Chuck Person gives Lakers a good shot at improving
Chuck Person isn’t quite ready to start the interview.
“Hang on, I’ve got to say something to Ron,” he says, heading toward Ron Artest 90 minutes before a recent Lakers game. Then he hustles over to Steve Blake. Then it’s off to the other side of the court to see Matt Barnes.
Known as “The Rifleman” during his sharp-shooting days as a player, Person has found his mark as an assistant coach with the Lakers. If your shot is ailing, Person is the guy to see.
The understated 46-year-old speaks quietly but confidently about fine-tuning the shots of athletes who have already seen and heard everything about refining their technique.
Somehow, Person rises above the clutter of past suggestions. Players hear him loud and clear, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson loves the newest addition to an already experienced coaching staff.
“Chuck has an analytical eye. He’s always seeking answers and looking for reasons,” Jackson said. “And he works really well with our post players, even though Chuck was one of the great outside shooters in the game.”
The Lakers hired Person as a part-time assistant coach before last season, but Jackson liked what he saw and pushed for him to be added as a full-timer, which happened over the summer.
As Artest, a longtime Person disciple, said, “He got upgraded.”
Person was the one who worked with Kobe Bryant after the 12-time All-Star sustained a broken right index finger last December. Bryant had to alter his shot because of discomfort and weakness in the finger. Person was there for shot support.
“When you talk about a guy who arguably is the best player ever to play the game, what can you do?” Person said. "[When] you have ailments or injuries that will interrupt that flow in your shot, you just remind them, ‘Hey, this is what you used to do, here’s how you get back to it.’ That’s how I kind of helped with Kobe, tweaking his shot to get him back to a solid foundation. He overcompensated in other areas, which threw off the balance in his shot, so we had to correct some things in his footwork to get back to the good things he was doing up top before.”
Person and Bryant have worked closely again this season because Bryant was slow to recover from off-season surgery on his right knee. He shot miserably in exhibition play (28.2%) but was a more acceptable 44.2% through seven regular-season games.
“As long as you stay straight with your shot, and it’s not going not side to side, whether it’s short or long or flat, that can be corrected with the balance and strength in your legs, which has improved since we started camp,” Person said.
Person averaged 14.7 points and shot 36.2% from three-point range in a 13-year career that began when he was the fourth overall pick in the 1986 draft. He averaged a career-high 21.6 points in his third pro season with Indiana and began to rely more on his long-distance shooting as he grew older.
Person retired in 2000, coached in Cleveland for a season under John Lucas and joined Indiana as an assistant to front-office executive Donnie Walsh. That’s when he met Artest, who had been traded from Chicago.
"[Ron] didn’t have very much offensive game at the time,” Person said. “I told him that I could help him with his game but I would need complete autonomy and his trust, and if he wanted me to help him, we’d have to start that day with me knowing everything and him not knowing anything. My word would be the law. He accepted it from the beginning. Our relationship from that day forward never wavered.”
Artest was always a strong defender but had minimal impact on offense until working with Person.
“My game was just getting so much better. I was an official threat. I could officially score the ball in the NBA,” Artest said. “Right before I got suspended [in 2004], I probably would have got MVP that year. That was all Chuck.”
Artest was once an undesirable 29.1% from three-point range (2000-01 in Chicago) but could now connect from long distance, including 38% in Sacramento in 2008-09 and 39.3% so far this season with the Lakers.
“It was a very slow process with Ron,” said Person, who also worked with Artest as an assistant coach in Sacramento. “His shot was totally … I don’t know what the right word would be for his shot. All he could do was throw it to the backboard and get it back. Very few things about his shot resembled a natural jump shot.”
Jackson also understood the extensive work Person did with Artest.
“Ron is a guy that you kind of gently lead toward coaching,” Jackson said.
Person doesn’t completely alter a player’s shot. His key starting point is the beginning, in which he touts a strong “heel strike” for a trampoline effect to begin the process. He doesn’t advocate players shooting from the tips of their toes.
“I teach footwork. I teach the foundation. Most mistakes are made at the beginning. You can fix the middle, you can fix the top, but once you get started, it’s hard to fix down low,” he said.
And with that, the interview ended with Person. There was more shot-fixing to be done before tip-off.