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It’s been more than 40 years since Bill Sharman invented the morning shootaround. Ever since proposing that his 1971 Lakers show up on game days to shoot baskets in a lazy practice the morning of games, it’s become a staple of game day routines around the league. Part of that was the Lakers 69-13 record that year and a still-unbroken 33-game winning streak. Part was the very basic fact that it helped loosen guys up the day of the game and get them focused on basketball.
Even the morning-averse Wilt Chamberlain, who — contrary to popular belief — would always show up, but sometimes just read the paper, understood they helped the team. It’s hard to argue with the results of Sharman’s idea, and the former Boston great had been doing it as early as the 1950s with the Celtics.
Now comes word Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has done away with morning shootarounds in favor of afternoon shootarounds when the team is at home and afternoon walkthroughs in hotel ballrooms when the team is traveling. Vaughn explained the idea to the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins:
“Have I made a conscious effort to not have some shootarounds? Yes,” Vaughn said. “And will that continue throughout the course of the year? Probably yes. I took a scope of all the things that we did last year — what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I thought was efficient. And that’s what I’m about. I’m about being efficient.
“I don’t have to stroke my own ego and check boxes off [a practice plan]. I just don’t. I don’t have to do what other coaches do. I’m fine with doing what I think is best for my team.”
While some experienced teams ignore morning shootarounds on the second day of a back-to-back, the Magic are about as far from experienced as you can get. With the exception of a few Dwight Howard holdovers, the Magic roster is new and inexperienced. So it’s worth questioning Vaugn’s decision. Here are completely subjective arguments for and against the end of morning shootarounds.
Arguments against morning shootarounds
Oftentimes with a younger player — especially one coming directly out of college, like rookies Victor Oladipo and Romero Osby — the hectic NBA schedule can wear the youngsters down. The NBA regular season is a grind and there’s a reason a lot of rookies hit a wall where their play plateau’s or takes a dip near or right after the All-Star weekend in February. The morning shootaround is just another in a series of early morning activities that can tire out a player unused to a three week preseason followed by 6 months and 82 games, with tons of travel in-between.
Jameer Nelson and new acquisition Jason Maxiell are the longest-tenured NBA veterans on the roster and neither has been in the league for even a decade. But resting your body is something Nelson, Arron Afflalo, and Glenn Davis wouldn’t mind. All three were out last year with injuries, and a morning shootaround is just another moment when a freak wet spot on the floor can tear a hamstring or wrench a groin.
The morning shootaround isn’t a strenuous activity, and that’s on purpose. It’s not designed to push players, just to familiarize them with the ball and the basket the morning before they play.
But that extra sleep a player can get if he’s not required to attend a morning shootaround, especially if the team is getting in early in the morning after flying through the night following a game, can be crucial to the health and long-term success of a team. Keeping the team in bed or in their hotel rooms until the afternoon before a game seems like a good idea when you take sleep and comfort into account.
Arguments for morning shootarounds
But morning shootarounds aren’t designed to wear a player out the day of a game. They double as a visualization technique where players can picture what they’re going to do that night in the game. That’s why Vaughn and his staff have walkthroughs in the hotel in the afternoon before games on the road. But walkthroughs in hotel ballrooms aren’t the same as getting shots up and touching the ball.
Plus, and this bears mentioning simply because such a large percentage of the Magic’s roster is so young, but there’s a curfew aspect to the morning shootaround that’s important. Of the 19 guys on the Magic roster before the final training cuts this season, 12 of them are within their first three seasons in the league. They’re pups, but with Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and Kyle O’Quinn among that group, they’re the inchoate foundation that’s supposed to lead the Magic out of the lottery doldrums (hopefully, that begins next season).
Encouraging players to get to bed on time, and avoid the usual late-night circuit that’s still very much a part of the traveling professional basketball team sideshow, lends credence to a heavier emphasis on the morning shootaround. This isn’t babysitting, it’s a professional basketball team, and while some of these Magic players are very young, they’re not kids. They’e expected to act like adults and show up to work on time.
But when you have a younger team, you want to put enough structure in place to guide an impressionable player towards the most effective use of his time. If a Magic player has to be up for an 11:00 a.m. shootaround, they’re less likely to get one more bottle at the club, or skip the rendezvous with the brunette from the lobby.
This isn’t some parochial lamentation of the NBA lifestyle or the spoils that come with being a professional athlete. If we were a pro basketball player, we’d take full advantage of the swag that comes along with it. Except, we’re older than all of those younger Magic players and we know how that extra hour or two out can tempt the worst kind of events. We’re definitely paraphrasing here, but Worldwide Wes said it best when he claimed nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.
When you’re young, wealthy and attractive, the temptations on the road are so bad it’s ruined a lot players who came into the league with a ton of expectations. This Magic team, despite its youth, seems to possess a maturity that will help the younger players navigate the pratfalls of the life of an NBA player, but a morning shooutaround is just another measure to keep everyone on the right trajectory.
Bill Sharman understood that Wilt Chamberlain was going to read the paper at the morning shootaround, but even Chamberlain understood the importance of being there. Sharman’s own teammate Bill Russell often read the paper and drank some coffee during Celtics practices because he expended so much energy during the games, and Red understood the importance of rest.
But this Magic team is so young and impressionable, a light shooting session in the morning could go a long way towards developing the proper routine for the NBA grind.