coaches, nothing Thate recommends doesn't make solid sense. Like a rifle sight, your right arm is over your right eye. Boom. The wrist has to snap directly at the basket, not 15 degrees left or right. Swish.

To form a winning shot, he says, an entire Swiss watch of tendons and shooting traits need to gear together. Trajectory is vital too.

"Imagine you're Peter Pan," Thate says, while making the point that if you could fly, you'd drop a ball straight down the basket.

"I always shot with a high trajectory ... as if you were shooting at a target, but laid it down flat," he says.

"And your shot drops straight down."

Like lawn darts, that's how Thate's jumpers used to drop, first as a schoolboy phenom at Franklin in Highland Park, later for a year at USC, before a coaching change drove him to Occidental, where he became a two-time all-America as a pure gunner. In pro ball in France, Thate averaged almost 40 points a game.

He is now one of the game's premier shooting coaches, while witnessing all sorts of bad habits in the NBA. One of the most common: falling away from shots even when players don't have to.

Thate says his best students have been the players willing to put aside what got them to the NBA and — in an act of total trust — fully invest in a new system. Kidd, Griffin, Luke Walton, Mike Miller, all "bought in right away," Thate said of his best students.

When Thate first started working with Griffin and evaluated Griffin's jump shot in 20 different categories, Thate found only two were up to par — the way Griffin tucked his elbow and how he held the ball.

For 17 weeks in the off-season, they worked five days a week, two hours a day on shooting mechanics — 500 to 600 shots per round. If Griffin became fixated more on making buckets than on his mechanics, Thate would wave a bag of M&M's at him, to stress "mechanics, not makes."

As with all his students, Thate would put tape down on 10 spots — four on each side of the basket, two behind the free throw line. One of the ideas is to land back on the tape after shooting — the body going straight up while the arms and hands move in a straight line toward the basket .... a pure Euclidean equation.

Indeed, Thate's flow chart is almost a Greek supposition: Mechanics = rhythm = confidence.

Clearly, the father of two adult daughters, Taylor, 31 and Ali, 29, loves where he is at this stage of his career, working with one of the game's best players, while looking forward to the birth of his first grandchild in May.

Not a bad fourth quarter for the one-time prep shooting machine, who could have played for John Wooden, but chose differently, was cut by the Lakers, yet went on to become the French assassin and an NBA shooting guru.

"Things work out," he says with a high-arcing smile.

Swish.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter: @erskinetimes

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