February 19, 2012
James Johnson reinventing his jumpshot
By Mike Ganter, QMI Agency
His pre-game warmup starts exactly three feet from the basket every night with one hand cupped under the ball and the other hanging loosely at his side. Assistant coach Tom Sterner is under the hoop.
And so begins that particular night’s continuation of the reconstruction of Raptor small forward James Johnson’s new jumper, the one he is calling the Tom Sterner jumper.
If James’ quick hands and heady defence weren’t already helping him work his way into head coach Dwane Casey’s core group, his improved shooting should help his case.
Johnson showed up at the Raptors abbreviated training camp in December with a jumper that was broken.
It wasn’t that he let his game slip, it was that Johnson developed some bad shooting habits while working on his game during the elongated off-season. Sterner saw him in the gym and knew something had to be done.
“He saw me shooting after practice and I was still working on the wrong jumper,” Johnson said. “He saw it and we just got busy after that.”
Fixing NBA jumpers is nothing new to Sterner who has been doing it over his 13 years as an assistant coach. Not every case is identical but Sterner finds a way to fix things. With James it was just a few mechanical kinks that needed ironing out.
“He had this like sling-shot type of shot where it was back behind his ear and he was throwing it,” Sterner said. “We have really changed his motion where it’s more straight up and it gets him a higher follow through and better finish.”
The key is getting his elbow right underneath the ball. The pre-game ritual with the one-handed shooting forces Johnson to do that. If the elbow flares out with no guide hand there to hold it, the ball falls.
Sterner and Johnson have been at this shot rebuild since late December. While the results were by no means immediate, Johnson’s shooting percentage has been on a steady climb ever since.
“Any time you go through a shooting change it’s a lot like golf,” Sterner said. “When guys go through swing changes in golf it takes 60 shots a day for 30 days straight before you can effectively change a motion. Basketball is no different and we put in more than 60 shots a day, but the 30 days straight part is important. You don’t want to address if for a day, let it go for two days and then come back and address it. If you can do it day after day after day you can effectively change mechanics.”
And Johnson has kept to that routine.
“We don’t take a day off,” Sterner said. “There isn’t a day that we don’t shoot. He is committed to becoming a better player.”
Casey has been a big proponent of Johnson’s defensive abilities all season long but lately he’s starting to see enough gains on the offensive side that he admits James is forcing him to reassess his status.
“He’s close,” Casey said when asked if Johnson had become a part of his core players. “He’s getting there. He has developed more trust. The first part of the year he was trying to discover America with the ball, but he has done a much better job of simplifying his game and playing much more under control.”
Keeping it simple is the key for Johnson on offence according to Casey.
“One dribble and up, two dribbles and up and just not try to do too much,” Casey said.
Johnson is so grateful for Sterner’s help that he’s now calling his shot the Tom Sterner jumper. Having one coach who recognized a real flaw in his game and was able to help him correct it has made Sterner a very big part of Johnson’s season.
Getting a chance to earn the confidence of a head coach is a nice change too.
“For me it was three years in the NBA and four different head coaches,” said Johnson who began his career in Chicago before moving to Toronto after a year and a half.
“I couldn’t earn the confidence of any of the head coaches,” he said. “I just didn’t have enough time. I was on a very short leash in terms of what I would get in the offence. I know my defence will always (keep me in the picture) but I couldn’t control my offensive shot or what I was doing or even what plays would be run for me.”
Johnson’s minutes have been relatively consistent all season but it has just been the past 18 games where he has moved into the starting five (at both the small forward and power forward positions) that has seen Johnson’s offensive game excel.
As a starter, Johnson is averaging 10.1 points a night and shooting at a 45.7% clip. Coming off the bench, which he did early in the year behind Rasual Butler, Johnson was averaging 4.5 points and shooting just 35.7% from the field.
Wednesday’s game with Detroit will mark Johnson’s offical one-year anniversary of the trade that brought him to Toronto. He has made plenty of progress since then and he’s eager for more.
“It has taken a while but I feel like it’s finally clicking,” Johnson said. “I’m finally becoming a threat. I needed that.”
The Raptors are pretty happy about it too.