This game has always been, and will always be, about buckets.
Even though the above quote is from a Pepsi TV commercial, it is one of truest statements in basketball.
In my opinion, shooting has always been the most important skill in basketball. Dribbling, passing, defense, rebounding, etc., are all necessary of course, but if you can’t shoot, then you can’t score…and you can’t win.
This fact is more and more evident in today’s game. Guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, etc., have made people realize the power of great shooters. Now, even big men must be able to shoot the ball to be considered top players (e.g. Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic).
For me personally though, the most important reason to learn how to shoot is this:
Being able to shoot makes the game a lot more fun. 🙂
This step by step guide will help new players and remind the old about the fundamentals of shooting a basketball.
How to shoot a basketball step-by-step
When reading this guide, remember that everyone’s body is slightly different — hand size, arm length, body proportions, strength, etc. This means that each person’s shot will also look slightly different. The greatest shooters in history — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller — all have very different looking shots, so don’t worry if yours does not look the same. Focus instead on the fundamentals that make a great shooter.
1. The Hands
Two things are important when talking about the hands.
The first thing to know is that we only shoot the ball with one hand / one arm (usually your dominant hand). Your other hand (i.e. guide hand or off-hand) is only used to hold the ball steady as you shoot. Using one hand gives you more consistent aim, and control than a two-handed shot.
The second thing to know is the proper position of your hands on the ball, and the ball on your hands. Read on below!
Proper Hand Position
Place your shooting hand directly under the ball, and your other hand (i.e. guide hand) to the side as Kyrie Irving is doing above. This is your basic hand positions when shooting.
Make sure your fingers are spread out as much as possible, but not stretched to the extent that you feel tension in your hands.
The thumbs of your hands should form an imaginary “T” with each other (but not touching). It does not need to be a perfect T, and some people may see their hands in more of a “W” shape. See Steph Curry below:
Quick tip: To find the proper position of your shooting hand, place your index finger on the air hole of the basketball. Some people prefer placing their middle finger on the air hole or somewhere in between. You will find what works best for you when you start practicing shooting.
Ball position on hands
The weight of the ball should mainly be on your fingers and finger tips. This ensures a nice release and backspin when shooting. The ball should not touch your palm at all when releasing your shot, as you will lose spin and trajectory.
Some coaches go a step further, and say that the ball should never, ever touch your palm when shooting. This is good practice, but not entirely necessary. When setting up, and raising into your shot, it is fine to have the ball touch your palm. The most important thing is to have the ball come off your fingertips when releasing the ball, and not your palm. See Steph Curry video below as a good example.
2. Arm Position and Movement – The 90 degree rule
Now that we know how to hold the ball, lets go over the basic shooting arm position, with special attention on the elbow and wrist angles.
First, lets look at this GIF of Ray Allen’s beautiful shooting form.
Now, let’s break it down to into the shooting fundamentals.
a) Both hands are holding the ball in proper shooting position (thumbs forming imaginary “T”), as explained in part 1 of this article. The ball starts near the waist.
b) The angle between the forearm and the upper arm (i.e your elbow), should be bent to approximately 90 degrees.
c) The ball is then raised to near the forehead, or until your upper arm is at a 90 degrees to your body. As you raise the ball up, keep your elbow at 90 degrees the entire time. Don’t cock your forearm back any further (i.e. don’t decrease your elbow angle as you go up). It’s tempting, but don’t do it. You will lose control, and accuracy.
d) Right before you begin to release the ball, the angle between your upper arm and hand (i.e.your wrist) should be bent at 90 degrees towards you.
At this point, we are at the magical 90-90-90 position. Your upper arm is 90 degrees to your body; your upper arm and forearm form a 90 degrees angle; your forearm and wrist form a 90 degree angle.
e) In one motion, extend your arm upwards at 45-50 degree angle, and flick your wrist downwards to release the ball. Remember to release the ball off your fingertips, not your palm! It should feel like the ball is mainly coming off your first two or three fingers (index, middle, ring).
Flicking your wrist and releasing off your fingertips will give the ball backspin. This gives the ball a better chance of going in if its hits the rim or backboard. Also known as “shooter’s touch”, or “shooter’s roll”.
f) After you release the ball, hold your shooting arm and guide hand in the final position. This is called follow-through. Your shooting arm should be basically in line with the basket. If not, then you probably didn’t shoot straight. Practicing holding your follow-through will help you learn your mistakes, and build a more consistent shot.
g) When finishing your shot, the elbow of your shooting arm should be around your eye level, or just above your eye. This means you shot the ball with enough arc. Shooting with too much arc will make it more difficult to aim. Shooting with too little arc will give you a much smaller chance of going in, even if aimed straight. The perfect shooting arc depends on your height, shot speed, distance from basket, and other factors.
If you are really interested in finding your perfect shooting angle/arc, you can check out this scientific study by Dr. Frank K. Lin. Or, you can just practice until you find yours.
3. How to Aim – Finding Your Shot Line
The most important thing when learning to shoot, is the ability to shoot straight. Once you can consistently shoot straight, you just need to adjust your power and arc. This is relatively easy to fix. If you are consistently missing left or right, there is something fundamentally wrong with your aim and form. So, how do you shoot straight?
The most important thing to learn is the ability to shoot straight.
a) The first step to shooting straight is to find your dominant eye. This is the eye you will aim with. People are either left-eye dominant or right-eye dominant.
To find your dominant eye, choose a target about 20-30 feet away — if you are on a basketball court, just stand at the 3-point line, and use the hoop as a target. Make a circle with your hands and put the target in the middle of the circle. First, close your left eye. If the target jumps out of view, then you are left eye dominant. If the target does not move, then you are right eye dominant. See the video below for visual explanation.
b) Create your shot line.
If you are right handed, and right-eye dominant, line the hoop up with your right eye. Since you need your right eye to aim, your shot line will be just to the right of your right eye, or in line with your shoulder.
If you are right handed, and left-eye dominant (like me), your shot line will move slightly more towards the center of your body / face. You can try lining the hoop up with your nose. The ball should completely cover your entire right eye as you raise up through your shooting motion.
Nobody is 100% right or left-eye dominant, so everyone’s optimal shot line will vary slightly.
c) When shooting, the ball should move straight up your shot line. The ball should start on your shot line, move up your shot line, and finish on your shot line (hopefully in the basket).
Your head should also not move when shooting. This ensures you shoot straight consistently. After some practice, you should be able to shoot straight 80% of the time. If you find yourself adjusting / twisting your head for aim while shooting, then it probably means you have chosen the wrong dominant eye/shot line.
A cool experiment to try is to close one of your eyes and shoot. If you are left eyed dominant, close your left eye, and try aiming with only your right eye — you will find it very difficult to shoot straight!
Note: You need two eyes open to better judge distances (i.e. triangulate).
4. The Shoulders and Feet
I find that the optimal position of the shoulder and feet really differ per player. It depends a lot on each individuals body, shot line, and individual preferences.
Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart, or a bit wider. This makes sure you are balanced, and allows you to jump effectively. Too narrow, and you will find it hard to balance, especially if you are shooting off the move. Too wide, and you will find it difficult to jump.
Your dominant foot should also be slightly in front of your other foot. So, if you shoot with your right hand, then your right foot will be slightly in front of your left foot.
b) Angle of feet and shoulders
Old school coaches say that the shoulder and feet should always be squared and pointed towards the basket when shooting. This is true for some players, but wrong for many. It tends to works very well for granny shots.
For most players, it is better, and more natural, to have their feet at a bit of an angle when shooting. If you are right handed, your feet will angle a bit to the left. Since you shoot with only one arm, it makes sense for the body to be turned a bit so that your shooting shoulder/arm/hand is directed towards the basket. I think it also has a lot to do with eye-dominance. I find that cross-eyed shooters (i.e. left eye dominant / right handed) will have a more pronounced angle. This helps put their shot line in line with the basket without the need to adjust head position. Right hand/right-eyed shooters will tend to more square, but still have a slight angle.
Many people will start with their feet pointed straight, then twist a bit in the air as they shoot and finish with their feet at an angle. The body will naturally turn as the shooting arm extends towards the basket to relieve tension.
You will need to experiment a bit to see what works best for you. Whatever feet angle you choose, the most important thing is still for the ball to follow your shot line as mentioned in the previous section. Allow your feet and shoulder to naturally follow. Often, in the midst of action, you will not have time to get exact footing anyways.
5. Using your legs, and putting it all together
We now know how to hold the ball, position/move our arms, aim the ball, and angle our feet/shoulders. Finally, it’s time to add our legs into the equation, and put it all together into one fluid shot motion.
We will use the same Ray Allen video example as in Part 2 (arm position and movement). This time, let’s focus on the legs.
a) As you load your shot, and bring the ball down near your waist, your knees should also bend down preparing to jump.
b) As the ball progresses up through your shot line, you should extend your legs upwards at the same rate. Try to jump straight up and down as much as possible, not backwards or forwards.
c) Optimally, the ball should be released just as your reach the peak of your jump. If you did not actually jump in the air (i.e. shooting a free throw, or set shot), then the ball should be released just as your legs reach full extension, and you are on your toes.
Don’t release the ball as you are coming down, or you will lose a lot of power, and overcompensate by trying to use strength in your arms which will throw off your shot.
You also do not need to try to jump as high as possible when shooting. Ray Allen jumps quite high on his shot, but many great shooters (e.g. Steph Curry, Damian Lillard) usually do not jump very high at all.
The most important thing is to have have your legs move in sync with your arms throughout the shot motion. As your arms are down, your legs are bent. As your arms begin move up, you begin to extend your legs. As you fully extend your shooting arm and release the ball, your legs are also fully extended and at the peak of your jump. It should be one smooth motion.
You will notice that the best shooters are so smooth that it looks like their legs and arms are completely in sync.
The worst shooters have a noticeable hitch as their legs fully extend way before releasing their shot or they release their shot before their legs extend.
Tips, Things to avoid, Common mistakes
Here are some final tips and reminders to remedy common mistakes made when shooting a basketball.
- Use your legs for distance, not your arms — To increase distance on your shot, you need to use more force from your legs, as well as increasing the speed at which you shoot, while still maintaining the same proper form and motion as before. Many players make the mistake of trying to push the ball harder with their arms, or launching the ball from their waist. This screws up your form and is not a good habit to build. Build your range up slowly. Don’t worry if you can’t shoot threes right away. Your shooting muscles and coordination will develop over time to help increase your range.
- Avoid negative motion — Negative motion is when at the top of your shot, your forearm cranks back a little bit more to launch the ball like a catapult. Many players have this problem, including pros. This tends to happen a lot when players try to shoot too far out of their range. Negative motion actually decreases your shot power, as well as accuracy. Avoid this by remembering to always keep your forearm and upper arm locked at a 90 degree angle until you extend to release.
- Your off hand / guide hand is only to support the ball. Avoid the temptation to shoot the ball with two hands. Using one hand helps you build more consistent aim.
- Relax. This is a very important tip that many people forget to talk about. Basketball is as much mental as it is physical. Remember to relax your body and mind when you shoot. If your body is tense, and your mind is stressed, then you won’t be able to shoot. Especially remember to relax your shoulders, as they are usually the first part of your body to tense up when shooting under pressure. You will notice all the greatest shooters (Curry, KD, etc.) look super relaxed when bombing away.
Basic Shooting Drills
These three basic drills will help you practice the fundamentals that we have just learned.
One hand shot
Player needs to stand close to the basket and to hold a ball in one hand. The off hand should be behind the back. Then, without a jump, go through the shooting routine and make a shot
This drill helps you focus on your shooting hand position, and the mechanics of the shooting arm. Because you are not using the off hand, all of the attention is on what the shooting hand is doing.
Take the same position as in the first drill, but this time there is some action with the off hand. In this drill, you are doing a mimic of a real shot, but instead of holding the ball with both hands, the off hand is going the same way but without touching the ball.
Again, player is shooting without taking a jump. This drill is making your body remember witch hand is the leader and which one is there to help.
Around the world
Now that you have got your hands in the right positions, it’s time to practice a full shot motion.
Start on one side of the key, and shoot at 7 different positions around the key until you are on the opposite side that you started from. If the free throw line is too far for you right now, just take a step or two in, until you are at a comfortable range. Don’t worry about distance right now, but instead focus on having proper form.
Use everything we learnt today — hands, arm position, stance, and shot motion. Try to put it all together into one smooth shot. Focus on your form, not on makes/misses for now.
If possible, record yourself shooting, so that you can see if there are any obvious mistakes happening.
This is just the beginning. In later articles, I will look to improve your shooting range (3 pointers!), as well as more advanced techniques like shooting off screens and shooting off the dribble.
What did you think about this guide? Feel free to ask any questions, or add other tips that can help players improve their shooting.