Technique of the Week is a HoopSpeak feature that highlights the technical nuances that makes great players special and role players meaningful
Technique: The Floater
Why it’s important:
The NBAis full of quick, diminutive players that excel at knifing past their man to slice open the soft underbelly of the defense and slip inside it like it’s a tauntaun on the ice planet Hoth. But that ability is only useful if the penetrating player can do something productive before the defense collapses, passing angles close, and a roving Wampa devours him, or at least his shot. That’s where the floater comes in, the consummate in-between-shot that keeps big guys off balance and allows the little men of the NBA to thrive.
Unless a guard has the uncanny explosiveness of a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, consistently finishing plays around the rim by challenging shot blockers straight on is not a wise move. Many players who are effective attacking players at lower competition levels struggle to score against the superior athletes they encounter in the NBA. The small players that become potent offensive threats almost all have mastered the art of scoring from odd angles and distances.
For players like Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Tony Parker, the floater is an indispensable weapon against the second line of defense that punishes opposing big men who don’t want to leave their defensive assignment (beware the drop-off assist!) until the last possible moment or are simply slow to react. As J.J. Barea proved in the playoffs, this delicate technique can be devastating when wielded by the right player.
How they do it:
Like just about everything on the basketball court, footwork is crucial to this tricky maneuver. Players like Paul often use a quick jump stop to steady themselves and make it easier to shot fake and step through (a specialty of Parker’s and Rajon Rondo’s) or make an under control pass. The key is to jump straight up rather than drifting forward or sideways. Just like a jumpshot, this makes the shooting motion more consistent and therefore more accurate. It also maintains as much space as possible between the shooter and the oncoming defender.
The best floaters are released in a manner almost identical to a jumpshot, but using only one hand (Kobe’s 12 foot floater is an eerie facsimile of his traditional pullup). The ball should have that good backspin that comes from a full follow-through and resting the rock in the fingertips rather than on the palm of the shooting hand. This gives the ball a chance to land softly and trickle in when it hits the rim.
The final element of this technique is harder to describe or emulate because it involves the intuition that tells a player when the right time is to pull the trigger. Parker, in particular, is a genius at reading his defender’s balance and then popping up out of his dribble without warning. That’s how he can get the ball past approaching giants without even jumping—he strikes when their weight is on the wrong foot.
Though technique is vital, the floater is also feel shot, which is why Steve Nash can get away by jerking his hand back when he releases the ball instead of following through properly, or Rajon Rondo, a player uniformly regarded as a terrible shooter routinely converts this difficult shot.
Who does it best:
Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, J.J. Barea, Eric Maynor
Who needs to work on it:
Brandon Jennings, Russell Westbrook, Ty Lawson, Derrick Rose, Mike Conley, Rodney Stuckey, J.R. Smith, John Wall, Ricky Rubio