How to Shoot a Basketball
put it in the hole

he thing to do is ... set it up on a log out in the forest and ... blast it with your shotgun !!!

Seriously, if it is within your power, quit doing this and find something to do with your time that will leave you with something to show for your time.. I did this for a few years as a teenager and I tell you from experience that you will regret every minute you practiced playing basketball instead of ... say ... the piano. If I had practiced the piano for those years as much as shooting a damn b-ball, I'd play like Liszt by now.

Of course, you're not going to listen to me anymore than I listened to others then, so ...

Shooting a basketball has nothing to do with the game of basketball.

What? ... Yes, you read it right.

All sports have two main ingredients to them.

  • 1) Skill [head, knowledge of the game, ability gained from practice, control over one's mind]
  • 2) Testosterone [heart, adrenalin, power, force, getting mad, strength, endurance]
  • The product of Control and Power (1x2) equals Intensity.

    This explains why any professional football team can beat any other on any given day. If the "A" team's control (on a scale of 1 to 10) equals 8 and their power is 7, then their effficiency is 56. And if the "B" team's control is 4 and their power is 5, their efficiency is then 20.

    "B" loses ... unless, say, "A" can't "get up" for the game and their power goes down to 4-power ... but B really gets mad and goes to 9-power that day ... then we have A=32 to B=36.

    You see, you can readily gain or lose power (it's adrenalin pumped - short term), but control is gained long term through practice and study so it is not easily changeable. This is why football coaches cringe when their players make statements to the press that get the opposing team mad ... it just increases their power level and makes them harder to beat (maybe impossible).

    Shooting a basketball does not have any of number two in it. It's all numero uno. Power and adrenalin just get in the way. Less power is best ... control only (for shooting). But you need power in basketball as well for the rest of the game (running, endurance, going to the hole, blocking people, falling on the floor, fighting, turning over the other team's buses, etc.). So, the following rule is first and foremost:

    Rule #1

    Mentally, get out of the game. Take the shot.
    Then get back into the game as quickly as possible.

    I had a "perfected" jump shot (about 95% in practice conditions) from ~13 feet out and 30 degrees left or right of center. Jump up and ... as soon as your feet leave the ground ... get out of the game ... see only the shot ... shoot ... get back into the game on the way down ... ready for the rebound.

    If you are doing it right, you get to the rebound in 0 or 1 bounce ... never two bounces ... that's too late. Most players take a shot and stay out of the game to get their reward, i.e. seeing the shot fall and hearing the swish of the net. This is clearly counterproductive to the goal of winning the game. By watching the ball you effectively reduce your team's offensive rebounding strength by MORE THAN 20%. Why? Because you, the shooter, are the person to best guess where the rebound is going. After all, you "sense" when you've made a good shot and when it's bad. So, not only are you taking out your 1/5 from the team, you're taking out its best opportunity for an offensive board.

    A good example of proper shooting in this regard was Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson during the Pistons two championship years. When he missed ... he didn't ... because he got right on the ball, ripped it away from anyone in the vicinity and reshot all in one strong, fluid motion. In effect, two shots were equivalent to a "pass to himself" ... hah! It was beautiful (especially since I waited for those suckers to win a championship for over twenty years ... through the Dave Bing and Bob Lanier years ... arrrgh ... I don't want to remember).

    Shooting has more in common with Zen than anything else. Be one with the ball, one with the universe, shoot the ball ... quick - snap out of it - get back in the game and kick ass !!.

    Rule #2

    Get a "good look"

    What does this mean? He got a good look. Hmmmm ...
    It takes a short amount of time for the eyes to focus on the basket (a few tenths of a second for the lens of your eye to give your brain a decent estimate of distance and direction). If you pick up your dribble and shoot all in the same motion, you reduce your chances of a bucket because the Gaussian shot distribution (which you've worked so hard to tighten) loosens up. The spread is much greater than with well-focused vision ... but the hole didn't get any bigger ... did it? So your percentages drop ... automatically. And ... while you're concentrating on the hoop, you're out of the game, right? Right. So don't be distracted by anything ... like that 6'10" monster that's just about to pound on you.

    Rule #3

    Focus on the back of the rim

    Not the front ... and NOT the whole basket. You need a point to aim at to maximally reduce your shot distribution. You can't focus on the center of the hole because there is nothing there but air. So, you do the next best thing and focus on the rear of the rim and depend on your brain to automatically compensate the shot to the center. It works.

    Why not focus on the front? Ans: Statistically, many of your overshoots will hit the backboard and drop. If you aim at the front (and your brain doesn't compensate correctly), your corresponding undershoots won't go in ... there is no "frontboard" to help you out.


    There is only one basic style which is perfect given human anatomy and the way our brain works. If yours differs markedly from what's given here, your percentages will suffer regardless of how much you practice (that is, if you put the same amount of practice in a correct shot style you will do better percentagewise).

    The two-handed shot has been completely discredited. Why?

    We have two halves to our brains. One side controls one arm/hand and the other gets what's left (or right ;o). One hand dominates ... you are right or left handed. If you shoot with two hands, you go against nature saying, in effect, that each hand is perfectly equal. Thus, when you try to shoot with two hands, the dominant one veers the ball off center.

    But you don't shoot ALL with one hand. Rather, there is a division of labor. Let's take the right handed person as our model (anyone lefthanded, just reverse everything).

    The left hand is predominately responsible for vertical elevation, i.e. how high the ball must go. No more. The right hand does the lion's share of the work and is responsible for distance and direction, i.e. it takes care of two dimensions compared to the left's one dimension.

    Follow this closely and remember because here is the most common reason for "throwing up bricks".

    First, you pick up your dribble and the left hand goes pretty much under the ball. The weight of the ball is therefore carried by the left hand. You throw up the ball with the left hand and during the course of the shot, your left hand gives over control of the ball to the right which begins to propel the ball forward as the left is tapering off the upward throw. The exact mix of left and right depends on your particular brain setup.

    Now, if your left hand does not participate sufficiently, your right hand will try to compensate by taking on the complete 3-dimensional chore. If you push the ball forward with your right hand and at the same time try to loft it high enough, you will get the "line drive" brick a' brack aka. "the clank". Whereas, if your left hand participates as it should, you will get the proper arc. And, as you know, the more vertical the ball goes at the hole the more of its area is exposed to the trajectory and the more likely it is to go in ... but ... the length of the arc should be least because to shoot a longer distance means poorer percentages. So, there is the compromise, optimum arc which you "feel" "know" will go into the hole.

    When you are throwing up bricks it is most likely that the ball is not being properly lofted by the left hand and your right is forcing the shot. To correct this, look at how the ball goes up your chest ... then the right hand takes over. If your left hand is not helping enough the ball will move away from your chest too soon, (it will start moving away from your body down by your belly instead).

    A common cause is fatigue. And as the ball moves away from the body it seems to become heavier yet because of the additional leveraged force of gravity.

    The overall governing rule of shooting style is:

    Stop all unnecessary brain functions ... so as to bring all brainpower to bear on the immediate problem of shooting.

    A good example of this is the jump shot. What do you do with your legs while you're up in the air? Ans: Turn them off. You don't need legs for the split second you are shooting. Hence, the only position for legs is the same as when you hang limply from an overhead bar. Just let 'em dangle.

    I have seen some guys draw up their legs into a quasi-fetal position (well almost). this means that their brain has sent a signal to them and has robbed the shooter of a few CPU sycles.

    Similarly, when you put your right hand on the ball to shoot ... how does it go? Well, just stand with your arms at your sides and bring your hand up in a relaxed position. An imaginary line going through your knuckles isn't parallel to a fence rail is it? Nor is it perpendicular to a plane containing that rail. It's sort of in between. That's because of the way the bones are set up in the human hand. So you will end up like this.

    In order to take your hand out of this natural position, you will have to send an unwarranted signal from your brain to your hand. Remember ... nothing extraneous!

    Here is the #2 cause of a missed shot.

    (related to the above argument)
    I call this "righting" the ball. In this error, your shooting hand seems to roll off the right side of the ball as you push it forward generally causing the ball to miss to the left. Sometimes a compensation is made compounding the error even causing errors to the right side of the hoop!

    Knowing what causes this is the key to correcting it. And that cause is turning the shooting hand to put it on top of the ball instead of slightly raising the elbow to accomplish the same effect.

    There is a similar problem when playing the piano. If you raise your hand to the keyboard, it is in the position you would want for manipulating a joystick. You must turn it 90 degrees to put your fingers on the keys.Doing so produces strain on the muscles used ... so ... instead of getting a sore forearm, one simply raises one's elbows and the hand is rotated by that action.

    The same thing happens when you put the shooting hand on the ball. The stretched muscles-tendons act like rubber bands that want to return to their natural position. Raising your elbow instead of turning your hand relieves that strain.

    The most common cause of "righting" the ball is fatigue. If you are arm weary ... you turn your hand instead of raising your elbow and your shot goes awry. Another cause is forgetfulness. At times you will simply forget to raise your elbow ... or ... forget to lift the ball with your left hand close to your body ... or ... forget to focus on the back of the rim ... etc.

    Now ... how hard do you grip the ball?

    Well, you want to press as much of the fingers pads of the right hand onto the ball to "feel" the ball. But ... not too hard or you get extraneous info and you would be fighting your left hand. Most of the nerve receptors are in the pads of your fingers ... not in the tips (this is why pianists try to play with a flat hand in slow emotional music ... so they can "feel" the keys better).

    Note: A common missed shot is to roll the hand over the top of the ball. The cause is most often letting the ball get away from your body too soon resulting in a brick. You "over" the ball in a vain attempt to correct the shot trajectory. Remember that a successful shot always begins with raising the ball not too far away from the body. If you fail early in the shot you probably won't be able to correct it because it takes a certain amount of time to receive a signal that the shot is going awry ... then send another signal back to correct it. By the time it gets there the ball is near the end of the shot motion and ... it's too late. You will hardly ever "under" the ball (roll the fingers under the ball) because you'd have to bring the ball inside your body ... only ghosts can do that.
    The direction of the shot is controlled mostly by the index and middle finger with the thumb, ring finger and pinky doing the support work (division of labor). You only need pressure variance on two fingers to signal direction. Actually, this part is so easy ... you make only minor corrections here ... PROVIDED ... you have brought the ball up close to your body correctly.

    Your body will be slightly turned away from the shot direction so that your arm push vector will pass through your body's center of mass. If you square up your torso perpendicular to the shot direction, you will give yourself a slight "turning moment" which you will have to compensate for. This is wasted effort and is therefore bad form.

    Where is the ball released?

    The right hand takes over from the left (completely) just about the top of your head. The right hand owns the ball when the center of the ball is above and ahead of your forehead ... maybe no more than 6 inches above and 6 inches ahead of. This depends somewhat on your own physical characteristics.

    If you take the ball too far up and close to your head, you probably will "under" the ball and throw up the dreaded AIRBALL. This doesn't happen often ... not nearly as often as overing the ball.

    Yeah, you can throw up a brick or an airball for an assortment of reasons ... those given here are just what I believe to be the most common causes.

    Where do you put your hand on the ball?

    On the seams? On the spaces? Forget it. You have no time at all to spin the ball around and get comfortable (as with a free throw). Practice shooting just as you receive the ball, taking no cognizance of its orientation.


    The first rule of practice is:

    Always think in words about what you are doing.

    Don't just "feel the force". That's what you do when you're actually playing.

    When practicing, we're trying to program ourselves to do things correctly. Hence, we walk through everything more slowly than we would in a game ... criticizing every move (in words, i.e. concepts). Then, when we play, we must stop programming and run the program. Instead of building and degugging our program, we're going to run it and see if it is better than the other guys.

    Don't practice (program) on the same day as the game. There is a transition from programming to running which takes up some time. If you don't allow for this, you will end up thinking (in words) about the game as it proceeds. You will become introspective at the very moment you absolutely must be extrospective. And ... newsflash ... you can take action much faster than you can name the action. Do you think a typist can name the letters (in her mind) faster than she can type them?

    Gametime means stop thinking and start doing. You need some of both to succeed ... but not at the same time.

    I have two suggested practices that may work quite well.

    1) Mark a wall at ten feet (basket height). Practice throwing at this target in the proper shot motion ... hmmm ... 100,000 reps should do it. I mean, to "automatize" the action.

    What does that mean?

    If you do a thing over and over, eventually, you only need to initiate the action (call the program) and it runs with no further intervention on your part. You want the shot form to be correct automatically. It's one less thing for your mind to deal with when playing.

    Have you ever seen a chicken with its head cut off? It runs around moving its legs in normal fashion ... but it falls over. Why? Because the running action program is in the spinal cord, not in the brain (which is gone). The sense of balance, which needs to be constantly attended to because it is changing, stays in the brain and correction info is sent to alter slightly the output of the running program so the chicken won't fall over.

    I don't know where your shot program will physically reside, but it will be at a more primitive level ... if ... you automatize it. Then, if some big bruiser knocks your block off, you may still be able to get off a good shot ... automatically. Hah!

    Hint: Don't try to do the 100,000 reps all a once ;o)
    [The reason you do it against a blank wall is so that the ball will come back to you and no time is wasted retrieving it.]

    2) Do time trials in the gym making a basket at each different backboard in the gym (6, 8, 10 of 'em?). Do this while being hooted at and laughed at by all other teamates (but no actual physical interference). The purpose of this is to defeat "choke". If you are used to this abuse in practice, you will not notice it in the game. You will not choke when the game is tight. You might miss anyway but it won't be because you emotionally bummed yourself out.

    The best five times should start next the real game. That way there's some real pressure driving the outcome.

    The Foul Shot

    I just put in 23 in a row today and I don't play this game anymore ... hah!

    And I remembered ... ''What about that foul shot?". So here is a little addendum stuck in for your edification. [01-03-00]

    First ... they're easy (it's a short shot ... no effort required ... just concentration)
    Second ... you must learn a "formula" shot which works (almost all the time). A formula shot is one where you conciously do exactly the same thing every time. In a game with everyone hanging on you, it's impossible ... but at the foul line you can dig in and take your time. All the great foul shooters shoot by formula (not the pros ... the middle-aged white guys who get in the Guiness book tossing in 2000 in a row blindfolded). That's who to emulate.

    #1 Foot placement -------------
    Square your body up with the hole. Now put your right foot at the line as shown in the picture. Now put your left foot back a little and turned at about a 30o ... comfortable? ... If you are, you're doing it wrong. Spread your feet apart more until your feel slightly awkward. That's it!
    OK ... why are you doing this?
    The object here is to "lock down" your lower body. You don't want it in on the shot ... you don't need it ... but ... you still gotta' stand up. If you set up comfortaby you will invariably try to integrate your lower body into the shot as during gameplay. Lose it. Make your lower body different (robot) from your upper (human) and you can pretty much tune it out.

    You must decide for yourself just how uncomfortable to be. Too much and you lose your concentration, too little and your lower body gets in on the shot and turns it into a game shot instead of a formula shot.
    #2 The Shot -------------
    Same as before ... but ... what will foul you up most is ...

    ... NOT looking at the back of the rim.

    After you set your feet (slightly uncomfortable) ... rivet your eyes to the back of the rim. Then shoot. When you do, you will bend your legs just a bit automatically. You may think "Gee, should I take a little dump here too?" ... It will feel slightly awkward. That's OK ... and ... bonus time ... you will be shooting a "soft shot" so that many near misses will bounce around and fall anyway.

    In this situation, don't think about getting back into the game ... cause ... you're going to make every shot (at least that's what you're going to be thinking ... like, "This is the first of fifty in a row").

    Absolute confidence.

    If you can't shoot 80% in a game this way ... better recycle your sneakers.

    Addendum 04-03-00:
    Actually, looking at the back of the rim is essential only insofar as you must not look elsewhere. It's not the positive aspect here. The main focus of your concentration is on the "feel" of the ball in your hand and its movement. This must be so because the best foul shooters can do the thing just as well blindfolded. You really only need your eyes for game shots where the distance is not "set".

    There are three complications arrising in a game which are not present in practice. They are:

  • Fatigue - Overheating - Injury
  • Interference
  • Choke
  • In each one of these your shot percentage takes a hit. What can you do about it?

    Fatigue is inevitable in this highly aerobic game. Practicing wind sprints is one way of "keeping up with the Joneses". You will come to hate this method. If you don't, you're not doing enough. Another way is to slow down your game or go the heavy replacement route. But you know this already.

    Something you may not be aware of is the necessity of drinking enough water ... at the proper time. All other things being equal, the team that drinks the most water simply wins. The dry team just poops out. It is up to you to drink enough water so that you do not become thirsty. This means drink before you need it ... as a conscious plan. If you wait till your tongue is hangin' out ... it's too late. By the time the water makes it into your system, the game may be over.

    Newsflash ... water in your belly is useless to your body.
    It must get into all systems and this takes time. Plan ahead or watch your shots poop out too (maybe as airballs).

    Overheating ... As a general rule, try to speed up a white team and slow down a black team. A white cup of coffee loses heat more slowly than a black cup (that's thermodynamics).For your part ... rest on the bench ... take yourself out of the game when you're useless to the team. Your shots won't fall if your temperature is 127 degrees ... centigrade !

    Injury ... the game isn't worth playing injured. That may be noble and you don't want to be called a quitter but you're once again no good to the team. Take yourself out. Or ... stop shooting if your thumb is sprained or broken and play wood post only (like Bill Cartwright).

    Interference ... You will have to shoot with someone on your back most of the time. So you will only have ... MUST have ... a second to shoot. You just need time to get a good look and get the shot off. A good way to get away from a player who is "on you" is to stop on your left leg from full speed and drop-turn to your right about 90 degrees (or vice versa for the right leg). You gain at least 2 or 3 steps on the defender. Unless they're playing zone, you can take a pass then and shoot before he catches up.

    Actually, I don't know why they don't do this in football. An end, covered man to man, could easily get free and make an easy reception in the open field. If no safety is around it's an automatic TD.
    If you're in a press, try to stay away from the sidecourt and stay near your teamates. If you get too spread out on the court, it favors the pressers since the flight time of the pass allows them to cover two widely spaced players simutaneously. When the players are closer together, the open man (there has to be an open man if two guys are on you & the ball) can be passed to more easily because the reaction time of the defender becomes a significant fraction of the flight time. On a long pass, the ratio of flight time to reaction time is high and his reaction time is essentially insignificant.

    Choke ... You will never choke if your attitude toward a failed shot is the same as your attitude to a successful one. Your attitude must be that of complete indifference. Indifference is exceedingly hard to master for a teenager ... but nevertheless it is necessary to maintain a high shot percentage. Don't get emotionally involved with the game when you go up for a shot. Leave all that crap behind. Worry about what the girls think after the game ... not during. Wishing, hoping, crying, yelling, cheering, screaming, jumping up & down ... does absolutely nothing for your shot percentage. It's all intellectual and no emotion.

    On the Form of the Game Itself

    Basketball has a great deal in common with ice hockey (highly aerobic). Because of this, I would like to see replacement on the fly as they do in hockey. There would be a box about two feet by ten feet in which would stand the replacement guy. He has to stay in the box till the other guy puts a foot in the box. Easy.

    I would like to see the foul shot eliminated in favor of the timed penalty box so that a team would have to play shorthanded. Hah! (But the game wouldn't drag out interminably at the end.)

    I mean for personal foul types ... not just standard violations.
    Regular fouls are best handled by giving the offended team one point and the ball back (unmolested) from out of bounds nearest the point of infraction.

    And I would like to see retained possession after a score, i.e. you score ... then take the ball out there and now the other goal is your object goal. In other words, the defended goal changes after each score ... no matter who scores. This would serve to widen the end score differential which I find to be presently too close as a percentage of total. 101 to 99 is not a definitive victory to my mind.

    The Basketball

    The ball is round. OK ... what else?

    It has four attributes which can help you to understand some facets of the game which most players have lost site of. These are:

  • 1) Diameter
  • 2) Mass
  • 3) "Bounciness"
  • 4) "Grip-ability"
  • When basketball was developing, they thought much about the above factors. The ball is fitted to the man ... then the hoop is fitted to the ball. There is a problem when dealing with variations in the size of human beings. Fact is ... the present ball is fitted to someone about my size (5'10") ... NOT to Shaquille O'Neal. So when they say "He moves well for a big man", they are doing him a discredit because he cannot manipulate the ball as well a smaller handed man.

    Imagine yourself (if you are my size) trying to dribble a softball. Pretty Clumsy ... but ... you might move well ... for an average size man.

    Similiarly, the ball is too big for a 6th grade girl playing on her school team. Think about it. Don't those girls look awfully clumsy ... even "spastic"? The reason is that they have to "heel" the ball to control their dribble. The heel of their hand becomes indispensible to ball control on a very large ball. This also affects their shooting since the center of mass of the ball is proportionately further away from their hand making it easier for it to move off line (the ball diameter to hand length ratio yields a greater lever arm).



    Teen Girl
    If I'm the one in the center and have a regulation size ball ... here are the relative sizes of balls scaled for Shaq and a 6th grade girl. (I just changed the height & width of the gif here so the dimensions are proper.) Notice that Shaq's ball is very much bigger that the girl's.

    This is not the way it is today in league play. Shaq struggles with a tiny thing and the girl "heels" the big ball and looks like an idiot.

    Cheap balls used to be "boingy". They made a funny hollow ringing noise and were often lopsided. A proper ball must bounce, but not like a superball. It must absorb enough of the energy of a floor hit such that it comes back to its initial position only after a "satisfying" push to the floor.

    This is where the mass of the ball comes in. That mass must possess approximately the same inertia as your arm. In a piano, the key must offer resistance approximating that of the finger which strikes it. If you push against "air" there is no satisfaction. Similarly, too heavy a ball will result in "work" instead of play.

    Now, balls are made of rubber which the hand can grip like glue, i.e. you can palm one of these balls even when you can't palm the same size leather ball. This marginally defeats the purpose of the ball's size which is to prevent the player from palming the ball ... thereby forcing him to dribble as the rules provide ... while at the same time, it is not so large so as to cause the unsatisfying clumsiness resulting from "heeling" the ball.

    Rules & Refs

    The purpose of a referee is twofold.

  • To maintain the identity of the sport (its rules)
    This is what you expect.
  • To keep the game from getting out of hand.
    They bend the rules to control the emotions of the players so that fighting does not erupt.
  • So, don't get mad at the ref when he's being unfair. He's supposed to be unfair ... fairly. Get it? Don't fight ... have fun. Congratulate the other guy when he makes a good show even if you're the goat.

    The rules of b-ball have changed a great deal in the past 40 years though not in the rule book. Some old rules which are no longer enforced:

  • Steps ... it used to be 1 1/2 steps after picking up the dribble and when I was a teenager, it was enforced ... but this rule doesn't lend itself to the kind of aerobic play which was developing. The defacto rule now is 3 steps if you're going to the hole. Actually, this is a good rule since it was somewhat awkward to pick up your dribble halfway into the key. One found oneself constantly out of step with the expected flow to the basket. It has a much more natural rythm to it now.
    Sometimes it gets out of hand though. I saw 'The Buddha" take five steps to a successful hook shot during a Pistons championship series game and no one said anything. I laughed for days.
  • 3 seconds ... Who's watching this anymore. The three point shot has removed the problem by pulling players to the outside. Today refs just call it to "modify" the game flow.
  • Palming the ball ... If you grab the ball and redirect it like a baseball, you've palmed it. The rule was pretty much useless from its inception and has been discarded. Everybody palms the ball ... professionals players can't help it. The ball is too small for their hands.
  • Review

    Mentally get out of the game
    (no unnecessary mental function), then ...

    1) Get a good look focusing on the

    back of the rim
    2) Turn your body to an angle (~30o) to the direction of the shot.
    3) Raise the ball with your left hand keeping it
    close to your body
    4) Slightly
    raise your elbow
    rather than rotating your shooting hand when placing it on the ball.
    5) Release the ball just above and in front of your forehead.

    Get back in the game instantly.

    A special note:
    When you concentrate on one of these aspects of shooting you will lose site of the rest and blow the shot. When practicing, it's OK to miss. When playing ... it has to flow evenly ... don't try to consciously adjust ... it's too late ...
    just calm down.
    Last Words

    Some teenagers think that they can get something out of this sport other than excercise and a good time. Namely, fame & fortune. Well, you might (if your are extremely lucky) get a college scholarship ... but if you are thinking ... PRO ... hmmmm ...

    Take a cold shower. Stand naked in front of the bathroom mirror and ...

    If you can see your head ...
    you have no future.

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