Washington Wizards Shooting Woes And Kyudo: The Practice Of Zen Archery

Welcome to another episode of the Tangential Takeaway. Everybody remembers the Suns game, right? The Wizards kept up with the Joneses for the first half, but it didn't feel particularly sustainable. What I mean is that the Suns' scores came as a result of getting the shots they wanted whereas the Wiz made one good pass, maybe two, and then attempted to leverage their position into a respectable attempt. There was one notable Phoenix possession where the ball was passed so fast and often that it appeared to travel twice the length of the court and left DC defenders as exposed as an Iraqi armor column floating down the river to evade U.S. aerial surveillance. (My buddy tells me this actually happened...Google, you fail me.)

So it's a simple transformation from the Wizards and Suns battled each other to a standstill in the first half to the Wizards passed the first-half test but missed the lesson. In microcosm, we look at Player X's shot selection (there's more than one Wizard at fault here) and groan loudest when he makes bad shots. The game of basketball is physical art like any other, shooting being so central brings kyudo to mind; the practice of Japanese Zen Archery.

Accuracy is, of course, important, and the ability to hit the target's center is basic to any form of archery, but kyudo makes a distinction between shooting that is merely skillful (noshahichu) and shooting that is correct and right-minded (seishahichu). The difference lies in how the center shot, known as tekichu, is obtained.

Onuma & DeProspero's Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery

Replace 'hit the target's center' with 'get buckets', 'form of archery' with 'shooting technique' and 'kyudo' with 'pro basketball' and the familiar themes start to beat you over the head, do they not? The aforementioned display of the Suns' passing virtuosity ended with a beautiful three ball and it is difficult to express just how visibly it deflated the Wizards on defense.

While the phrase 'noshahichu crap breaking the offense again...' is a phrase unlikely to make its way into the gamethread, it allows us to establish a jumping off point for what kyudo considers correct and right-minded shooting, seishahichu. To break down the three progressively complex levels of tekichu, the Japanese archery equivalent of 'getting buckets':

  • The Rookie, Case A: Jordan Crawford - I am not intending to denigrate or call JC out here. As I said before, there's more than one Wizard at fault. The first level of getting buckets in Zen archery is toteki, hitting the target.

In toteki...[the archer's] goal is to reach a point where he can consistently hit the center mark. How he does this is generally of little consequence-the toteki archer is often unaware of, or chooses to ignore, the fact that his body lacks symmetry and his movements are dull and lifeless. Moreover, once he has found an accurate method of shooting, he is usually reluctant to change for fear that it will adversely affect his accuracy.

Page 2 of Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery

  • A little farther: After a subpar performance against the Pistons, Michael Lee reported Jordan Crawford's quote, "I was in my hotel room thinking I couldn’t hoop no more." Introspection like that has the potential to create a watershed moment. He's taken heat from fans for his staggering usage percentage, but was experiencing enough personal success he kept on keepin' on. We witnessed attempts to play more within the offense, which usually coincided with a drop in production that saw him back to the ways of chucking in relatively short order. Hopefully he's learned the lesson in the losses following the Trailblazers triumph about the value of playing in the rhythm of the offense. More, that he is gaining confidence in his ability to be productive there.
  • The Pro, Case B: Lebron James - I am no fan of King James, as so few DC fans are. It is impossible to deny Lebron is remarkably effortless in his execution.

The kanteki archer is disciplined...has, for the most part, mastered the physical skills of shooting and concentrates instead on the more obscure internal aspects

Page 3 of Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery

  • A little further: There are plenty of players I could have chosen here, but Lebron is unmatched in his court impact and the stats aren't lying. You hear comments about players getting to their spots for shooting, playmakers finding them there, guys off the ball and on finding the right angles on passes, setting and making use of screens, being an all around basketball player. Much as my fingers try to break themselves as I type this, nobody does it like Lebron. But that also brings us to our final case.
  • The Stone-Cold Killer, Case C: Ray Allen - We call these guys killers, Steve Nash, unconscious shooters. Here's how Kyudo might see them:

To achieve [zaiteki] the archer must unify the three spheres of activity-mind (attitude), body (movement), and bow (technique)-which form the basis of shooting. When these three elements are unified, rational thinking gives way to feeling and intuition, the thoughts are quieted, and technique merges with the blood and the breath, becoming spontaneous and instinctive.

Page 3 of Kyudo: The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery

  • A little further: While we're probably not ready to attribute all of that to Robert Horry when the pressure is on, the players we might put in this category seem just short of automatic. Off-balance, hand in the face, curling off screens, these guys simply make shots.

So what's the takeaway? It's a long road between each level of proficiency, largely because each has such a different mindset where the player must be willing to surrender short-term production to make long-term strides. The toteki-like focus the Wizards often exhibit to get their points, or attain their center shot (tekichu), could easiily be attributed to their lack of faith in the system to be successful.

The team hasn't been afraid to acknowledge their weaknesses, but no one wants to be the weakest link after Andray Blatche (since that's fairly well-established in the media at this point). So they go to get theirs the moment they have a transient advantage they feel they can convert to a respectable attempt, but that is never going to cut it from a kanteki perspective, the kind of player contenders are built on.

This seems a lot like the kind of problem that would be easier to attack with a normal practice schedule, or what's more, with a full training camp and preseason. There's still half a season to play, but as they have the past two years, many eyes have already turned to the next.

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