Lethal Shooter Q&A: How he’d help Shaq’s free throws, and weird tricks with Dwight Howard

Lethal Shooter Q&A: How he’d help Shaq’s free throws, and weird tricks with Dwight Howard

Shooting is at once the most basic and complex component of basketball. You have a ball in your hands, you see a hoop above you, or in front of you, or very far away from you, and you throw the ball into the basket. But being good at that effort, with the machinelike regularity required to be able to do it for a living on the highest level, is a symphony of human engineering.

It doesn’t just take practice of body, but mind to be an elite shooter. To be able to block out the noise of situational pressure and millions of eyes watching you perform your task over and over again. The shooting coach’s job is more than just working on elbow position and release point, but the mind-body meld, the psychology and philosophy inextricable from throwing a ball at a hoop.

The shooting coach and content creator known as The Lethal Shooter, or Chris Matthews, is exploring and expanding the career possibilities of what a shooting coach is and what a shooting coach can be. The Prince George’s County, Maryland native is a trainer to the stars, from rap legends like Diddy and Rick Ross, to serving as a consultant on basketball movies, television shows, and video games. He works with NBA athletes like Michael Porter Jr., Kentavius Caldwell Pope, Grayson Allen, and Bobby Portis, among others. He’s also building a brand through his Instagram page and its three million followers, posting memorable basketball related skits like shooting underwater, practicing an array of absurd trick shots, competing against a basketball robot, and shooting on a hoop out of Jig Saw’s sick and twisted imagination, rigged with razor sharp blades, swinging on a pendulum.

SB Nation leapt at the opportunity to speak to Lethal, and discovered when he’s not walking red carpets or posting selfies with Netflix series regulars, he’s a thoughtful educator with a pragmatic, adaptable, fascinating approach to teaching the dark art he’s mastered.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)

If you could coach any shooter in the league throughout history, who would it be and why?

I would love to coach Steph Curry because I wouldn’t have to do nothing. I’ll just go run plays. To me, he should be considered the best shooter of all-time, because he can dribble left, shoot, dribble right, shoot, step left, shoot, step right, shoot, come-off double staggers.

If you look at a lot of our premium scorers in the NBA, they’re just one on one players, but they hurt the systems that they’re in because that’s all they can do. They play one on one. If that doesn’t work, they just stand there (Author’s Note: *cough* Julius Randle *cough*). The thing about Steph Curry is he can come off a triple screen. He can come off a flare screen. His footwork is ready for all types of shooting. And a lot of our top tier shooters in the NBA can’t do that. They can only score when the ball is in their hands. They don’t know how to play off the ball. But what Steph does, it’s like fake.

Is there somebody whose shot has irked you so much that you thought to yourself, if I could just get a week with this guy, I could make a difference?

I wish I was the age I was now in the early 90s, because I feel like me and Shaq would have teamed up and I could have helped him with his free throws.

What would you do with him specifically?

Well, it’s something that I wouldn’t want to be saying publicly. I don’t want people to understand my mindset. But there’s three things that I know for a fact that would help Shaquille O’Neal with free throws. Because Shaquille O’Neal has such big hands that sometimes the ball feels like a tennis ball. So there’s a few things I’ll change with that, with the routine, with the approach. I don’t know how many reps he was getting up a day, but I definitely would have turned that rep up aggressively because to me, he’s a top three greatest centers to play all-time. So imagine if he was making his free throws. We might be saying he’s number one.

Jeremy Sochan on the Spurs had been really struggling with his free throws. And then at one point last season, the team came to him and said, “From now on, try shooting one-handed.” What’s your interpretation of what they were trying to do there, why do you think the team would make a change like that?

Everybody’s different. It doesn’t matter how it looks. The only thing that matters is the percentage. So people will ask me, “Hey, do you think shooting underhand works from the free throw line?” The answer is I don’t care as long as you’re shooting 80% plus. That’s what matters.

And it’s funny because when I helped the USA Olympic team get ready, one of the players, Brent Barry’s son, shot underhand free throws. And when he was shooting his underhand free throws, he asked me, do you see anything that you don’t like? I said, I love it. That ball’s going in the hole. Let’s keep doing it. And I have footage with me and him training, mastering the underhand free throw more, because if it’s working for you, don’t change it.

At the free throw line, if you’re doing a routine that’s unorthodox, but it’s comfortable for your mindset and it helps you control your anxiety and it helps you have a strong muscle memory, do it. Don’t care what other people think about you, because the only thing that matters is the shooting percentage.

So you think it was a way to get him out of his head and have him think less?

Well, what could have happened was, and this is speculation, but it seems like he was probably playing around one day and that motherfucking ball was going in the hole, and Pop saw it and said, “Hold up, eureka. You’re playing around at the free throw line, shooting one handed, but that thing is going in every single time. We’re changing it to that.”

What’s the weirdest thing you ever tried with a client?

I think with Dwight Howard, one day, the first time I got with Dwight Howard, he was with the Hawks. We made huge strides with his free throws, just messing around. And It was something like Sochan, actually. We shot with one hand. So you bring the ball up with both hands, you drop the guide hand smoothly, and then you shoot with the right hand. We did that for a few days. It was consistent.

What is the purpose of getting rid of the guide hand? Wouldn’t you want an extra hand to steady the ball?

Well, like I said, if that works you, do that. The guide hand does make the ball steady to get to the rim. The guide hand is 90% of the work for the art of shooting. The 10% comes from that wrist and that point finger. The guide hand, that split second that you leave the guide hand on too long, that split second that you drop it early, it might cause you to miss. So the guide hand is actually the seatbelt to the jump shot.

It just seems like if you could figure out how to make a shot work using both hands, you’d have a steadier shot than if you’re only using one.

Not true at the free throw line, if somebody’s consistent more with that one hand, if they shoot 95% from the free throw line, the coach isn’t going to care.

It’s the same way with my philosophy with shooting. I don’t train Jalen Brown the same way that I’m going to train a Caldwell Pope. They’re too different. What you do is you have to train people to what fits their mental philosophies. When I’m training a Cooper Flagg, or DJ Wagner, or Rob Cunningham, I’m not training all of them the same. They are three different individuals. One is a kid from Maine, one is a kid from Jersey, one is a kid from Charlotte. So with all of them, I have to figure out a delivery that fits my message so they can understand it.

Let’s zoom out for a second. What made you want to specialize in shooting?

I was a really good shooter in high school, in the state of Maryland. I was always top five. I played with Kevin Durant in high school. I went to go play at a prep school, where we were number one in the nation, where I went to play for Tony Bennett that’s at University of Virginia right now. And I played at Washington State, where we went to the Sweet 16, transferred to St. Bonaventure, where I broke every single three point record in a matter of two years. So I was always a really good shooter, and it came from the work that I put in as a kid and the sacrifice.

So it was leaning into a specialty rather than trying to be an all around coach?

The thing that happens in today’s society is the guy that’s cutting the grass is trying to wash the car, and the guy that washes the car is trying to do the taxes. And that’s what’s happening in today’s basketball. There’s trainers teaching things that they can’t do and they haven’t mastered. So I’ve learned the one gift that God gave me is shooting. That’s what I’m going to put all of my time into.

If somebody tries to tell me, do a dribbling drill with somebody, that’s not my creativity. If somebody tells me to do a dunking drill for a client, that’s not my creativity. But when it comes to shooting, I can tell you everything that person is doing wrong. And I think we should get back to that. Like in the NBA, we need to hire people that are teaching their craft.

In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a great shooter?

The person that’s not bothered by anything. The best shooter can block out the noise. There’s a lot of great shooters when they’re alone. When I was younger, in middle school, I could shoot so good with my dad. I’m talking 23 out of 25 from three. 25 of 25. But I had anxiety, so I would miss so much in games because when people say, you’re shit, I would automatically miss. And I learned how to control that anxiety in high school.

The one thing that I learned going through those failures, I’m able to teach my clients how to control that. A great example of that was KCP. When I had KCP the last three years, in three years, he took some of the biggest leaps ever in his career, because we mastered different philosophies that I used as well, to block out certain things so I can shoot the ball. It’s not easy playing with Jokic, it’s not easy playing with LeBron. It’s not easy playing with Anthony Davis or Jamal Murray. But if you’re able to use your brain to decipher what needs to be going on, you can do anything.

Also, and this is so simple it’s stupid, a good shooter takes good shots. He knows where and when to shoot. Sounds easy, but it’s a real skill.

So while they’re shooting, you’re playing mind games?

Yeah, I wouldn’t say playing mind games, but there are tactics that I use to see if you can be bothered without putting my hands on you. You know what I mean?

Would that include something like meditation?

Not even just in basketball, in life, Tiger Woods, all the top greats meditate, so it’s not even just about being a shooter. If you want to master life, you got to take at least 30 minutes a day to turn the phone off and just listen to the wind. Sometimes I go for a walk. And this might sound funny, but shit, I want to see the birds fly. I want to see bugs moving. I want to see the leaves moving and absorbing the earth and filling that essence. Because it feeds you. If you can’t control your mind, you can’t control nothing. Steph Curry went out there the other day and shot a damn hole in one for a golf event. He’s literally showing us that through staying focused, you could do anything.

I would assume having freak hand eye coordination probably helps a lot too.

Yeah. It matters because people say, hey, Lethal, how did you make a paper ball through a straw? Well, my eyes are able to dilate at a really quick speed. So that’s why I was able to break the world record for Red Bull with Run The Racks. But the thing that people don’t understand is when I’m shooting these threes at a rapid speed, my eyes dilate so fast, and my hands and brain are responding fast because they’ve been trained through intense repetition.

You’ve referred to shooting as “The Melody of the Body”. Could you expand on that?

It’s basically just connecting your toes, your feet, your mind, your eyes, everything to one beat so you can be able to shoot. If anything is misplaced, you’re going to miss. That’s why Michael Jordan was so great. That’s why Kobe was so great, because it didn’t matter what was going on. They were always going to keep themselves in rhythm. The best shooters know how to keep themselves in rhythm. The worst shooters, they’re not connected with their body. Because if you jump off your big toe a certain way, now you’re shooting a fucking unorthodox shot. But if you’re militant in your thinking and your fundamentals are strong and you’re connected with your body, can’t nobody stop that but yourself. And once it stops, the only person you can blame is yourself. So when you see athletes making excuses, oh, I missed because of this, I missed because of that. No, you missed because of yourself.

What does it mean for a shooter to be coachable to you?

You got to be able to as a person to master anything, take criticism, because that’s what I do with my clients. I’m not your friend. I’m not trying to be your friend. I’m your coach. And I’m going to tell you that you shot like some shit, or I’m going to tell you that you shot well. But I’m always going to tell you the truth because I’ll be cheating you and cheating myself if I didn’t honestly tell you about yourself. And if you can’t take it, perfect. Just hire another shooting coach. So be it.

Where do you teach players to train their eyes when they’re shooting?

Well, I’m not really a target shooter. Shoot the ball once you start. Do I hit the back? Do I hit the side? No, shoot the damn basketball. That’s my philosophy. Shoot the ball. Shoot the ball.

Is there a difference between how you’re coaching spot up shooting and off the bounce shooting?

Sure. A good example of this is Michael Porter Jr. When I’m training him, it’s not the same way that I train KCP, because Michael Porter Jr. loves to put that damn ball on the ground. So those are two different philosophies and two different footworks and two different mindsets and two different ways they need to be holding the basketball and all types of stuff that goes into that. But I’d say for me, the easiest shooter is to train the catch and shoot shooter, because that’s what I was.

You seem to have basically three components of what you do. You train NBA players. You also train celebrities, and I would assume, some basic, everyday clients. And you also are a basketball content creator. Is it difficult finding that balance? And do you ever get concerned you may be taken less seriously as a professional coach because of the skits?

People who don’t understand are always going to have something to say, positive or negative. I don’t care what anybody has to say about me, because I’m going to do what I want. Because when it’s time for me to do my job, I do it at a high level. It’s not like I’m supposed to be watching film because Grayson got traded to the Suns- and we have to change our whole training philosophy because there’s Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and D Book- but instead of doing that, I’m in the backyard shooting with Peso Pluma.

So I understand my priorities as a grown man. That’s what people don’t understand about me. And the thing about it, if players on these elite teams felt that way, I would have been out of business years ago.

What is the value add of the content creation?

I’m not just a trainer. I can do multiple things I want to do in my life. Let’s use an example: Calipari. Calipari is not just a coach. He’s a businessman. He does business deals. He does content creation for the University of Kentucky. He’s doing deals outside of just being a college coach. How come, as a trainer, I got to go into a facility every day and just walk in there and just do that job? I want to do multiple things.

So you look at it as entertainment as an avenue that you are exploring.

I wouldn’t say I’m exploring. I’m saying I’m being myself. This is who I’ve always been, and I’m never going to change who I am because it doesn’t affect my training.

In history, who do you think had the NBA’s best unconventional shot?

Reggie Miller. Reggie Miller didn’t have the ideal Klay Thompson shot. The ideal Steve Kerr shot, Craig Hodges, Steve Nash. If me and you saw Reggie Miller shoot in middle school, as coaches, we would say, hold up, man. He’ll have to change that. But he showed us with the right amount of reps, bro, you can be a shooter. Stop caring what other people think. What did you think about Reggie’s jump shot?

I’m an Knick fan, so I fucking hate Reggie Miller.

Well, fair. But man listen, if you can get that thing off going left, going right side, step back, I’m not changing nothing. If you look at Michael Porter’s jump shot, when he gets all the way to the peak, he kind of holds it sometimes. I’m not changing it, but I will change some of the footwork, and some of the little things. Everybody’s a different shooter.

Shawn Marion is my favorite unconventional shooter of all time. What do you think about his shot?

It was different. But the thing was, he never shot on the wings. He only shot from the corner. So he fit the system for the Suns, he was able to spread the floor from the corner. So if he would have been on another team trying to shoot that shot, it wouldn’t have worked, especially in today’s basketball, because you have to be able to shoot on the wings and do different things from different spots.

People think the NBA is just the best players in the world. No, a lot of times it’s a person that’s going to fit a system to win, and Shawn Marion was a great example of that. We didn’t see him trying to shoot all those bad shots. He knew to get to the corner and knock down the corner three.

And he was like a 33% shooter.

33% isn’t good-

Not great. But for the 2000s, for a four-

That’s what I was about to say. In those days. He’s shooting the peel off that motherfucker.

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