How to get better at shooting a basketball
By Gage Smith, Staff Writer
When you think of basketball, you think of shooting. More than ever before, excellent shooting is becoming an expectation of every player at every position. If you’re not a good shooter, it’s going to be an uphill battle to score, get playing time or move up to the next level (unless you absolutely dominate in another area).
If you’re looking to improve, there are two key ingredients: reps and technique. It is, in theory, possible to become a good shooter with bad form. Look at Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Shawn Marion or even Lonzo Ball (the jury is still out on him being a good shooter, but he has time). However, with good form, it takes a lot less time to improve, and your potential will be much higher.
Changing your form can be a huge undertaking, but I’m here to help you through it. You’ll just need to unlearn some bad advice and pick up on a few of these tips below. For each of them,, I’ll back it up with NBA examples.
The Terrible Advice that Just Won’t Die
If you’ve played organized basketball before, chances are extremely high that you’ve had a coach tell you to square up to the hoop when you’re shooting. That can mean a million different things, but typically they’ll tell you to point your chest and toes at the rim, keep your shoulders perpendicular to it and to tuck your elbow in when you shoot.
Don’t. I want you to imagine a rim in front of you right now and actually do this. Take yourself through the shooting motion. I bet you feel stiff and uncomfortable. Now, I want you to make an adjustment. Instead of squaring your chest and toes to the rim, tilt your shooting shoulder forward, and point your shooting arm, foot, and elbow to the imaginary rim and complete a shooting motion. It should feel a lot smoother and less mechanical.
This technique is called the tilt, and it’s a relatively new approach that’s contributed to the explosion of great shooters in the NBA. If you want to see it in action, check out the great Steph Curry, Damian Lillard or Jayson Tatum.
Doing this in-game has countless benefits, including giving you more arc on your shot (we’ll get into that later). But, in my opinion, the biggest benefit is the comfort. It makes shooting feel easy and more fun, and when you’re having fun with something, your motivation to practice it will skyrocket.
Give Wide Misses the Finger
When you miss a shot, it’ll be in one of three ways; short, long, or wide. If it’s short, you’ll want to put a bit more juice on the next one, and the opposite is true if it’s long. But what about if you miss wide?
Believe it or not, you should almost never be missing wide. You have much more control over the horizontal direction of the shot than you do the power of it, because the ball moves in the horizontal direction that the finger it comes off of is pointing. In other words, the last finger that touches the ball when you shoot has a ton of control over its left/right direction.
To take advantage of this, it’s important to be highly aware of which finger the ball comes off of when you shoot. It should always be either the middle or index finger. Now, simply make sure that finger is pointed straight at the rim when the ball leaves your hands.
The “one finger down” method, also known as “the finger”, can be used to keep your shot straight with a ton of consistency. Dirk Nowitzki used it throughout his career, and if you pay attention to his right hand when he shoots, you can see that his middle finger, and sometimes his ring finger, go down. He makes sure his middle finger is always straight and the ball always comes off of it, and he’s one of the greatest shooters of all time.
Many players use their shooting arm as their primary source of power, which is a very common mistake made at all levels. It’s a huge hindrance to players’ range, arc and shooting speed, and it makes your shot easier to block.
Using your shooting arm for power will give the jumpshot too much forward motion, making it flat. Shooting should be mainly an upward motion to give your shot as much of the rim as possible to pass through.
Here’s a quick exercise to understand the importance of arc: make a circle with your hand. First, look at it straight-on, with your thumb across from your face — not much of a hole. Now, tilt your hand so your index finger is above your thumb. Look at how much more of the hole you can see. That’s how much more space the ball is able to pass through when the shot comes from higher up.
The vast majority of your power should come from your legs. Getting a lot of lift on your jumpshot is critical, and you’ll get the most power and arc if you release at the peak of your jump.
Ray Allen, who has hit the most threes in NBA history, got an amazing amount of lift on every single shot. It definitely contributed to his all-time-great consistency.
Not every great shooter uses all of these shooting mechanics. In fact, almost all of them break at least one shooting “rule”. But, if you’re trying to improve, you can add these pieces to accelerate the process.
Even if you implement them perfectly, however, it won’t mean anything until you take thousands and thousands of shots. But that’s the fun part, right?