True Hoops

True Hoops

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Case study: Kemba's step back

Watch and learn
While Kemba Walker has a plethora of moves to choose from, there is one in particular that he has mastered. That is the step-back jump-shot.

Google/Youtube "Kemba Walker jumper" and you'll be hard pressed to find anything other than this:

But Kemba has drawn from this well on multiple occasions. Even in more important/less hilarious situations.

Most recently Kemba used the step-back to hit what was ultimately the deciding bucket in Uconn's win over Arizona in the Elite 8. Go to the 1:57 mark in the video below to see what Kemba did in response to Arizona cutting the lead to 63-60:

Needles to say, the step back jumper is an incredible weapon to have.
There are numerous variations to it and it can be preceded by so many moves.
Let's use the two plays above to highlight some of the keys.

The set-up
In the game against Pitt, Kemba uses his cross-over dribble to set up his step-back.
In the game against Arizona, Kemba uses his in-and-out dribble to set it up.
The resulting effect is similar in both situations: defenders having to react to Kemba's initial move and therefore playing catch-up. 

This is key to setting up the step-back. 
The goal is to have your defender chasing you and then to use their momentum against them.
You can really do anything: hesitation and go, between the legs, between the legs then cross-over. But really, less is more.

As the defender chases you, using all their energy to recover, you then change directions by pushing off with your lead foot to step back into your jump-shot. As all the defender's momentum is geared towards your initial move, it becomes extremely difficult to react to your secondary move going in the opposite direction. In essence, the defender has to fight against themselves to recover.

Speed and space
The amount of space that you can create varies, which is dependent on how your defender reacts and  how fast you execute this move.

Against Pitt, Kemba creates an enormous amount of space, as his defender falls, and therefore waits till he has fully completed his move to go up and shoot. In this instance he actually can take his time to properly set himself up for his shot (Look at how straight he is in the picture at the top).

Against Arizona, his defender is able to close the gap quicker, having stayed on his feet, and actually contests the shot somewhat. In this case, Kemba has to get his shot off quicker, and therefore executes the move faster.  Additionally, he has to fade away a bit on his shot. 

Although not pictured here, you can actually shoot the ball while stepping back. This doesn't allow your defender to recover as you come to a stop and in essence simulates a fade-away jumper.

This also plays a role in how much space you create.
Notice in both cases above Kemba is moving from the right side of the court to the left.
For right handed shooters, which Kemba is, it is easier stepping back to their left.
Vice versa for left handed shooters.
This is simply because of mechanics and the way your body is set-up after stepping back 
(see below).

But there is a subtle difference, which makes the Pitt move a little more effective.
Against Pitt, Kemba is going north and south (to and away from the basket). 
Haven't you ever heard a coach say this is the best way to make moves?

By initially going in the direction of the basket after his crossover, Kemba actually goes almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction with his step back. The result is disasterous for his defender and allows Kemba to create a maximum amount of space.

Against Arizona, Kemba never really gets the defender on his hip to place his shoulders ahead of him. Thus he never really goes towards the basket. Instead of going forward then stepping back, Kemba is moving to the side, right to left, and then stepping back.

Therefore the defender doesn't have to change direction in 180 degrees.
This allows the defender to stay on his feet.
Still, the defender is chasing Kemba off the initial in-and-out move and still has to change direction by approximately 90 degrees after Kemba's step-back. This allows Kemba to create space, even if it is minimal.

The mechanics
At some point when you dribble with one hand, your opposite foot comes forward. 
Thus when you dribble with your left hand, your right foot comes forward.
If this isn't the case off your initial dribble, then it is certainly the case after your second dribble and are moving with the ball - either north to south, or side to side

Also consider, when you have a defender guarding you while dribbling, you naturally want to protect the ball with your off hand/opposite side of your body (if the ball is in your left hand, you are protecting it with your right hand/side of the body).

Combining both cases, when right handed shooters are dribbling with their left hand, it places their strong hand/shooting hand closer to the basket. It also places their right foot closer to the basket, putting them physically in a position that favors them shooting the ball (If you are a right handed shooter, try shooting the ball with the left side of your body closer to the basket - not such a good look).

Now take a look at the play against Pitt.
The slow motion highlight is priceless in it's instructional value.
Look at the position of Kemba's body after his cross-over. With the ball in his left hand, going to his left, the right side of his upper body (shoulder and hand) is closer to the basket.

Also notice how his right foot is closer to the basket.
Now notice how he jabs his foot into the floor and uses it to push off and step back in the opposite direction. More so, he leans his entire body into that jab to create more energy for the push off. Kemba actually "jumps" back into his shot.

What is great is that even though he changes directions, his body still stays in an alignment that favors him shooting the ball - having his right hand and shoulder slightly in front.

This is perfection.

When creating more space and having more time to shoot, as in the Pitt case, the straighter you can make your body towards the basket after your step-back.

When creating less space and having less time to shoot, as in the Arizona case, the more pronounced the right side of your boy is to the basket.

In either event, you are in a position ready to shoot the ball.

Player application
The best part about this move, is that it can be used by all types of players. 

"Slower" players can create for themselves with this move by relying on their skills and being crafty with  their dribble (i.e. having a good set-up move). Additionally changing speeds, off hesitations, and utilizing on the ball screens is really helpful to set-up the step-back.

"Faster" players are a nightmare to guard with this move because the defender is always chasing while trying to keep up. "Fast" players actually have to use less of their dribble and more of the blow by. 

Kemba happens to be both fast and skilled with the ball. And this is what separates him from most.

Many players, especially at the division I college level and above, are talented, fast, and athletic.
But the step-back jumper is an acquired skill. It has the potential, along with other skill sets, to separate great players from good players, superstars from stars, and ultimately wins from losses.

Momo Jones, the starting point guard on Arizona, might have said it best himself when comparing his game to Kemba (friend and high school teammate) before their match-up in the elite 8:

"Kemba is more herky-jerky with the ball," Jones said. "He's got more of a bounce to his step. I'm more powerful. I can get past the defender, so I just try to keep it simple."

Momo is essentially saying he relies more on his natural strength and speed while Kemba has more skills/moves with the ball.

So, let's add one more to the list above of what a step-back jumper can separate: 
final four from elite 8.

Skill can compete with talent.
Skill + talent will beat talent.

Kemba has both.
Now imagine him coming off a screen.
Good luck with that.

Appropriate usage
This move can be used in various game situations.
In the Pitt game, Kemba uses the step-back in an isolation play to take the last shot.
In the Arizona game, Kemba uses it seamlessly after coming directly off a screen and meeting Derrick Williams on a switch. And it was still a crucial play.

And that is the beauty of this move.
It can be premeditated or it can be instinctual.
It can be deliberately ostentatious or it can be in rhythm.
You dig what I mean?
You can use it to create a gap or you can use it to create a inch.
It is simply a means to getting your shot off in any situation.

I now have a question for those of you that have read this far (that means YOU)

Who was the first person you have seen utilize the step-back jumper?

Believe it or not I'm gonna say Latrell Sprewell, when he was with the Golden State Warriors.  
Maybe there were others before him that I don't remember. But for me personally, Sprewell was the first one I saw using this move (in the mid-90's) and tried to emulate. 

The step back jumper has been very influential and heavily utilized in my game.

What about now? Who utilizes the step-back jumper most efficiently in their game?
The first person that comes to the top of my head is Paul Pierce.
So effective. 
Remember what he did to Amar'e and the Knicks at the garden earlier this year?
Do you think it's a coincidence that he is such a clutch player and always gets his shot off?

Hopefully we'll get to see Kemba use his step-back in the final four and championship game.
After that, hopefully we'll then see him use it for years to come in the NBA.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, but reading this post brings back bad memories of guarding you on Carneseca Court not too long ago. It is by far a devastating move, and one I've used with marginal success in the years since it was taught to me, by you I might add.

    The more I watch Kemba, the more I think he may have a slight edge over the Liger. Lol. Even if its by a hair, but I just cant see Kemba going 3-15 from 3's. Or shooting under 40% in general. A wise man once said, shooters keep shooting, but at the same time, scorers will score, no matter what. In my opinion, every successful basketball player has a go to move. Jordan had the right to left crossover/pushoff. Kobe has the pull up jumper. Pierce and Kemba have the step back. If your go to move is a 35 foot fadeaway, I don't see you closing too many games in that manner.

    Needless to say, fantastic breakdown of a fantastic move.