Top 10 NBA Players Who Must Improve Shooting To Reach Next Level

Erik LandauCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2010

Top 10 NBA Players Who Must Improve Shooting To Reach Next Level

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    Hit a jumper! Make that 17-footer! You're wide open! More than a few of us have been frustrated by seeing an All-Star talent player not being able to make a simple jumper or the wide open three. Many like Antoine Walker were willing to throw up shots and shoot a very low percentage. Others are just unwilling to put shots up just due to the lack of improvement in their outside game.

    That is what is at focus in this article—ten players who are on the rise or have been above solid players in the league who can drastically or decently improve their games with a better shot. I am thinking in terms of a jumper, but a three-pointer could be relevant as well.

    The ability to make them a go to guy with the game on the line is also a main factor. Everyone of these players have been secondary with the exception of one (maybe two) depending on the opinion of each person. The improvement I'm looking for here could make the talented underachiever an All-Star and an All-Star a Superstar. 

    Here's the 10 that most need to improve to reach the next level.

10. James Harden

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    Harden, the former third overall pick from Arizona State, plays on an up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder squad. In his rookie year he averaged 9.9 points per game on a team that has many players to share the wealth. With Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, and of course Kevin Durant, the Thunder have scoring options.

    As he enters his sophomore season, Harden is looked at as a three-point specialist since he hit 93 of 248 attempts for a 37.5 percent three-point shooting accuracy. There is no problem for that level on threes. He also still shoots 80 percent from the free throw lin,e which is fine.

    Harden's problem is overall field goal percentage. He only shoots 40 percent from the field on a team which is trying to make major strides towards a title. Getting a true big man is essential for the Thunder, but Harden might be as well.

    With the amount of focus that defenses will put toward Westbrook and Russell, Harden should have great looks every game on the perimeter. It will be up to him to stroke those between the three-point line and layups.

9. Raymond Felton

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    Raymond Felton now enters his first year with the New York Knicks. With the rumors of Chris Paul trying to get himself traded to the Knicks, people wondered if we would even see Felton in a Knicks jersey. This offseason change interests me as much as any minus the Miami trio.

    Felton was coached under the tutelage of Larry Brown these past two seasons. Brown has been known to greatly improve the point guard that play under him, whether that was Mark Jackson with the Clippers, Allen Iverson as a PG/SG with the 76ers, or Chauncey Billups with the Pistons. Now is time for Raymond Felton to prove if he has what it takes.

    A large step for him will be continuing to improve his shot. These aren't the defenses he saw in the ACC while playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Felton though finally saw improvement in his shooting last year shooting a career high 46 percent from the field. With Felton having Amar'e Stoudemire down low as well, he should have more open looks than he got with his big men in Charlotte. It will be up to Felton to duplicate last year's showing if not improve it in the Big Apple.

8. Trevor Ariza

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    Trevor Ariza is now a Hornet after spending a year in Houston following his championship with the Lakers. Ariza came into the league unheralded as the 43rd pick in the 2004 Draft out of UCLA. He has seen ups and downs in his play and didn't emerge as a great player until joining Phil Jackson's squad in L.A.

    He struggled with his shot his first four years in Orlando and New York in his limited play. That would change with the Lakers as he would shoot 52 percent in limited play in 2007-2008 and then a still solid 46 percent in 2008-2009. Leaving the triangle last year would drastically hurt his skills.

    While in Houston, he would raise his three-point percentage to his career high of 33 percent, but would find pedestrian totals of a free throw percentage of 65 percent and more importantly a field goal percentage of 39 percent. The increase in attempts last year didn't help the scoring efficiency of Ariza in the least bit.

    Now in New Orleans, Ariza will be the third if not second option in the Hornets gameplan. He is going to need to hit some open, smart shots that Chris Paul should be able to set up for him. If he is unable, it could take away from the effectiveness of Paul and David West.

7. Brandon Jennings

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    Brandon Jennings began last season as the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year with his 55-point outburst game. He would eventually be overtaken by Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry for favorites as Rookie of the Year. Jennings for all his early success saw roadblocks as the season would progress.

    Only making 37 percent of your shots has to be a red flag to any team, especially one that was on the rise. This can be accounted for by his difficult degree of shots he would take. Much of the time as this photo with Paul Pierce shows, he would shoot with a hand directly in his face.

    Andrew Bogut will be coming off a major injury that ended last season, and we still have to see how productive he can be. An in and out between Jennings and Bogut would be nice, but it should not be expected.

    What could be of more help is Jennings just limiting his shots per game and working on getting it to other teammates. Like a quarterback in the NFL, it might not be as much about improving his skills, as it is about improving his decision making.

6. Rudy Gay

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    Mr. Gay just received a very nice contract this offseason from the Memphis Grizzlies. Now is his time to repay them with a jump shot. He has spent time in Turkey with Team USA capturing the gold medal, and I hope he continued to work on his shot during the FIBA tournament.

    He is right on the cusp of being an All-Star player, and like Brandon Jennings needs to work on taking higher percentage shots. Forget about the shots with a foot on the three-point line or just inside it; put yourself in position to get higher percentage shots.

    He shot 46 percent from the field last year which was his career high. This though is an illusion to greatness because he could have easily shot higher. Putting himself in place for better shots would also increase his assist totals which are a meager 1.7 for his career per game (1.9 last season). If he can continue to improve his shot choices and up his assists through this process, he will definitely be an All-Star.

5. Andre Iguodala

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    Iggy has as much hops as a Sam Adams, but his shot is about as deadly as a Care Bear. That's not to say he has a particularly bad shot; it's more to say that his jumper is a surprise. His release, motion, and fluidity looks pretty good, but he just doesn't happen to hit as often as he should.

    Most of this I contribute to bad decision making on his shots. Many times he takes a much tougher jumper or three-pointer than he should. Like Vince Carter, he often takes a tough jumper when he could drive it to the lane or take a couple dribbles in and bank the shot in. Seeing a bank shot in Iguodala's game could increase his scoring average a decent amount.

    Iguodala is still not a go to guy at the end of the game. With the addition of Evan Turner, they might have a mean 2-3 combo between them. The lack of a jumper though might cause friction as to who is the man if Turner can stroke a jumper, even if Iggy plays better defense.

    Again, Andre's shot is not bad, but it just could be better on a team that could most importantly use more clutch shots from him.

4. Dwight Howard

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    Now Howard is a special case in this group. He is the only big man I have in this mix. It is not a great 14-footer I am looking for from him, but a steady improvement upon his bank shot from 10 feet and other small jumpers he has to go along with his power game.

    We know he can go inside and flush the ball down over players heads just like Shaq. Unfortunately for Howard, he doesn't have the killer attitude to go with his physical freakishness. He is a nice, go lucky guy which is fine in most professions. Here though, the focus is strictly on winning and it might take a jumper to even things out for Howard.

    He is so lanky and strong that it might not have to be that far out, as his jumper can almost be a layup like the way Wilt Chamberlain would almost lay the ball out towards the hoop. This would simply give Howard more tools and most importantly make him the guy to go to at the end of the game.

    If he can develop a baseline jumper similar to Hakeem Olajuwon, we might see the Orlando Magic finally win an NBA title.

3. Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker has been a Finals MVP, won three NBA titles, and is still only 27. So when I put up that a guy who's played in the league for nine years as needing to improve something, it might seem a little late.

    That is not the case to me when you think of Jason Kidd, who had always shot in the 30-40 percent range in his career until he got traded back to Dallas. Here, he began to work on his three and his last two years he has shot 40 percent and 42 percent on three pointers. This was done at the age of 35, a full eight years ahead of Parker's current age.

    What sets Parker apart from being considered an All-Star every year and a top three point guard is his jumper. The thoughts of Parker being in New York have to stem from George Hill and not Parker having a shot. This should be some form of motivation for Parker.

    I don't know how much desire Parker has left. He has his wife Eva Longoria to please him as everyone knows, and maybe it will take his natural physical abilities declining before he tries to work on this specified skill. Until he does, he will still be good and not great.

2. Rajon Rondo

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    Like Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo is a great point guard who still needs to improve his ability to hit a jumper. Despite the fact that Ray Allen was cold as the glaciers in the Finals minus Game 2, Rondo was at fault as well. There were plenty of times that Rondo had a wide open free throw line jumper and couldn't can it.

    We all know that Rondo can drive the lane and get rebounds to amass triple-doubles even though he stands only 6'1''. What we are still unsure of is whether he can pick up a good shot. He can make some of the most difficult layups I have seen, so it still leaves me somewhat numb that he can't hit outside of eight feet most of the time.

    Rondo has everyone on his backside about improving this aspect of his game. As much slack as he gets, it's warranted just because a title is on the line. The Celtics were just minutes away from winning the title and even though Kendrick Perkins was injured and Ray Allen was cold as stated, Rondo could have made a major impact.

    If Rondo could get a great jumper, he could be considered as good if not better than Chris Paul and Deron Williams. That though is a big if, and I still need to see improvement in his J before my mind even considers that belief as reality.

1. Josh Smith

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    This man is No. 1, no doubt. The physical tools Josh Smith has are uncanny minus LeBron James being on this earth. Smith is without a doubt one of the top five athletes in the NBA. It's just a shame his fundamentals don't show that. Some of the physical things Smith does are just like James.

    His ability to come from behind and block a shot when no one thinks it's possible. His high arching dunks that scare defenders out of even attempting to block the dunk. There also is the great quickness he embodies for a man his size.

    Now the most important part of his future should be in the though of developing a jumper. If he can do this, the skies would open and he would be a top five player in the league. Yes, I believe that a jumper would elevate Smith that much. He's already a top defensive player and can be as explosive as anyone around the rim.

    If Smith can develop a jumper there is no way defensively of stopping him without a double team. With the surrounding cast of Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Jamal Crawford offensively it would immensely improve the Hawks.

    I won't go ahead and say they win the East because I believe Mike Bibby has become a liability to a point, but Josh Smith has the greatest potential of change of any player in the league by developing a jumper. This should be motivation for Smith in the coming future.