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    May 17, 2014

    Mechanics of the Basketball Free Throw

    By Marion Alexander, PhD. & Dana Way, MSc

    The free throw is the single most important shot in the game of Basketball, as close to twenty per cent of all points in NCAA Division 1 Basketball are scored from free throws (Kozar, Vaughn, Lord, Whitfield, & Dve, 1994).  The shot becomes more important later in the game, as free throws comprise a significantly greater percentage of total points scored during the last 5 minutes than the first 35 minutes of the game for both winning and losing teams (Kozar et al., 1994). The free throw should be one of the easiest shots in basketball (Okubo & Hubbard, 2006), since the player is all alone, 15 feet from the basket, with no defense and no close distractions.  All the player has to do is get ready, aim, cock the ball and shoot.  A skilled intercollegiate team should shoot at least 80 per cent from the free throw line, but very few teams are able to accomplish this task.  Successful free throw shooting requires good concentration, but most importantly good mechanics in the shot.  However, good mechanics alone cannot account for success in shooting free throws.  (Kozar, Vaughn, Lord, & Whitfield, 1995) reported that practice free throw percentage for all free throws was significantly higher than game free throw percentage for an NCAA team over two seasons.

    There are two basic styles of free throw used in basketball- the overhand push shot and the underhand loop
    shot. (Rist, 2000) favored the underhand loop shot due to the steeper angle of entry and smaller drift of the ball from better stability provided by holding the ball with both hands and applying greater spin at release.  Greater spin caused the ball to rebound into the hoop more often than a shot with less spin (Reilly, 2006).  One of the reasons the technique is not commonly used is that there is no carry over to the game other than to free throws; while the push shot is used for many other shots in the game.  It also looks very different and unique and many players are concerned for their image while shooting (Reilly, 2006).  The underhand loop free throw shot has seldom been seen in recent years, but Rick Barry was an NBA hall of fame forward who had a career average of 90% using the underhand style (Okubo & Hubbard, 2006).

    This paper will focus on the push style of free throw as this is the commonly used technique for current players of the game.  The push free throw will be broken down into five basic phases as described in the Level I NCCP Coach Certification Program (Coaching Association of Canada, 1980); preliminary movements, backswing, force producing movements, critical instant and follow through. The free throw will be described here for the right handed player, although the some of the photos show a left handed shooter.  The subjects for this study were members of the University of Manitoba men’s and women’s basketball teams for the 2005 season who agreed to undergo a filmed skill analysis of their shooting and other basketball skills.  Informed consent was obtained from all athletes in the study prior to the filming and subsequent film analysis.  It should further be noted that female players use a slightly smaller basketball than the male players analyzed in this study.  It has been reported that the smaller basketball is easier to handle and shoot for weaker players (Juhasz, 1982).  The best trial for each athlete was selected for further analysis and breakdown, although it has been reported that there is little consistency is various measured angles for repeated trials in the free throw (Hayes, 1988).


    Biomechanics Laboratory
    316 Max Bell
    University of Manitoba

    Supported by:
    Bison Sports
    Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management
    University of Manitoba
    and
    Canadian Sport Center Manitoba

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