How do you teach a prospect to shoot? This is the ultimate swing skill for most players, and every team racks their brains trying to solve this problem.
The Pelicans are one of the few to have found a solution. But there’s only one Fred Vinson, entering his 13th season with the team as an assistant coach and the league’s top unofficial shooting instructor.
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Vinson’s greatest achievement is in Lonzo Ball. When Ball first entered the league, his form looked awkward enough to come out of a Nathan Fielder HBO special. His shot started on the left side of his body, came to his face, obscured his vision of the hoop and was finally released on the right side.
Ball completely transformed his shooting under Vinson, developing a textbook technique. In his two Lakers seasons before meeting Vinson, Ball only made 31.5% of his 3-pointers. In his two Pelicans seasons, he made 37.6 percent of his 3-point attempts.
And last season with the Bulls, he shot 42.3% from beyond the arc, the fifth-highest mark in the league.
“I went in and my shot didn’t work,” Ball told The Athletic’s Will Guillory in 2021. “I’ve just worked since. You can see the hard work paying off. “
Ball may be the most famous player on Vinson’s roster, but NBA veteran Quincy Pondexter was Vinson’s first guinea pig more than a decade ago. The two learned to lay down shots together, and Pondexter incorporated those lessons into his own coaching career as an assistant at the University of Washington.
“Coming into the league, I wasn’t a good shooter at all,” Pondexter said. “Fred Vinson’s job was basically helping me get a jump shot. It was his first real NBA job off the bench. He helped me change my shot and basically helped me get a career in the NBA for as long as I have.”
Since working with Pondexter, Vinson has helped Ball, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones make tremendous progress as 3-point shooters.
Vinson’s next project? Dyson Daniels.
|Player||3PT% Pre-Vinson||3PT% Post Vinson|
|Quincy Pondexter||32.7% (college)||35.6%|
|Grass Jones||28.8% (college)||33.7%|
|Dyson Daniels||30.0% (League G)||?|
Daniels’ poor shot was the biggest blow to him in the 2022 NBA Draft. His G League numbers were ballpark: 30% from 3-point range and 53.3% from the free throw line. Those shooting worries dropped him to No. 8 on the draft board.
Vinson is convinced he can use his same magic on Daniels, turning one of his greatest weaknesses into a strength. If that were to happen, then Daniels, already a great passer and defender, could become the biggest steal in his class.
“He has the ability to become an above-average 3-point shooter,” Vinson said. “His temper reminds me a lot of Lonzo Ball – a mature, calm temperament and focus. Once we can prepare for the season, all the time we spend together, you’re going to see results.”
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Vinson played briefly in the NBA and overseas for much of his career. He understands the stress of being a top player. Daniels calls him “one of the guys” and a great communicator.
But Vinson can also take a drill sergeant approach, knocking down shots before rebuilding them.
“We broke my shot like I just fell on the planet and I learned to play basketball for the first time,” Pondexter said. “And we never, ever, ever skipped any steps.
“We started right under the basket, and I was using one hand. He got my hand in place correctly, little details like which finger was where on the ball. I didn’t go beyond 10 feet basket, and I didn’t use my second hand, my guiding hand, for the whole first month.”
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Vinson uses those same lessons on Daniels.
“His approach is that we start right at the basket,” Daniels said. “Doing the same thing, day after day. One-handed shooting, every time. We start close and slowly drift away. It’s very repetitive, but you get used to it.
“When I got there, we were probably doing 500 shots just around the rim, five feet. We were stretching to the free throw line, one-handed. A total of maybe 700 shots a day .”
Once the basics are mastered, Vinson focuses on the finer details. He is like a watchmaker, repairing even the smallest roughness so that all the mechanics work well.
Vinson places his hand near his eye and brushes his wrist to demonstrate one of the most important concepts for shooters, the set point of a shot. It’s the transition point where the ball goes from your body to the front, and it’s where he automatically sees the most glaring weakness in Daniels’ shot.
“With the length of his arms, you wanna try to start [Daniels’] bit higher set point,” Vinson said. “Preferably outside his right eye, in front of him. What he’s going to do is throw the ball low and bring it back. We don’t want that. We want his energy to continue.”
Daniels was just 16 when he started getting professional shooting training at the NBA Global Academy in Australia. But he’s never met a coach who demands Vinson’s type of precision.
“I mean, this guy is a whole other level above with specific details,” Daniels said. “He sees everything in my shot. You have to drive your hips in that style, you have to have your feet so wide apart, the ball so over your eye, on the right side here.
“Every detail, I’m learning slowly and getting better every day. Some details take some getting used to, but it’s really, really good for me.”
Vinson thinks anyone can be a good shooter, as long as they have certain traits. The first is a good work ethic. Next comes the love of shooting. But the most important ? Learn to fail.
“[It requires] a lot of mental toughness, because these guys have been so successful,” Vinson said. “Sometimes when you’re struggling while you’re rebuilding, you have to be okay with failure.
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With Chip Engelland’s unexpected departure from Spurs in the offseason – Vinson says he’s always admired Engelland – Vinson is the runaway favorite for the best working shooting coach in the league today. Before the Pelicans drafted him, Daniels had already heard about Vinson’s reputation during practices with his fellow prospects.
The only doubt in his mind regarding Vinson is the shooting coach’s own shot.
“I didn’t see much,” Dyson said with a laugh. “I’ve seen him lift a few. He may be trying to hide it until later.”
Vinson’s new student may want to take a lesson from his eldest.
“I’m able to teach guys how to shoot the ball halfway as well as him,” Pondexter said, “because Freddie is one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen.”