It’s never a good idea to dwell on things. That leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering. Some wise little old guy once said that. I think it was Larry King, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, it’s never a good idea to dwell on things, just like it’s probably not a good idea to be so redundant with writing except when you’re trying to make a point or add some emphasis. So let’s not dwell on the shooting struggles of Trevor Cooney down the stretch, and let me make the case for why his shooting will be vastly improved and more consistent next season.
The 2013-2014 season had some serious ups and downs for Trevor Cooney, the redshirt sophomore from Delaware. A lot of expectation was thrust on his pasty shoulders, and frankly, that simply wasn’t fair. At the end of the day, his performance was vastly superior to what anyone could have reasonably expected, all things considered. After all, Cooney pumped in 12.1 points-per-game and shot 37.5% from three point range for the year. Certainly, those numbers were inflated during the first half of the season, and in fact, after the February 12 game against Pitt, he only hit double-digits in the scoring column twice more.
But frankly, people should have seen the slump coming, and it really doesn’t have as much to do with Cooney’s ability as with the incredible uptick in both expectation and playing time. Remember, this was a guy who had played only 436 minutes of actual basketball in the previous two years. Sure, he competed in practice during the season he redshirted and when he played sparingly two seasons ago, but it’s still an awfully tall order to go from barely getting any real game action for two full years to playing more than 32 minutes-per-game.
Ask almost any shooter and they’ll tell you that the legs are the most important factor in being consistent, especially if you’re a long range specialist. Once your legs go, it throws off your entire shot, as you tend to overcompensate with your upper body to make up for the jelly you’re running around on. That’s going to screw with your mechanics every time, and lead to being a more inconsistent shooter.
Of course, it’s not just fatigue that played a role in Cooney’s decline last season. One of the biggest issues for the sharpshooter was the fact that, quite simply, he was the only legitimate outside threat on the team. It got to the point where he would only hover around the perimeter, flashing and cutting and working around screens trying to free himself for a three point attempt. When that starts to happen, the defense doesn’t have to respect any other part of your offensive game, meaning they can key on hounding you outside of 20 feet and not give a second though to you as a threat inside the arc.
And when the defense only plays you as a three point specialist, that’s going to make getting a good, clean look a lot more difficult. You no doubt noticed that Cooney took a lot of off balance and seemingly rushed threes down the stretch last season, many of which were tightly contested. That’s going to happen when you get so few clean looks that you’re sprinting at full speed, trying to get open, and going into your shooting motion as soon as the ball hits your hands despite the fact that your feet aren’t necessarily set, your body not completely square to the rim.
No one in recent Syracuse history was better at catching and squaring than Andy Rautins, and what Trevor Cooney needs to do all summer is study tapes of the way Rautins would come around screens, square his body, and go straight up and down. Cooney drifts on his shot, similar to Gerry McNamara. McNamara was a great, but inconsistent shooter at Syracuse, and it’s for many of the same reasons that Cooney struggled last year. When you have to work so hard to get an open look, you’re going to have a tendency to rush your shooting motion, and when you do that your mechanics are going to be a bit of an afterthought.
Look at this clip from the six overtime game against UConn, when Rautins knocked down the tying three to force the fourth extra frame:
He’s hounded, has to work around screens, yet he is still able to turn his body quickly and go pretty much entirely straight up and down. It’s a thing of beauty, and this is one of the keys to what Cooney has to do to become a better shooter.
There are also some other things that will help, of course. The continued development of Michael Gbinije and what will hopefully be the emergence of BJ Johnson and Buss Patterson as legitimate outside threats can only serve to open things up and take the pressure off of Cooney. Things will be even better when Cooney is a senior, as well, with dead-eye shooters Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson coming on board. The more shooters you’ve got on the team, the better you’re going to shoot because the opposing team won’t be able to focus solely on you.
So seriously, people, give Trevor Cooney a break. The combination of playing more than 1000 minutes after barely playing over the previous two seasons and the pressure of being the only legitimate outside threat would be difficult for anyone to overcome. With this past season under his belt, continued work in the offseason, and the emergence of other threats from deep next year, it’s not unreasonable to expect Cooney to hit 45% from deep for the rest of his career.