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Science has determined the best free throw shooting mechanics

Using multiple studies, the art of shooting freebies is broken down.

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NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t rush out to copy the one-handed form of our dear Jeremy Sochan, because the perfect antidote to anyone’s free throw shooting woes has been determined by science.

Using studies spanning multiple decades, the above linked article lists several traits that the best free throw shooters share. Unsurprisingly, those who had more control over their shooting motion converted the highest percentage of shots from the line. Not exactly groundbreaking news, to be sure. However, some of the other nuances involved are interesting.

For one, a study conducted some twenty years ago showed that a perfect free throw involves a 3 hertz backspin on the ball and a launch that is roughly 52 degrees. Moreover, players should aim at the back of the rim instead of the front. The latter point is especially surprising because the common sentiment in basketball seems to be that hitting the front has a better chance of going in due to the ball’s forward momentum.

Another surprising finding is that there seems to be no kinematic difference in shots between good and bad free throw shooters. Something that should be considered, though, is forearm position: good shooters usually position their forearm almost parallel with an imaginary lateral axis. As the study states in its abstract:

Positioning the forearm parallel, or close to parallel, with an imaginary vertical line during the preparatory phase of the shooting motion accounted for 23.9% of the total variance and was associated with a greater number of made shots.

Lastly, using 34 participants who have played at least four years of basketball, a new study found that there isn’t a strong correlation between a player’s strength and their free throw shooting. With that said, this doesn’t mean that strength isn’t a factor, but just that there are other elements to free throw shooting that also need to be considered. Other factors that contribute to good free-throw shooting include a higher release point with the player’s trunks leaning forward less when the ball is released.

So, what does this all mean? My two cents is that coaches should focus more on improving a player’s overall body control rather than forcing them to adhere to a specific shooting form — everyone is different, and letting players stick to what feels the most natural to them might have the greatest benefits. Even so, assuming this isn’t too far out of anyone’s comfort zone, coaches can still try and get their players to focus on releasing the ball high while keeping their forearms parallel with an imaginary axis.

And hey, if all else fails, then shooting one-handed is always an option.