While the NBA offseason is primarily thought of as a time for teams to reload rosters and cast off unwanted pieces, the players themselves usually treat it as a time to improve their own games. It's common to hear that the top players in the league are adding post games, or that an All-Star wants to turn a strength into an area of dominance, or that a young player seeks to make a problem area something that can at least pass as league-average. In most cases, they'll put in hours of work in the gym every day to make sure they reach their desired goals. As an ad campaign once put it, basketball never stops.
One player, however, is trying a new trick to improve his ballhandling. Toronto Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, an All-Star last February who led his team to its first playoff appearance since 2008, wants to improve his ballhandling after sometimes struggling to get free for decent shots in big moments. So, naturally, he's decided to improve his left hand. What's notable, though, is that he's working his off-hand everywhere, not just on the court. From Eric Koreen for the National Post:
However, ball handling is not typically a thing that you can dramatically improve six years into your career. It is not the same as extending your shooting range or becoming more physical or developing a post game. It is a pretty fundamental skill, typically learned in the early stages of a player’s career. So, DeRozan has gone to extreme measures, although they almost seem obvious after he explains it. “Don’t make me look crazy for it,” he requests after the interview.
“I’ve been doing a lot of weird stuff. … I never told nobody this. You’re the first,” DeRozan said before the Raptors’ summer league team practised outside of Del Sol High School. “Everything I do now — if I’m eating dinner, I eat with my left hand. I’ve started writing with my left hand.
Is it legible?
“My [one-year-old] daughter probably could understand it. It looks like hers. I’m training my brain to lean to the left hand. It might sound crazy, but you never know.
“It’s just a little theory of mine. Maybe something like that will instill in myself, ‘Do it with your left hand.’ It’s never going to feel like my right, but I want to be as comfortable with it as possible doing everything.”
It's unclear if DeRozan's plan has any basis in physiology, but there's a certain logic to it. Yes, shoveling food into your mouth and dribbling a basketball are very different movements, but making the left hand a more familiar part of one's habits should theoretically make it more dependable overall. And, after all, a hand is still a hand — it's not as if DeRozan is trying to reform the basketball entirely by learning to dribble with his head. Though, now that I think of it, that could be the next frontier of the sport.
In truth, DeRozan's left hand isn't so weak that it needs a great deal of work. Any All-Star shooting guard isn't going to be that bad at dribbling with his left hand — he's just trying to turn it into a strength. As he says, the greatest benefit of this idiosyncratic plan will probably be psychological. By making the left hand a greater part of his routine, DeRozan can turn using his off-hand into a matter of intuition. If he succeeds in making it second nature, then dribbling to his left can become a more dependable part of his game and make his play altogether less predictable. The key is to make it second nature so that defenders have more trouble planning on how to stop DeRozan.
Don't be surprised, then, to find more athletes trying variations of DeRozan's everything-with-the-left approach. Having trouble staying in front of dribble-penetration? Try sliding everywhere instead of walking. Finding it difficult to stay still when setting a pick? Attach adhesive to all shoes. Losing energy at the end of games? Attempt to run a marathon after not sleeping for a few days. The possibilities are endless as long as athletes let their imaginations run free.
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