The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first championship in franchise history last season. Led by noted workout beast LeBron James, each member of the Cavs’ starting five is dedicated to his craft. And just as each player is unique on the court, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson all sharpen their game in slightly different ways. Steal these ideas from their workout repertoires to make this your MVP season.
J.R. Smith: To Be More Accurate, Put More Arc On Your Shot
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Cavs forward J.R. Smith is one of the best deep threats in the NBA, especially when he gets into a rhythm. But on those occasions when Smith gets cold, he falls back on a lesson his father taught him.
“When I was 5 or 6 years old, [my dad] would tell me, ‘You’ve got to shoot the ball higher,’” Smith told STACK. “A lot of times, if my shot is flat and it keeps going in and out or it hits the back or front of the rim, I try to shoot the ball as high as I can. Then I make as many shots as I can, as high as I can.”
Smith’s sky-high shots tend to fall more favorably for the offense, even if they don’t all sail through the net. “Even if it doesn’t [go in], with a soft touch and as high as you’re shooting it, [the ball] will dance around the rim a little bit and give our bigs a better chance to rebound the ball,” Smith said.
TRY IT: Set up five spots around the 3-point arc—right corner, right wing, center, left wing, left corner. Take one shot from each position and attempt to hit all five. If any shot hits the rim or backboard, you must start over from the first position.
LeBron James: To Stay In Shape, Run Like It’s Gameday
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Despite winning his third NBA championship, James took no days off this off-season as he prepared to defend his latest title. Part of that preparation involves conditioning—ensuring that his stamina remains high from his first game to his last.
LeBron engages in a unique conditioning drill. Starting at the baseline, he sprints toward the opposite basket as a teammate tosses the ball out ahead of him. LeBron grabs the ball, finishes with a layup, then turns and immediately repeats the drill to the other end.
It’s a butt-kicker, but it’s perfect for the up-tempo offenses of today’s NBA, where teams run as much as they can.
TRY IT: Stand at the baseline. Have a teammate or coach toss a basketball in the air near midcourt. Sprint to the basketball, catch it off the bounce, continue to the hoop and finish with a layup. Without taking a break, repeat the drill to the other end.
Kyrie Irving: For Better Handles, Bag It
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Kyrie Irving is arguably the best ball handler in the league. He regularly yo-yo’s defenders off balance with an array of crossover and hesitation dribbles, moves that allow him to split double teams or create space to pull up and hit his deadly mid-range jumper.
Irving makes it all look magical, even easy, on the court, but he’s been honing his dribbling skills for a long time. One drill that he says has helped him is the Plastic Bag Dribbling Drill, which is exactly what it sounds like. Irving puts a plastic bag over the basketball to take away its grip and make it harder to control.
“You’ve got to really get a feel for the ball [then],” Irving said.
TRY IT: Cover a basketball in a plastic bag. Set up a series of five cones 2 feet apart. Cross the ball over from your right hand to your left through the first cone, then back to your right through the second, etc. Repeat, starting with the ball in your left hand.
Kevin Love: To Get Open, Hop Around
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One of the most important aspects of Kevin Love’s game, especially as he’s adapted it for his role in the Cavs’ offense, is his jumper. And though Love is frequently left open when his defender cheats into the lane to stop a drive by James or Irving, Love’s also deft at using his feet to create space when he’s covered.
“He’s very good at shooting on the move,” Cavs assistant coach Phil Handy said of Love. “So for him, we try to replicate game movement … hopping over a cone, landing, changing directions, coming into your shot. That replicates a lot of his in-game movement.”
The Cone Hop drill that Love performs forces him to move his feet around a cone at Handy’s direction, then shoot a jumper and repeat. Love sometimes takes 100 2’s and 100 3’s before his work is done.
TRY IT: Place cones at five different spots around the court. On your coach’s signal, step over or around a cone and get into a shooting position. Receive a pass, set your feet and shoot a jumper. Repeat, taking and making 5-10 free throws between sets.
GET IT: Need the Mini-Cones Kevin Love uses in this drill? Find them HERE
Tristan Thompson: NBA Champions Work Their Core
Thompson evolved from a rebounding specialist to a legitimate threat last season with a simple technique: He worked his butt off. During the 2015 off-season, he regularly trained three times per day, six days a week.
One of Thompson’s main areas of focus was his core, because a strong core is a critical component of his ability to grab rebounds from bigger, stronger opponents and control his body in the air as he goes up to throw down alley-oops. The work paid off, and Thompson, for the second straight NBA Finals, dominated the Golden State Warriors on the glass.
“It was a lot of work,” Thompson told Cleveland.com. “I was working out daily. I was doing the weight room every day and in the court in the morning and in the afternoons faithfully, every day. I just wanted to keep defining my game and keep growing as a player so I would be ready.”
TRY IT: Try these three core exercises to improve your strength as a basketball player.
Pallof Walk: Grab the handle of a cable station set at chest height. With the weight stack at your side, assume an athletic position and bring the handle to the center of your chest. Press the weight out in front of you until your arms are straight as you simultaneously step out laterally. As you bring your trail leg toward you, bring your arms back toward your chest. Repeat the sequence. Go three strides out and three strides back for 4 rounds on each side.
Unilateral Med Ball Slams: Stand balanced on one leg holding a medicine ball in front of you. Without allowing your non-working leg to hit the floor, quickly lift the ball overhead and then slam it down just outside your foot. Gather the ball back and repeat until you’ve done 6-8 reps per side.
Dumbbell Waiters Walk: Grab a dumbbell and press it overhead until your arm is completely straight and your bicep is next to your ear. Hold the dumbbell steady as you walk for a set distance (15-20 yards) Maintain a straight elbow and don’t allow the shoulder of your overhead arm to “jam up” toward your ear. Also, make sure that your rib cage doesn’t jut out to the side of your carrying arm.
The Basketball Blowout Issue 2016 features training tips and advice from Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George, Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler and many more. CLICK HERE to see the full lineup.