Kevin Durant free throw

By Marcus Shockley

Today’s article is the latest in a series on how to be an elite student, not just an elite athlete.

Every basketball player who has worked on their game knows that repetition is one of the best methods to improve a skill over time. Last season (2012-13), Kevin Durant was the best free throw shooter in the NBA, averaging 90.5% for the year.

Any time you may have watched Durant at the free throw line, you know his shots are incredibly consistent, and you know he didn’t just pick up a basketball as a kid and start shooting over 90% from the charity stripe. His mechanics are polished, and the ball comes off his hand the same way each time, without fail.

This has been true of all of the great free throw shooters. Free throw shooting is one key skill that any player, regardless of height, age, athletic ability can excel at with enough practice (which begs the question as to why some players are so bad at it, but that’s a digression and we’ll stay on topic here).

“Practice”, when it comes to free throw shooting, boils down to only two aspects: technique and repetition. First you learn the best way to shoot a free throw, then you repeat that shot hundreds, thousands of times until your brain and body learn to shoot a free throw as easy as taking a breath.

This method of repetition is used in all sports – in martial arts, fighters practice moves over and over in order to ingrain the movements into their psyche, so that during combat competition they perform the moves instinctively.

When we practice something with repetition, we accept the fact that we are not experts, and that we will not become experts simply by doing something a few times. We accept that we are working on a process that will take an extended amount of time; if we are practicing free throws, we know that one day of shooting 50 or 100 free throws will not make us an elite free throw shooter. But we also know that shooting 100 free throws 3 or 4 days a week, for a couple of years, will almost certainly make us very good free throw shooters.

This is not limited to the world of sports.

No matter what the endeavor, repetition can be used to improve over time. A few days ago I mentioned on Twitter that a way to improve one’s vocabulary is to use a word three times in normal conversation. In reality, this is a method of repetition that has proven very effective because using a word three times turns out to be the equivalent of shooting 1,000 free throws to our verbal lexicon.

Pro football players commit to memory hundreds of plays and schemes from their playbook, and some players have to do this with completely new playbooks each year as they move from team to team. They do this with repetition, and the reason for team walkthroughs in any sport is using repetition to embed the plays into the players’ consciousness.

One caveat to this, people can easily confuse “repetition” with “memorization”. Memorization is simply remembering data without comprehension in most cases. What we are talking about here is practice, repeating a process over and over until we can do it with our eyes closed.

Sort of like Micheal Jordan:

A lot of people have seen Jordan’s famous free throw, but what a lot of people don’t know is that Jordan actually practiced that shot for years, long after he was a superstar, before the chance to show he could do it on TV. Former Philadelphia 76ers President Pat Croce once wrote that he was surprised to find Micheal Jordan in his arena, three hours before game time, practicing free throws in sweats by himself…with his eyes closed.

This can be done with math, with reading, with pretty much any knowledge or skill. If you can learn to be a better free throw shooter, you can learn to do a lot of other things better as well.

You can follow Marcus Shockley on Twitter.

Harrison Barnes Warriors

By Marcus Shockley

So I’ve been writing over the past week about ways to make yourself into an elite student, not just an elite athlete, first breaking down how to math word problems and then using Lebron to explain Newton’s laws of motion.

Today I’m offering one of the most powerful tools I know to improve your schoolwork in every single subject: reading comprehension. Wait! I can already see your eyelids drooping – but trust me on this, it’s going to be quick and easy and when you are done I promise you will not only have a better way of approaching all of your subjects but you’ll also know a lot more about the NBA Rookie Pay Scale.

Let’s tip this off.

In order to explain this, let’s start by imagining that you, yes you, get a phone call today from the NBA commissioner.

It turns out there was a glitch during the draft and you were supposed to be the NBA’s 7th pick in the 2013 draft, instead of Ben McLemore (sorry, Ben). The commissioner also tries to pull a fast one on you by telling you that you won’t get more than the rookie pay scale. You are pretty sure that the commissioner and the teams don’t have your best interest at heart, and you know you don’t have an agent advising you, so you rush to look up the rookie pay scale and you look to see what the last two 7th round picks signed for their first year. You see the following table, which lists the rookie pay scale per position picked. Remember, you were picked at the 7th spot:

Pick Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 QO
1 $4,436,900 $4,636,600 $4,836,300 26.10% 30.00%
2 $3,969,800 $4,148,500 $4,327,100 26.20% 30.50%
3 $3,565,000 $3,725,400 $3,885,800 26.40% 31.20%
4 $3,214,200 $3,358,800 $3,503,500 26.50% 31.90%
5 $2,910,600 $3,041,600 $3,172,600 26.70% 32.60%
6 $2,643,600 $2,762,600 $2,881,500 26.80% 33.40%
7 $2,413,300 $2,521,900 $2,630,500 27.00% 34.10%
8 $2,210,900 $2,310,400 $2,409,800 27.20% 34.80%
9 $2,032,300 $2,123,800 $2,215,200 27.40% 35.50%
10 $1,930,600 $2,017,500 $2,104,300 27.50% 36.20%

Then you do a little more research (a.k.a. ‘Googling’) and you find that 2012’s 7th round pick, Harrison Barnes, signed his rookie contract for $2,923,920 for the first year, while Ben McLemore signed his contract for $2,895,960.

Okay, hold up. Both Barnes and McLemore signed for more than the rookie pay listed in the table, which was $2,413,300. In fact, both are getting considerably more in their first year – about half a million dollars. So what gives?

It turns out that the rookie pay scale is not an exact amount, but a range. Contracts can be up to 120% of the amount listed and not less than 80% of that amount. So while the team who is about to offer you a deal would love for you to take the rookie pay scale, you already know that the last two draft picks got quite a bit more, and you are ready to play hardball.

Now, back to reality.

Without looking back at the scenario we talked about, can you answer any of the following questions?

1. Are rookies in the NBA paid exactly at scale?

2. Does the rookie NBA pay scale – the amount the player gets paid – change based on their draft position?

3. At which draft position were Ben McLemore and Harrison Barnes both taken?

4. Who called you on the phone to tell you there’d been an NBA draft mistake?

I’m pretty sure you could recite the answers to all of those questions without even batting an eye, and you might be thinking, ‘well, duh, of course – I just read that information a few seconds before you asked me!’.

But see, here’s the point: you didn’t instantly recall the details of the draft scenario simply because you just read it.

Actually, you recalled it because it was interesting and it most likely involved several things you want to know more about – the NBA, money, how much money someone can make playing basketball, and so on. As sports fans, we also know there is a culture of knowledge around sports, and we don’t want our buddies beating us up because they know more than we do. So you were reading with focus and interest, even if it didn’t feel like it.

I’m pretty sure that tomorrow, you could explain how the rookie pay scale works if someone asked you about it. I’d go so far that you’d remember how the rookie pay scale works if someone asks you two years from now.

Here’s the real kicker: that, in a nutshell, is reading comprehension, and even though we aren’t always trying to learn the NBA salary scale, anything we are trying to read an retain can be done in the same way. All you have to do is read whatever it is you’re trying to learn with the mindset that you want to be able to turn around and explain it to someone else.

I’m not saying it’s always a breeze, but the concept will always work. Read as though you’ll have to really explain it, and you’ll find that you will pay more attention to the subject matter, and your brain will really try to get a fundamental understanding of what you are reading as opposed to just trying to memorize it (which never works).

You can follow Marcus Shockley on Twitter.