I was motivated to write this blog post because of all the minutiae out there about how to become a great basketball shooter. Shooting the basketball was an aspect of my game which always gave me trouble. There were periods during my basketball career in which I shot the basketball extremely well. However, there were plenty more times in which my shooting skills seemed to be stolen from me like in Space Jam. As soon as my shot began to falter I instantly began researching what could be wrong. There is so much non-sense out that is not helpful and some of it is even harmful. I used to obsessively research the vast amount of knowledge that is out there, and that tended to lead me even more astray. However, after reading the four hour chef (future book review, its not just about cooking but hyper learning in general) my shooting woes ended.
Shooting, like any physical skill should be relatively easy to gain a highly proficient level of skill in(top 5-10%). It is the attainment of world-class class skill (top 0.001%) that takes year and years of deliberate practice. But you may ask if it is relatively easy to achieve high proficiency why do so many athletes (such as myself) miserably fail to achieve such levels or are maddeningly inconsistent. The reason is that they do NOT base their practice on sound principles nor are they practicing with built in feedback mechanisms. These are the two most important aspects of any learning program, without it your succes is going to be very inconsistent and limited. The rest of the post will detail the principles (techniques) needed for great shooting and practice (with appropriate feedback mechanisms) that will ingrain the correct techniques in your nervous system.
1. Elbows and Wrist at 90 degrees – This is absolutely essential, and too many pro athlete do NOT abide by this fundamental principle. They are plenty of cool and quirky devices out there to force yourself to maintain right angles (which are you friends) in your wrists and elbows. However, as has been discussed in previous posts about mindfulness and tai chi it is absolutely essential to be paying attention and completely present while practicing. I have found through my experience that rapt attention was sufficient for integrating these right angles into my muscle memory.
2. Shot Line (and eye dominance) – (again see the image above) – This was the most important principle I was not aware of. Once I integrated this technique into my shot, it was like I had consumed a magic pill that instantly allowed me to shoot lights out. You want your shot line to be as closely aligned with your dominant eye and to have the middle of the ball only travel along the shot line. If you want to increase accuracy (in any physical act such as throwing, golfing etc.) you want to eliminate excess motion.
But how do you determine your dominant eye? It is quite simple, extend your arms out and create a a circle with your hands. Sight a target around 20 meters away with both eyes. Then close one of your eyes, and notice whether the object jumps out of your focus (outside your hands). So if you close your right eye and the object does NOT move than you are left eye dominant, and vica versa if it does move than you right eye dominant. For many right handed dominant players they are left-eye dominant (opposite for lefties). However, many coaches erroneously tell players to line up their shot with their dominant arm. But because many righties are left eye dominant there head moves in attempt to line up their left eyes. Then coaches are flabbergasted by why accuracy suffers. However, it it is very easy to correct this by moving your shot line more towards the middle of your body (if your dominant eye and dominant arm are on opposite sides of your body). There is no need to move it completely to your left as no one is completely 100% dominant with one eye. As can see in the images above both Stephen Curry and Ray Allen (two of the best shooters in NBA history both do this instinctually).
3. Legs for Distance, Arms for Aim – Have you ever wondered why the muscle bound NBA power forward struggles to barely get the ball to the rim from the 3 pt line, but the skinny and undersized middle school kid can effortlessly hit threes. It is a perfect example of this princple. Do NOT “throw” the ball to the hoop. This was another principle that was a game changer for me. I have always been a good leaper, and after watching too much of kobe byrant I always tried to get as much lift on my jumper as possible and shoot on the apex. That was a huge reason why my shot was so inconsistent because the majority of the time I was using my arms for distance. Which is why even though I could bench 275 lbs in high school at times I struggled to get the ball to the rim from the 3 pt line.
How can you avoid this problem? Make sure that the force generated by your arms should only account for 3-4 feet of distance. The rest should come from your legs. What is a cue you can use to ingrain this principle in your shooting practice? Time the breaking of your wrist (release of the shot) with your feet coming off the ground. Doing this allows your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible allowing them to do what they should: aim the ball, not generate power.
So it is great that you have the three most fundamental principles of great shooting, but how do you quickly and easily implement them so you begin draining shots. The most important skill you need to develop is to be able to keep the ball straight for at least 80% of your shots. Missing shot or long are very easy to correct (just more or less legs). However, misses left or right means that there is something fundamentally wrong with your shot.
Therefore, the first drill to do (with a built in feedback mechanism) is to go find a line in your gym. Line up your shooting line with the line, and pretend you are shooting at a 10 foot hoop (do not shoot at a hoop yet) and aim to shoot the ball 5 feet away. If you are able to shoot the ball correctly it will land on the line. You do NOT move on until you can hit the line at least 20 out of 25 times.
The next progression is to take your first 50 shots between just under the rim and about 5-7 feet, while ensuring that you are not missing left or right, and only misses are long or short. Only once you can do this then can you move on to further distances, and the only adjustment should be the legs. Your arm motion should be identical 2 feet from the hoop and 20 feet from the hoop. J.J Reddick another world class shooter who is the all time leading scorer at Duke University takes his first 50 shoots before any practice from 5-7 feet from the hoop. If this is good enough for J.J it is good enough for you.
These principles and drills have been vital to allow me to maintain a great jumper while not needing to touch a ball for months and only needing a couple of quick tune-up sessions before I begin to play basketball. However, even if you are not a basketball player or do not like basketball, just experimenting and taking a little time out of your day to master these techniques will enable you to have a great time (as sinking shot after shot is a great feeling) and develop a greater understanding and appreciation for one of the most popular sports in the world.
Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,
PS Here are a couple of ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address.