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Can players really learn to shoot?

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Stats are great for all kinds of things. It really feels like fewer players, besides Dirk who should, are taking long twos and more are taking corner threes. But all the stats in the world can't help in problems that stats can't or aren't looking at.

One of the NBA truisms that you hear repeated most often is that you can always teach a guy to shoot capably. As I've said before, I think it's probably more appropriate to say you "could" always teach a guy to shoot. Some guys can get better! Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson spring to mind. But a little more thought pretty quickly reveals that no, not everyone CAN learn to shoot. I mean, among other things, you'd think no one would have to be a sub 70% free throw shooter. And you can't tell me that every one of them neglects working on it.

This question impinges directly on two of the Mavs' young players, Jae Crowder and Gal Mekel. The first was a decent enough shooter in college (50%, 35% final season), the second one was...well, honestly pretty bad even then (35%, 27%).

The problem is that because of this axiom, there is a significant lack of concern in official circles about a complete inability to make an offensive dent. I was going absolutely crazy a couple of years ago when every mock draft had the Mavs taking Kendall Marshall, the supposedly brilliant point guard who had zero offensive game in college. Marshall, as we know, went to the Suns, a team that absolutely needed some help at PG. He played in 48 games and even started 3. And he averaged 3-3 on 37% shooting.

It was entirely predictable if you didn't think that shooting can be learned.

As of right now, it's easier to be concerned about Jae than Gal. I saw Jae in person, in Summer League and I was shocked because he definitely did not look like a player with a whole year of NBA seasoning under his belt. It's hard to state how far removed Summer League is from NBA talent if you're not there, watching game after game. This did not look like a guy who had guarded Kobe Bryant. And now, after starting out with a 4-8 game against the Pelicans, Jae has gone 0-3, 1-3, 5-11(!), 1-5 and 1-5.  He is 2-12 from three.

Obviously here's a guy who's a pretty good defender, but it's not like he's Tony Allen. He's a smart basketball player, who understands where he's supposed to be and (unfortunately) takes the shots he's supposed to take. But what are the odds, at this point, that he dramatically improves, that he does indeed "learn" how to shoot? Seems low, though not out of the realm of possibility.

They don' t need him to turn into Peja, but it's hard to say that best case scenario isn't that he turns into a bigger, stronger Wayne Ellington. And Wayne is a career 38% three-point shooter. You can't have a 3 and D guy without the 3, especially when he's not exactly lockdown.

As for Gal, well, the guy has to learn the NBA game, they like his moxy, they like his leadership. But I really, at this point ,don't see it. He is armed with exactly one NBA level shot, a floater, and just like Jae isn't exactly Tony Allen, Gal isn't exactly Jason Kidd. It's the preseason and we can talk about hopes and expectations all we want, but the Mavs have had few guys with offensive games as bad as Gal's right now. If you want to be encouraged, the fact that he's 2-4 from three in his last two games is encouraging. It's a shot he's never had to try at any level, and that's the reason to hope, if there is one.

The question is still "can players learn to shoot", and my answer is still "it should be, could players learn to shoot". It's possible for both these guys, but it's not inevitable for either. Neither is expected to be a centerpiece next year, but without them, the Mavs bench is thinner than it's been in a long time. As with everything else, we'll just have to see what happens.

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