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The NBA’s New Practice Court Is Gonna Be Hell for Jumpers

The ceilings at the NBA’s practice facility in the Orlando bubble are lower than most high school gyms. How is that going to mess with shooting performance?

There are many quirky details about the NBA’s Disney World restart “bubble” in Orlando, but the giant, multi-court “practice facility” installed at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort Convention Center is among the most unusual. Just take a gander:

In particular, some couldn’t help but notice those low, low ceilings:

According to the facility’s specs, the ceilings are 23 feet high, which is perfectly normal for a giant conference of corporate employees who haven’t touched a basketball in 30 years, but it might prove problematic for NBA pros who have spent decades fine-tuning the mechanics of their jump shot. 

So how much could the significant difference in ceiling heights between the conference center where they practice and the arenas where they play throw off players’ shots

For answers, I turned to John Carter, CEO of Noah Basketball, a shot-tracking and data-analytic firm that’s partnered with several NBA teams on their way to Orlando now. To start, he explains that the 23-foot ceiling might not be totally foreign. “Twenty-three feet is a little low. Most high school gyms have ceilings in the upper 20s, but there are quite a few that sit in the lower 20s as well,” he tells me. “So a lot of NBA players obviously played in gyms like that.” 

Still, he says a 23-foot ceiling (never mind the “lower beams running below that could bring it to 20 feet”) is “clearly lower than a typical NBA practice gym.” “NBA practice facility ceilings can vary widely, but they’re typically around 30 to 35 feet high,” he continues. “So it’ll definitely be a little bit different for them.” 

For example, Steph Curry might have some trouble shooting from deep during practice. “For a typical three-pointer for a player who shoots with an entry angle in the mid-40s, the center of the ball will reach a peak height of about 15 feet, which puts the top of the ball at 15 feet, 6 inches,” Carter explains. “But the deeper the three, shot at the same angle, the higher the ball goes in the air. So if you’re shooting a 27-, 28-foot three-pointer, the ball is going to go up another 6 or 9 inches higher.” 

Which puts a deep Curry three-pointer just a hair below the convention center’s ceiling. And while Curry has certainly perfected his shot to a point that no ceiling could distract from his muscle memory, the low ceilings could impact other players who haven’t quite nailed their release angle yet. “Even though [the ceiling] shouldn’t come into interference with the ball, our brains make us do funny things,” Carter explains. 

Case in point: When players put a net funnel around the hoop to gather rebounds, Noah Basketball’s data found they would shoot higher. “There’s no need for them to do that, but their brain and their perceptions tell them, ‘There’s that net, I gotta shoot it higher,’ which isn’t a good thing. Because now you’re shooting some of the time at one trajectory and some of the time at another trajectory, which creates muscle-memory confusion,” Carter tells me. “Similarly, when Noah Basketball first started, we’d do a lot of testing on a hoop with a low ceiling, and we found players tended to shoot flatter because they were thinking of the ceiling.” 

All that said, he’s sure to add, “I’m guessing if the NBA had their choice, they probably would’ve had a higher ceiling to create something a little more like what the players are used to, but I’m sure the league has done their homework and made sure it’s fine.” 

Former NBA player Adam Kemp agrees. “NBA players can shoot from anywhere, because they’ve all shot thousands and thousands of times before,” he tells me. “Yes, maybe their depth perception will be a little different for a few minutes, but after just a few shots, I’m sure they’ll see it no different. If they didn’t, the NBA wouldn’t have players practice there.” 

Now if they could just do something about the food.