Stojakovic, Allen: Perfectly imperfect

Updated: February 6, 2004, 8:51 PM ET
By Frank Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

A long time ago, probably 20 years or so, Sports Illustrated did a story in which Wade Boggs, the pre-frozen Ted Williams and, I believe, Joe DiMaggio gathered around a table and discussed hitting.

Every once in a while, a snippet would leak from one of the great's mouths that either would enlighten the reader about the subject, or allow the reader to delve into the psyche of the man himself -- which in a roundabout way also enlightened the reader about the subject.

That's a bit of what I felt like recently when I listened to Ray Allen discuss shooting.

At one point, the colloquy turned to the rotation of the ball once it is released. Allen's ball barely rotates, perhaps a turn or a turn and a half from the time it leaves his hand behind the 3-point line to the time it reaches the basket. Someone pointed out that a ball that has more rotation is apt to have a little more action if and when it hits the rim, giving it more of a chance to hit the backboard and go in.

Deadpan, without missing a beat, Allen said: "Yeah, but you're not supposed to hit the rim."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Allen is one of the game's greatest shooters. Well, along with Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic, whom Allen says he thinks might have a slight edge over him right now for purity.

The two, by the way, have combined to win the last three All-Star weekend 3-point shooting contests, and the competition would likely have come down to them again -- had the league invited Allen to participate instead of some guy named Voshon Lenard, whose shot also is quite nice but certainly not among the best ever.

Here's the funny thing about Allen and Stojakovic, and for that matter Reggie Miller, also one of the game's great marksmen: Take them to a sterile gym with some yahoo shooting coach named Gunther, and Gunther would promptly say: "No, no, no. Your fundamentals, they all are wrong."

Ray Allen
Ray Allen shoots a knuckleball that usually hits nothing but net.
Gunther then would position their feet just so, line up their arms like a trussed Thanksgiving turkey, aim their chins sternly at the rim and turn them into, well, James Cotton. "Who's he?" you ask.

Exactly.

Allen was working on his shot after practice one day, and a group of people were standing behind him to watch him shoot. "Look at that," one of the observers noticed. "His ball moves when it leaves his hand."

"What do you mean?" another bystander asked.

"His ball, it wobbles on the way to the basket, almost like it's a knuckleball."

"No it doesn't. That's an optical illusion."

So the group went over to Seattle coach Nate McMillan.

"Have you ever noticed Ray's ball when it leaves his hand?" McMillan was queried. "It ..."

"Yeah, it moves," McMillan said before the question even was completed. "I've noticed that."

"What are you trying to say?" Allen asked defensively. "That I have a bad shot?"

Well, uh, no Mr. Allen. After all, you've made 1,195 career 3-pointers.

"My shot used to be real funky," Allen said, "and I had a coach who would record our free throws when I was growing up. I used to jump at the free-throw line; we didn't have follow-throughs, no rotation on the ball. He would show us exactly what it looked like.

"It's one thing for a coach to tell you what you are doing, but when he shows you, you comprehend a lot better."

Peja Stojakovic
Peja Stojakovic's funky release sends the ball spinning sideways but through the rim.
When Stojakovic shoots the ball, he looks like a drunk man about to fall down who happens to throw a basketball at the rim. His arms and legs are flying all over like one of the Three Stooges, he is leaning to his left, and his ball has a left-to-right flight pattern.

"I've had a lot of people tell me it's not a good-looking shot," Stojakovic said. "It looks weird, and I am leaning to my left, and my hand goes all the way right. The finger is kind of going this way. But I think the shot is going from your head and how much confidence you have. The ball rotates out, like a screwball. But I am focused on the rim and the basket, and it's about confidence."

There are many great stories about how players developed their shots. I believe it was Jeff Hornacek who had a power line in his back yard, which is why his shot has so much arc on it.

One of my favorite stories is the way Antawn Jamison developed his unusual array of shots. His father put up a rim in his back yard and warned Jamison not to dunk. Jamison, of course, did not listen, and tore down the rim. To teach him a lesson, his father put the replacement rim at 11 feet. When Jamison practiced, he had to throw it a foot higher.

Stojakovic says there are no such stories from Belgrade. "I just practice a lot," said Stojakovic, going for his third straight 3-point shooting title. "I was 14, I started practicing twice a day. My coach was very insistent on my shooting 500 to 800 shots a day. And I always worked with a coach who told me how to get my shot off, worked on a quick release. But they never tried to change my shot."

For the record, both Stojakovic and Allen list themselves among the top five shooters in the league -- but they really meant the top two, citing each other as the other great purist.

The name both came up with as No. 3 is New York's Allan Houston, who possesses a perfectly fundamental shot, complete with rotation, release and result -- the three R's.

Stojakovic also listed Indiana's Miller and Milwaukee's Michael Redd. Allen -- who, oddly enough, said he idolized Michael Cooper growing up -- mentioned Reggie and Dirk Nowitzki as the other greats in the game today.

"You don't call a shooter great because of his form," Allen said. "You call a jump shooter a great jump shooter because the ball goes in."

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.