Players put a lot of work in during the offseason refining their game, looking to bolster their strengths, and improving on inefficiencies. Yoeli Childs is a prime example of this as Cougar Nation has seen him grow more and more dominant to the point where he’s earned himself a top 20 player ranking in CBS Sport’s top 100.
This offseason, Coach Pope and Yoeli both talked a lot about improving his defensive urgency, presence, and leadership, but in watching film from Italy games and media footage from practices, it appears that he’s also put in work on his shot. Let’s take a look at some of the things he’s changed.
Ball and Hand Placement
The first, and most obvious, change I saw is Yoeli’s elbow placement, as a result of where his launch point has been moved to. Many coaches teach that you need your elbow in to have a “good” fundamental shot, and it has been a weakness in Yoeli’s form that his elbow often ends up poking out to the right.
To get into the weeds a little, the elbow placement is important because it helps align the shot and keep it from drifting too far off target, as well as efficiently transfer upward body motion into your shot. His old shot’s launch point was coming from right above the middle of the forehead, while the new shot is in a more fundamentally sound position of being more to the right of his head, allowing the elbow to be more under the ball.
If you look even closer you can tell that his guide hand is now slightly lower on the ball since it doesn’t have to do as much work in keeping the ball from falling off of his shooting hand. And for extra credit, if you look even closer, you can tell that his old form had his shooting hand with fingers a little too close together (look at how close his thumb is to his fingers) while his improved form gives him a little more room to spread his thumb and fingers out, resulting in better ball control.
Why is all of this important though? Each element — elbow poking out, guide hand getting in the way, hand being less open — adds something that needs to be adjusted for and challenges the consistency of the shot. Tightening up his form in these ways should create a more accurate shot and hopefully increase his percentages, especially from the free throw line.
In shooting terms, a “finish” is how cleanly you transition from the ball leaving your hand to the follow through. A good finish smoothly transitions from the upward motion to the “hand in the cookie jar” (wrist flexed, fingers extended downwards) and usually is an indicator that you let off a pretty solid shot with good backspin. A good finish is also an indicator of how “soft” your shot will probably land on the rim and shooters with good finishes usually benefit from the “shooter’s bounce.”
Yoeli mentioned specifically that the staff has been helping him in this avenue, making sure he’s “shooting the same shot every time” and that he’s consistent in his finishing (around the 6:00 mark of this interview). Taking a look at his shot last year and his shots in Italy you can tell he’s making progress but also has some room to grow. Watch his shooting hand in these clips.
A few interesting things are happening here. First, notice how jerky his old finish was in this clip of his old shot. You can tell he knows he needs to get to a good finish, but because he’s shooting a little sideways, it ends up looking like two finishes — the first that kinda stops short of being “in the cookie jar,” and the second that gets all the way there. His jump shots had much better finishes, but the same problem would pop up there as well.
The new shot is better, looks more fluid, but still has a little bit of a double finish at the end. Closer inspection shows that his current form has him getting his hand a little bit more flexed downward immediately after the shot which is a better finish. Yoeli has done a lot of work on this part of his shot so far in his career and I’ll be curious to see how he continues to improve on having more consistent finishes.
Fluidity and Compactness
Take a look at this comparison between a 3-pointer Yoeli shot last season and one of his threes in Italy, paying attention to how efficient the whole shot looks.
This comparison is a lot more subtle than the others, but in his old shot it seems like he’s kind of loading up his shot more than his new one — pulling it all the way up in front of his face before getting into his release. The newer shot seems a lot more streamlined and compact to me.
The more obvious difference is what happens as he’s following through. In his old shot, Yoeli’s guide hand falls quickly while his shooting hand falls off to the right. The new shot is a lot more compact, the guide hand doesn’t fall away and the shooting arm is still in line with where it was during the shot.
Shooting is a somewhat complex physical motion so efficiency goes a long way in becoming a good shooter, and I think the progress Yoeli has made with his form makes his shot more efficient and hopefully leads to a higher shooting percentage.
So why does it matter that Yoeli has changed his form? A few things stand out to me.
First, Yoeli has increased his free throw percentage by 6 points every season and I am optimistic that the changes he’s made will continue that trend this year. He ended last year at 70.8 percent and I expect this year he’ll be at least into the mid to high 70s, maybe even into the low 80s. Hopefully those changes will add a few more points to his 3-point percentage as well and make him an even bigger offensive threat and more efficient player.
On the flip side, making changes like this to your shot, especially moving elbow placement, can make it a little inconsistent until you get used to your new form. Yoeli only shot 53 percent (on 15 attempts) from the line in Italy, but I think he’ll have things figured out by the time he starts playing in games.
Percentages notwithstanding, from what I saw in Italy, Yoeli has a lot of the learning curve already tackled. In this case, his nine-game NCAA suspension may actually be beneficial because he might be able to get in even more reps not having to recover after games.
All in all, I’m excited about Yoeli’s improved form and think it will help him up his stock as he eyes the NBA at the end of the season.