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Man Up: How to Shoot the Perfect Free Throw

This year, the catnip phrase “worst free-throw shot of all time” has been getting a lot of play. First it was the 7-foot center from Appalachian State whose free throw last December fell about 10 feet short of the rim, only to be topped two months later by a Columbus State guard who somehow managed to get a finger caught in her nose while shooting from the charity stripe. These epic fails got us thinking: It’s time to go back to the fundamentals and explain how to shoot the perfect free throw. It’s a skill every guy should know—even if you’re not a ball player. Here’s how it’s done.


Most players place themselves in the middle of the free-throw stripe and then position the ball, so they end up turning their body at an awkward 30- to 45-degree angle to the rim. A better approach: lining up the ball—not your body—with the rim, which means your body is slightly left of center (or right, if you're a lefty). This positioning minimizes left-to-right movement, which will reflect a more consistent shot. (Guys like Kevin Durant are obvious counters to this rule, but we can’t all be Kevin Durant.)


Because a foul shot is completely uncontested, a big preaching point is having a solid routine. Every time Ray Allen takes a free throw, he follows the same progression: He spins the ball in his hands, bounces it three times, spins again, and shoots. He’s made 89 percent of his career attempts. Relying on a ritual that you’ve already gone through a thousand times (hopefully) will relax you before you take the actual shot.


Balance the ball not on your palm, but on the tips of your fingers in your shooting hand, specifically the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers. There should be a little pocket of space between your palm and the ball, and when you release, those three fingers should be the last to touch the ball, giving it a perfect backspin. (A great backspin causes the ball to “die” when it hits the rim, giving it a better chance of going in.)


What’s left is the tried and true BEEF: Balance, Eye on target, Elbow straight, Follow through. The balance depends a lot on what you’re comfortable with—as long as you’re lining up the ball—not your body—with the rim. A lot of guys take their eye off the target—the rim—and look at the ball as soon as it’s released. It’s hard to resist, but that sudden jerk of the head can cause an inconsistency in the uncoiling of the shot. So: Keep your eyes on the rim. The elbow should be as close to perpendicular to the ground as you’re comfortable with, and in-line with the rim. Finally, follow through, which should feel like the natural end point of the fluidity of energy from your feet through your fingertips.

Dacus Thompson


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