How to Shoot a Free Throw
Free throws strip the game down to its essence with one player and one goal: put the ball in the hoop. Shooting a free throw consistently well often confounds some of the most physically talented players in the world (Ahem, Shaq and Dwight Howard). Free throw shooting is a blue-collar art, a combination of tireless work, concentration, and individual creativity.
1. Set your balance with a proper stance. Step up to the free throw line with your shooting foot (the foot that corresponds to your shooting hand) a few inches in front of your other foot, both feet about shoulder-width apart. Your shooting foot should point directly at the basket, lining your shooting arm up properly with the basket as well. Establishing a strong yet relaxed stance is crucial to a smooth shot at the stripe.
2. Find a shooting routine that feels comfortable. Dribble the ball a few times, spin it on your finger, blow kisses to the pretty girl in Row 4, whatever. Perform the same ritual every single time you step to the line. Part of shooting the perfect free throw relies on creating a certain unchanging rhythm for your shot. A ritual can stimulate muscle memory or the ability to perform the same task without much variation or error through many, many hours of practice. Routines help shooters relax through familiarity, making it easier to block out that obnoxious mascot shaking his huge foam head at you when the game's on the line.
3. Proper shooting grip. Make an L-shape with your shooting arm and rest the ball firmly but loosely on your fingertips, as if it were sitting on a pedestal. Your off hand should only touch the side of the ball, as a control to make sure the ball moves in one straight arc toward the basket.
4. Shooting motion. Bend your knees and channel all your momentum in one fluid motion. Start with your weight on the balls of your feet, then transfer all of that energy upwards through your hips, then your arms as they lift into the air to the apex of your reach. Stay balanced, but feel free to extend onto the tips of your toes at the end of your shot.
5. Follow through straight toward the basket with a strong flip of the wrist. There are plenty of ways to describe a good follow-through (two of the best ones are "putting your hand in the cookie jar" and "making the goose's neck"), but simply try to finish your shot with your arm extended and your hand high above and slightly in front of your head. Keep your eyes focused slightly above the front of the rim as you push the ball up and out to achieve a good sixty to seventy degree arc on your shot. Don't bring a protractor to the line, just imagine it. A high arc gives every near-miss a better chance of finding the bottom of the net.
Is there one perfect form of free throw shooting? No. Every player’s shooting ritual is a signature, something uniquely their own. For instance, twelve-time NBA All-Star Rick Barry achieved his .900 career free throw shooting average by shooting underhanded (or “granny-style” as every kid learns to call it on the playground). Karl Malone was often taunted by opposing teams and fans because he took almost 30 seconds on every free throw, uttering a prayer before he began his shooting motion. Perfection can take many forms, but it’s founded upon the same fundamental basics of good shooting.