*** BASICS ***
The ideal stroke is simple and short.
Amateur shooters often start with long, complex strokes that start from odd angles. Far too often players have unorthodox form and do things like cocking the ball back behind their ear, or start with their elbow raised over the top of their head. This is too hard to control, and too difficult to replicate.
No one who shoots with severely flawed form will ever be a consistently dependable shooter. When they go into cold streaks, it is very difficult for them to recover and get back into their groove. Why? It is because their form has too many moving parts, and eventually they will lose their confidence. And because they don’t understand how the shot works, they won’t know what went wrong.
An example of this is Rashard Lewis. At his peak Lewis was an All-Star player and contributor to the Orlando Magic NBA Finals team in 2009. The Magic lost the 2009 NBA Finals, and in the off-season the team’s best passer (Hedo Turkoglu) left, and was replaced by Vince Carter.
Without Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis had no one on the team to create open shots for him, and opposing defenses easily stopped him. He struggled to score the ball, and eventually went in a shooting slump that lasted through the entire playoffs. He lost his confidence, and grew frustrated. The following season he was traded to the lowly Washington Wizards, and for the rest of his career was a marginal role player.
He had great natural talent, but he was ultimately doomed because of his poor fundamental shooting mechanics.
*** THE STROKE AND SHOOTER’S POCKET ***
The stroke should always send the ball on a straight line to the basket. If the shot misses left or right, it may be because of bad arm positioning.
When you first gather the ball, tuck the elbow of your shooting arm into the side of your ribs. This area near the side of your ribs is known as “The Shooter’s Pocket.”
From there raise your arms, with your elbow pointing in the same direction as your foot, knee, and hip. The arm and knee should stay aligned as you follow through. This will make sure that the shot is on-target.
The guide hand should come off the ball at the “L” shape (See below). You should be holding the ball directly over the elbow.
*** THE GUIDE HAND AND FOLLOW THROUGH ***
When the guide hand comes off, raise the elbow straight up.
As the arm is about to become fully extended, flick your wrist to release the ball.
Your arm should be fully extended when you finish. Releasing the ball without extending your arm is known as short-arming. Never short-arm.
Always hold the follow-through until the ball is through the net. Watch ESPN highlights of great shooters: they always hold their follow-throughs.
*** THE “L” SHAPE ***
Some shooters raise their arms above the “L” shape, and cock the ball back, and then extend their arm straight out to release the ball.
The problem with this method is that is that there is not enough arc on the ball.
By making the “L” shape and raising the elbow straight into the air to release, you are ensuring that there will be enough arc on the shot. This method will ensure that you release the ball with the proper arm angle.
Steve Nash executed this perfectly. One of the keys to his consistency is the arc he puts on his shot.
*** ARC ***
It is very important to have a release angle of at least 47%. The best shooters in the world, NBA players such as Kyle Korver, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Klay Thompson are consistently able to reach an arm angle of 47%, which is crucial to their success.
Remember, more arch means more margin for error. The less arc, the more precise the shot has to be.
Putting lots of arc on the ball takes practice. The mind naturally wants to shoot a low arching shot because it takes less effort and feels like it is easier to control. Make sure to put a good amount of arc on the ball, regardless of how awkward it feels at first.
*** THE LEGS AND SOFT MUSCLE ***
If you are having trouble getting enough power from long distance, use your legs more. If your shots are coming up short, either jump slightly higher or jump forward. Make sure your toes are pointed forward. If your toes are straight, the power will come from the strongest muscles of your legs: the glutes and hamstrings. (If the toes are pointed to the side, the power is coming from the adductor muscles, which aren’t as strong). This will give you the extra force you need. And, as important as anything else, do not be tense when you jump. The key to an athletic graceful jump: soft muscle, soft muscle, soft muscle.
Your legs serve as the base, so it is important to make sure that they are in the right position when you shoot.
You need to have perfect balance on your shot. Even on fade-aways and pull-up jumpers.
Your feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart, and your weight should be on the balls of your feet. The foot on your shooting side should be slightly forward.
If your weight is off balance, the shot will drift in the direction where most of your weight is shifted.
For example: If most of your weight is shifted onto your left foot, the shot will miss wide to the left. Naturally the shooter will try to adjust the shot to compensate, but this will lead to an awkward stroke that is difficult to replicate.
LeBron James has suffered from this habit. For years he used to lean to the left when he shot, which was why he was an inconsistent shooter for the first seven years of his career.
Once you catch the ball and gather to shoot, move the foot on your shooting side to a position that is at least equal to the other foot.
Remember, you need to have your shoulders squared up to the basket, and your hips should be pointed in the same direction as your shoulders. Use your feet to get into that position.
*** THE JUMP ***
The “jump” in “jumpshot” is extremely important. Ray Allen, for example, considers the lift in his jump to be the most important part of his shot. His struggles in the 2012 playoffs happened because of an ankle injury, which severely hurt his ability to elevate for his jump shot.
The jump does several things:
- Provides Power: This means you don’t have to use much muscle in your upper body, which makes the stroke very easy to replicate.
- Eliminates the defender’s contest: By elevating over the defender you eliminate the threat of getting your shot blocked, and you get a clear, unobstructed look at the rim.
- Quick release: Elevating high allows shooters to have a compact stroke while not losing any force.
Shooters can jump two different ways: either straight up and down, or slightly forward.
For wide-open, spot-up shots, it is generally better to jump forward because the forward momentum allows the shooter to put less force on the shot. The momentum of the body moving forward will provide the power for the shot.
However if there is a defender contesting the shot, the shooter may have to jump straight up, because there is no space between the shooter and his defender.
Beginners often have difficulty using their legs, which is understandable. It takes time and experience to learn how to synchronize a leap with the release. With a little practice, the timing will feel natural. But try not to think about the jump – that’s not the right kind of focus.
However it is very important to have this skill. Learn to shoot and adjust the force of the shot depending on how you jump.
The release should come at the apex of the jump. That means your extension should be complete at the height of the jump. It is of utmost importance that this release point be repeated at all times.
Because high elevation will reduce the amount of force needed on the shot, you will need to shorten the stroke to compensate.
Instead of starting with the ball low and swing it up to gain momentum, bring the ball up slightly higher than the “L” shape. From there you should shoot as you normally would.
Shooting off a jump may feel awkward at first, but in time you will master the rhythm and it will feel natural.
*** WRIST FLICK ***
The flick of the wrist is very important as well. It is what puts the finesse in the shot.
Your wrist should be bent back, with the ball in your finger tips, and you should flick your wrist when the arm is almost fully extended.
Your wrist should follow through at the same time as your elbow locks into place.
A common mistake is to flick the wrist before extending the arm. This is what makes Shawn Marion’s shot look so clunky.
Short-arming makes it difficult to put the right touch on the shot. Most short-armed shots are flat and clang off the back of the rim.
*** THE RELEASE AND FOLLOW-THROUGH ***
The follow-through shows how you released the ball. Hold your follow-through until the ball is through the net in order to make sure that you are focused on the shot.
Your mind learns from this. Every shot is a piece of data, and the mind notices the patterns in your makes and misses.
Make a shot and hold the follow through, and your brain will lock in that feeling of success (both the physical motion and the emotional reaction) so that you can repeat the success or learn from the failure. This is called anchoring.
When you release the ball, your index and middle fingers should be making a “peace sign” towards the basket. Use your thumb to stabilize the ball. Don’t move it when you release the shot.
The ring finger and pinky should be touching the ball, but should not be used in the release. Keep those two fingers loose, using those them as guides. The thumb, index, and middle finger are the shooting fingers.
Again, your follow through will tell you how you released the ball.
There are several different ways of following through. Choose whichever feels most comfortable.
Occasionally you should look at the ball’s rotation. Any flaws in your release will be visible in the rotation.
- If the ball is rotating sideways, you are using your pinky and ring finger too much.
- If the ball is rotating on a slight tilt, you are using either your index or middle finger too much.
- If the ball has no rotation, you need to cock your wrist back, and make sure you are holding the ball with the tips of your fingers and not your palm.
Backspin means the shooter has control of the shot. It also makes the ball more likely to go in, because the friction created when the ball hits the rim will slow the ball down, and let it drop nicely through the hoop.
Pure shooters often have this soft touch because of the arc and spin. Notice that players like Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson often leave free throws on the rim, but they roll in anyway.
*** OVERALL BODY TEMPO ***
As our friends at Basketball Brain say: your overall body tempo should be at a 7.5 out of 10. Sometimes shooters become too tense, and they overextend themselves which pulls the rest of the body out of the proper motion. Ironically enough, with shooting, “less is more.” It takes practice just to simplify everything into a calm, simple, and fluid motion. (Again: soft muscle, soft muscle, soft muscle.)
*** SUMMARY ***
To summarize the shooting stroke:
- Keep the elbow and ball in line with your foot, knee, and hip.
- Bring the ball to the “L” shape.
- Take the guide-hand off the ball.
- “Pop” the elbow straight up.
- Flick the wrist while extending your arm.
- Hold the follow-through until the ball is through the net.