Slumps and Funks

Photosteve101 | Flickr

Photosteve101 | Flickr

For a while, Gordon Hayward found himself mired in a shooting slump of horrific proportions, one that included 5-of-23 and 1-of-17 shooting performances. Though Gordon is skilled in other areas — he’s become a much better passer this season, and is an underrated defender — scoring is his primary function. And when the team’s best scorer isn’t shooting well, it impacts the entire team, especially one with as neutered an offense as Utah.

“(Hayward’s) a guy we need to score for us,” Utah head coach Ty Corbin said. “We need to make sure we’re giving him good looks and giving him opportunities to make good baskets.”

Unfortunately, even the good looks weren’t falling for Hayward. Per, Hayward, during his slump, was shooting only 35 percent from the floor. Neither shots up close — 44 percent shooting in the restricted area — nor from afar — just 25 percent from beyond the arc — found their desired target. Hayward’s shot, it appeared, had deserted him.

I’ve been in a funk recently. Words don’t so much flow from my fingers as they do fall out in bits and chunks. When I read them over , they’re either flat and lifeless, or trying too hard to be profound. See? Even that sentence was atrocious.

Nothing’s been working for me. I’ve tried writing at night (I’m usually a day-writer); I’ve tried writing with pencil and paper (but then I couldn’t read my handwriting); I’ve tried outlining (I never outline); but everything sounds the same: bland, boring, sophomoric — bad.

Everything sounds as if I wrote it five years ago. Fears of regression, stagnation and a loss of talent fill the mind. It’s daunting — terrifying, even. If I can’t write, what good am I?

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote well, but ever since I returned from the Northeast tour, nothing’s been the same. Story ideas don’t come to mind like they used to

A few weeks ago, Matt told me to take a day off. “Go eat tacos and go see a movie — don’t look at a computer, don’t even think about writing,” he said.

Taking my editor and friend’s advice, I awoke the next day determined to keep writing far from my head. I ate tacos — they were delicious. I saw Inside Llewyn Davis — I wanted to like it much more than I did, but I still liked it nonetheless. When I returned, I turned on the Clippers-Nuggets game to prepare for ClipperBlog Live, though I kept my computer firmly shut. No twitter tonight; no taking notes. Just trying to enjoy the game, and maybe, hopefully, rediscover my love for it.

It didn’t work.

The next day, I sat down at my computer, ready to get back to work. Break’s over, I told myself. My mind, apparently, disagreed.

Nothing came. I had quotes from Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Jeff Hornacek, Brian Shaw and Miles Plumlee about the Suns’ dual-point-guard system, how Dragic and Bledsoe learned to co-exist so fast and so well. This could be, this should be great, I thought.

I transcribed the quotes. I studied them, dissected them, tried to write points from them. Yet when it came time to write, the words — the right ones — never appeared. Those that did were voiceless and routine. Writer’s strive to make every sentence perfect, and I couldn’t even get one to sound remotely good.

My words weren’t connecting — my shot wasn’t falling.

Every shooter deals with slumps differently. Some just keep firing away, while others alter their form ever so slightly. For Hayward, breaking out of the slump meant breaking down film.

“When you watch film, it tells all. There’s no lies in the film,” Hayward said at shoot around before the Jazz faced the Nuggets on December 13th. “You see where you should have shot a one-dribble pull-up instead of driving into two people and shooting a floater or a more difficult pull-up.”

That night, Hayward put the lessons gleaned from those hours of studying to work against the Nuggets.

After missing his first shot — a turnaround jumper over Randy Foye — Hayward nailed a three-pointer from the right wing. Three minutes later, on a fast break opportunity, he gave the ball to Burke, who darted to the right side of the rim, drawing the attentions of both Kenneth Faried and Randy Foye, then shoveled the ball back to Hayward for an easy dunk.

“That’s what got me going,” Hayward said of those two early and easy shots. “Seeing the ball go through the hoop was a great confidence booster.”

He took advantage of Denver’s porous paint protection, knifing into the lane almost at will, either after receiving the ball on the move or taking on, then crossing over, a defender one-on-one. When not penetrating, Hayward was content to fire from mid-range, curling off screens from the likes of Derrick Favors and even Richard Jefferson.

Hayward finished with 30 points on just 18 shots.

On December 30th, the Miami Heat visited Denver. I went to shoot-around and got great quotes from Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra about Bosh’s defense and under-appreciated skill-set. Post-game, I managed to get a perfect quote from LeBron.

I had everything I needed to write a great article. I wrote a first draft — it was OK. I sent it to Matt — he tore it up and told me to start again.

Once more I faced a threatening blank screen and a blinking, mocking cursor.

So I went to the film.

Writer’s can’t watch film, at least not in the same sense that a basketball player can. We can’t see the exact moment in which we wrote a perfect sentence or turn of phrase. Yet we can look at our old works and use them as a reminder that, yes, once we were good.

I read my old articles, the ones I considered my best work. I studied the flow of my thoughts and usage of my words. While Hayward searched for what wasn’t working, I searched for what did.

At first, it was more concerning than helpful. What if I never write like that again? After a while, however, things slowly started to click. I compared those old, better sentences to the ones currently fouling up the page. Though I couldn’t reuse the phrases, they showed me what once worked and what now didn’t.

Once sentence flowed. Then another, and another.

I didn’t finish the article in one sitting (in fact, it’s still not finished), but at least I could faintly feel my rhythm returning. Life, though glacially, trickled back into my words.

Hey, look at that. Two good sentences.

It’s not as if Hayward’s now forever immune to slumps — they can always return. Yet experience is the best teacher in the NBA, and now that Hayward’s experienced such a struggle, he also knows the remedy. He’s been down the hole, and he knows the way out.


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Jordan White

Jordan White loves basketball, loves writing and loves writing about basketball. He marvels at every Ricky Rubio pass and cries after every Brandon Roy highlight. He grew up in Kansas, where, contrary to popular belief, there is running water, electricity, and no singing munchkins. Follow him on Twitter: @JordanSWhite