It’s the end of Brooklyn Nets training camp and for the fifth straight day Joe Johnson is the last guard shooting. He’s in the midst of a shooting drill with fellow guard Tyshawn Taylor and Johnson’s consistent shooting form looks even more robotic next to the wild NBA sophomore.

Each time Johnson jumps just a few inches off the ground with the same catch rise form flick. It’s clockwork as his muscles click into place each time in a way that only thousands of hours of training can do -- hours that Taylor is processing as we speak.

Johnson of course wins the shooting drill. He almost always does. In practice he rarely misses even after ninety minutes of NBA-level training and conditioning. He can’t help it. When you practice a skill as long as Joe Johnson has practiced shooting when you’re as even-keeled as Johnson is it’s hard to do anything different.


Joe Johnson got a new tattoo this summer.

"It's almost like my skin peeling open" Johnson says of the ink which flows down the inside of his right forearm. "My skin peeled back and inside I'm like a machine."

It's true -- instead of tendons and bone the tattoo scrapes his body to reveal gears and pipes the guts of an imperturbable contraption. “Produced in Little Rock” is imprinted in the middle a reminder of his origins.

He is a machine: fine-tuned cool and collected instinctually programmed.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Malcolm Gladwell says that much of what we call talent is the desire to practice. Basketball players -- at least the best of them -- spend thousands upon thousands of hours honing their craft sculpting their bodies and minds to maintain and improve precise highly specialized skills. At some point their fine-tuning turns into automation: every shot rolls off the fingertips the same way every v-cut slashes at the correct angle every off-hand moves to just the right spot to catch a between-the-legs dribble.