No matter which clinic I ever hold for shooting improvement classes I always get a boat load of questions and concerns about shooting mechanics. Here is a list that covers some of those concerns.
Question 1. How important are the feet when shooting free throws?
Answer 1. There are many answers to this because it really does not matter how the feet line up as long as the feet are not too close together or too far apart. Shoulder width is perfect. Also don’t get hung up on being square to the basket on a free throw specifically. You can shoot just as well if you are facing a left wall. As long as your shooting shoulder and arm can be square to the basket that is the most important factor. The feet have little to do with the shot. You should spend most of your mental energy on the follow through, the finger spread, wrist movement and index finger touching the ball last.
Question 2. What part of the rim should I focus on?
Answer 2. No specific part. Focus on the whole rim. It is too hard to watch a spot on the front or back of the rim. Focus on the rim as a whole specifically for distance and then your mind dictates to your index finger to shoot the ball straight and it is also a big part of the sensitivity and touch that helps make the shot go straight. Crooked shots rarely go in. Judging the distance is a lot easier than shooting the ball straight since about 78% of shots are crooked.
Question 3. Does any specific finger dominate in the shot release process?
Answer 3. Again there are various ideas floating around. But through scientific logic and the makeup of the bone structure of the hand it is best to place the index finger on the center of the ball at 90 degrees to the seams. Not 75 or 80 degrees.. 90 degrees. Look at the back of your hand with your fingers spread as wide as possible. You will notice that the tip of the index finger and the tips of the thumb and pinky form an imaginary triangle. since this forms an almost perfect triangle it stands to reason that the index finger should be on the center of the ball and doing the most damage. The index finger should also line up with the elbow joint, the center of the ball and the center of the rim. These should be in alignment just before you pull the trigger, even though they may not be aligned prior to the shot.
Question 4. How do you get perfect ball rotation?
Answer 4. Perfect rotation happens naturally with correct mechanics. It is hard to believe something so simple is really butchered by thousands of players due mostly to their anatomical structure, ball hand alignment and poor follow through. Simply place your index finger in the center of the ball spread your fingers as wide as possible without tensing up, and shoot the ball in the air with the index finger touching the ball last and voila, perfect rotation. If the middle and /or ring finger add any contact to the ball you will notice the angle of the ball is slightly tilted. Another killer of correct rotation is the guide hand thumb which adds some side spin to the ball. Millions use their thumb and did so ever since they were little. The culprit here is lack of strength then over the years it became a habit, (a bad one at that)
Question 5. Should you watch the rim or the ball in flight after the shot has been released?
Answer 5. The great shooters watch the ball in flight. Examples, Jordan, Stojakovic, Nash, Nowitzki, Bird, Palubinskas, etc. Your eyes start the shot by watching and measuring the distance of the rim. You release the ball and the moment the ball leaves your index finger on the follow through your eyes move from the rim to the flight of the ball. It is much better control and you can study the shot and tell better if the ball is going in or not. You can also tell if your rotation is bad and this will reveal to you that you have a mechanical problem that needs attention.
Question 6. How important is a pre-shot routine.
Answer 6. It has no relevance at all to the life cycle of the shot. If you have the strength the ball needs then you will always pause the shot in the shooting pocket before it is released. So if you do pause, then no matter what pre shot mumbo jumbo one does, the pause will kill any pre-shot routine. (remember K.I.S.S.) The less movement the better. But it is a personal preference to do some cool things, I guess. Jason Kidd blows kisses to the wind, Karl Malone used to pray before a shot. Go figure.
Question 7. During any shot, what ‘mental picture’ should I have in my mind ,if any?
Answer 7. It should definitely not be an image of you making or missing the basket. This is a useless thought. If this is the case then this proves that there is no thought process on any shooting mechanics, exactly where the mind should be focused on. You should absolutely be thinking about the one or two worst mechanical flaws you are aware of that causes your most missed shots. Do you shoot short? Are you always left? Do you tend to shoot long? Every miss has a reason behind it. Recognize and rectify. Do you have a flying elbow? Is your hand scrunched up and in the cookie jar? Is your hand closed on the release? Does your wrist look floppy and loose after the release? etc etc. You get the idea.
Question 8. How important is it to shoot with the ball seams ?
Answer 8. No significance at all. Another personal preference. You can do it during free throws but during a game you don’t have time to line up the seams for a shot. You can shoot just as well with a seamless ball as long as the weight is official.
Question 9. Is there an optimal angle for a follow through?
Answer 9. Yes, absolutely. They say it is between 42 and 48 degrees, which will bring an average down to 45 degrees which is right in the middle. Understand that the higher the arc the more longer shots will hit the front of the rim. The flatter the arc the more perfect the shot should be because the rim flattens out reducing the area of entry.
Question 10. Does the hand as a whole shoot the ball or do the fingers play a big role?
Answer 10. Great question. Understanding this is the biggest and most important part of the whole shooting science. Mastering the hand placement, touch and feel control and release mechanism is more important than the rest of the factors involved in shooting. Too many players have the ball resting on the whole hand including all the pads and the palm. The way to get the palm off the ball is to widen your grip as wide as possible without too much tension. The wider the hand the easier it is for you and your mind to feel what fingers are applying the correct amount of energy to the shot. For example I number each finger to allow for accountability. The thumb is zero, the index finger is #1, the mid finger is #2, the ring finger is #3 and the pinky finger is #4. The thumb and pinky maintain support and width and are responsible for about 5% eac on the ball while the index finger is responsible for the other 90%. It does the lion’s share of the work. Notice I have left out #’s 2 and 3, since I believe they do more damage than good since they tend to go across the grain or in a lateral movement thus detracting from the perfect straight direction the ball needs.
Question 11. Why is it that the ring finger and the mid finger should have little effect on the shot?
Answer 11. Scientifically speaking, you will notice that there are no appendages (fingers) between the thumb and the forefinger. But obviously there are 2 fingers between the index finger and the Pinky. This creates a natural imbalance that does not benefit consistent accuracy. Due to this imbalance and the extra weight of these 2 fingers the tendency is for the hand to always move inwards towards the body causing lateral movement which is responsible for crooked shots. All the fingers must move forward to the basket without any lateral sway. Watch a bear, tiger, or bulldog walk and you will notice that their front paws always move back and inwards when they walk. Same principle. BUT, I will add this. For those weak individuals who have thin arms, hands and fingers I think it may be a good idea if they join the index and mid finger together on the ball which basically makes the index finger stronger. But there can be no more than a quarter inch extra length on the mid finger otherwise it will dominate the release point.
Question 12. Why is there somewhat of a difference between boys and girls shooting mechanics?
Answer 12. One main reason that separates the boys from the girls is the ‘strength factor’. Generally speaking until the age of puberty boys and girls are about the same in upper body strength. This ranges around 12-14 years old. I could be wrong here. Anyhow it takes longer for girls to develop a true jump shot because they really don’t jump very high and if your jump is only a few inches there is not much time within which to develop a ‘pause’ just before you release the ball. Plus the ‘shot pockets’ are usually much lower when strength is lacking. The ideal ‘shot pocket’ is just above the forehead but it takes strength in the upper body, arms and hands to be able to shoot from this position. Anytime you shoot from the chest, chin, or face area this means the ball is being thrust at the basket without any ‘pause time’ thus giving less time to aim.
Question 13. How important is ‘timing’ on a jump shot or a free throw shot in general?
Answer 13. It does affect some players who get their shot out of ‘sync’ due to leverage and improper mechanics. Anytime a player brings the ball past the top of their head or way to the side of their head and go into what I call a ‘negative’ phase, then this creates more of a launching mode where the first move is ‘at’ the rim. The initial movement of the ball should always be ‘up’ first then ‘at’ the rim. This changes leverage on a shot by bringing it way behind the head.
Also during a jump shot you do not want to have the ball in your hand on the way down. If you must it is better to shoot on the way up than on the way down. Shooting on the way down is a real strength drain.
Question 14. How important is it to be ‘squared up” before you shoot?
Answer 14. It depends. Around the basket it is not so important because you can twist and turn your body in relation to other bodies and use the wrist and fingers to maneuver the ball to the hoop. But when you are further out you want to have as much body control as possible and having your feet squared also squares your shoulders and you are basically shooting a free throw from all over the court. If you have the upper body strength you can afford to be less ‘squared up’ because you can make up for lower body irregularities with upper body strength. Not recommended but it happens all the time. As long as the upper body or shoulders are squared your chances are improved. What about one legged shots, or fadeaways? In these cases the lower body is irregular but the upper body is usually squared. Another important point here is that the key body part that needs to be squared to the basket is the shoulder elbow and wrist joints.
Question 15. You hear so much about the follow through yet there are thousands of different ones. Is there such a thing as a perfect follow through?
Answer 15. Now we are getting serious. This is where coaches and players should spend more time, on the perfect follow through. I can only answer from experience and how my follow through helps me shoot at 99% from the line. You can still be a great shooter with variations but the key is to follow natural laws or scientific.