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Develop your shot with shooting mechanics

This is an excerpt from Basketball: Steps to Success-3rd Edition by Hal Wissel.

Shooting Mechanics

Most players shoot seven basic shots: the one-hand set shot, the free throw, the jump shot, the three-point shot, the hook shot, the layup, and the runner. These shots all share certain basic mechanics, including sight, balance, hand position, elbow-in alignment, rhythmical shooting motion, and follow-through. The best way to develop your shot is to concentrate on only one or two mechanics at a time.

Sight. Focus your eyes on the basket, aiming just over the front of the rim for all shots except bank shots. Use a bank shot when you are at a 45-degree angle to the backboard. A 45-degree angle falls within the distance between the box and the middle hash mark on the lane line. The distance for the bank angle—called the 45-degree funnel—widens as you move out. When shooting a bank shot, aim for the top near corner of the box on the backboard.

Sight your target as soon as possible and keep your eyes focused on the target until the ball reaches the goal. Your eyes should never follow the flight of the ball or your defender's hand. Concentrating on the target helps eliminate distractions such as shouting, towel waving, an opponent's hand, or even a hard foul.

Balance. Balance leads to power and rhythmic control of your shot. Your base, or foot position, is the foundation of your balance, and keeping your head over your feet (base) controls your balance.

Spread your feet comfortably to shoulder width and point your toes straight ahead. Pointing your toes straight aligns your knees, hips, and shoulders with the basket. The foot on the side of your shooting hand (right foot for a right-handed shot) is forward. The toe of your back foot is aligned with the heel of the foot on your shooting side (toe-to-heel relationship).

Flex your legs at the knees. This gives crucial power to your shot. Beginning and fatigued players often fail to flex their knees. To compensate for the lack of power from not using their legs, they tend to throw the ball from behind the head or shove the ball from the hip. Both of these actions produce errors.

Your head should be over your waist and feet. Your head controls your balance and should be slightly forward, with your shoulders and upper body inclining forward toward the basket. Your shoulders should be relaxed.

Hand position. Hand position is the most misunderstood part of shooting. You want to make sure that you start and finish your shot with your shooting hand facing the basket (behind the ball). Placing the nonshooting hand (also called the balance hand) under the ball for balance is also important. This position, with the shooting hand facing the basket (behind the ball) and the nonshooting hand under the ball, is called the block-and-tuck. It leaves your shooting hand free to shoot the ball, rather than having to balance and shoot the ball.

Place your hands fairly close together. Relax both hands and spread the fingers comfortably. Keep the thumb of your shooting hand relaxed and not spread apart; this helps you avoid tension in your hand and forearm. A relaxed hand position (like a handshake) forms a natural cup, enabling the ball to contact the pads of your fingers and not your palm. Place your nonshooting hand slightly under the ball. The weight of the ball balances on at least two fingers: the ring finger and the little finger. The arm of your nonshooting hand should be in a comfortable position, with the elbow pointing slightly back and to the side. Your shooting hand is set behind the ball, facing the basket, with your index finger directly at the ball's midpoint. The ball is released off the pads of your index finger. On a free throw, you have time to align your index finger with the valve or another marking at the midpoint of the ball. Developing fingertip control and touch leads to a soft, accurate shot.

Elbow-in alignment. Hold the ball comfortably in front of and above your shooting shoulder between your ear and shoulder. Keep your shooting elbow in. When your shooting elbow is in, the ball is aligned with the basket. Some players do not have the flexibility to place the shooting hand behind the ball with the hand facing the front of the basket while keeping the elbow in. If this is the case, you should first place the shooting hand behind the ball, facing the front of the basket, and then move the elbow in as far as your flexibility allows.

Rhythmical shooting motion. Shooting involves synchronizing the extension of your legs, back, shoulders, and shooting arm and the flexion of your wrist and fingers. Shoot the ball with a smooth, free-flowing, and rhythmical lifting motion.

The initial force and rhythm for your shot come from a down-and-up motion of your legs. Start with your knees slightly flexed. Bend your knees and then fully extend them in a down-and-up motion. Saying the key words down and up!from the start of your shot until the release of the ball will trigger the down-and-up action of your legs, providing rhythm and range for your shot. Your legs and shooting arm work together. As your legs go up, your arm goes up. As your legs reach full extension, your back, shoulders, and shooting arm extend in a smooth, continuous upward direction. Be sure to keep the ball high with your shooting hand facing the basket. Use the down-and-up motion of your legs for rhythm, rather than lowering the ball for rhythm. Keeping the ball high fosters a quick release and also provides less chance for error.

As your arm goes up, the ball is tipped back from your nonshooting hand to your shooting hand. A good guide is to tip the ball back only until there is a wrinkle in the skin between your wrist and forearm. This angle provides a quick release and consistent follow-through. Direct your arm, wrist, and fingers straight toward the basket at a 45- to 60-degree angle, extending your shooting arm completely at the elbow. The final force and control of your shot come from flexing your wrist and fingers forward toward a spot just over the front of the rim. Release the ball off the pads of your index finger with soft fingertip touch to impart backspin on the ball and soften the shot. Keep your nonshooting hand on the ball until the point of release.

The amount of force you impart to the ball depends on the range of the shot. For short distances, the arm, wrist, and fingers provide most of the force. Long-range outside shots require the down-and-up motion of your legs with more force from your legs, back, and shoulders, and a complete follow-through.

Follow-through. After releasing the ball off the pads of your index finger, keep your arm up and fully extended with your index finger pointing straight to the target just over the front of the rim. The palm of your shooting hand should face slightly forward and down, and the palm of your balance hand should face slightly up. Keep your eyes on your target. Exaggerate your follow-through. Hold your arm up in a complete follow-through position until the ball reaches the basket, then react to the rebound or get into defensive position. Holding your follow-through until the ball reaches the basket is not only good mechanics, but it also makes you look and act like a shooter and increases your confidence.

Read more about Basketball: Steps to Success 3E.

More Excerpts From Basketball: Steps to Success 3rd Edition