Being able to shoot a free throw in basketball can mean the difference between winning and losing a game. How many times have you heard your coach say, “We could have won if we had just hit our free throws” or, “We definitely pulled out that win at the free throw line tonight”? Hopefully your coach was pleased that you won, but if you’re losing games because of poor free throw shooting you definitely need to start working on fixing the problem.
Shooting a free throw is actually one of the easier shots in the game of basketball. The hardest part is figuring out your rhythm and getting into a groove. Once you’ve figured out exactly how you like to take your shot things get much easier. The hardest part after getting your rhythm down is learning to block out all the people who will be screaming at you as you take your shot. But no worries! Below, Micheal Jordan will give you some tips on how to master your free throw shot and take you from shooting like Shaq to shooting like Ray Allen.
Just in case you’re curious:
Shaq free throw precentage: 52.7% (source: ESPN.com)
Ray Allen free throw percentage: 89.4% (source: ESPN.com)
You can find a video transcript below if you’re interested.
Basketball Free Throw Tips and Technique – Michael Jordan
A couple of quick notes on the video:
MJ mentions several points on the rim that you can focus on. The point that I had the most success with was focusing on putting my hand in the rim. Every time I would shoot the basketball I pretended like I was trying to dip my hand into the basketball hoop. This goes for free throws as well as every other shot.
Another point is that when you take your shot, be sure to keep your hand up in the air on your follow through. If you immediately take your hand down after your shot you’ll lose a lot of accuracy. So, always keep your hand up in the follow through position until you’re sure that ball is going in. Try it, you’ll notice a difference!
Finally, try to develop a ritual like Michael has. You’ll be surprised at how much your free throw shooting improves once you’ve figured out your own ritual. Some people like to dribble the ball 5 times before they shoot. Others don’t like to dribble at all. It doesn’t really matter. Just find whatever makes you comfortable and stick with it.
I hope you enjoyed the video! If you have any questions please leave a comment at the end of the page.
Begin video transcript
(0:00) Free throw shooting. Let’s start with free throw shooting. As we all know, free throw shooting seems to be easy because of the word “free”. But, it’s not. It’s probably one of the most difficult shots that you can make on the basketball court, mainly because there is no defense. So, when there is no defense the focus begins with yourself. You have to somehow find a way to get yourself comfortable, understand the fundamentals of the shot, and then step to the free throw line and make the shot.
Now, there are a lot of other factors that play into free throw shooting. You have your mind, basically fighting itself to go through the fundamentals. Then you have the fans and the expectation of making the free throw shot. So, the simple thing that you should think about when you get to the free throw line is to be comfortable.
(0:48) Now we are going to go over the fundamentals of what it takes to shoot a free throw. They are very basic. When we talk about basic we talk about the things that can be carried from the free throw shot to any shot on the basketball court. It’s only focused on when you’re at the free throw line because it is a “free” shot and everybody is just focusing on you. That’s probably why it makes it more difficult to make a free throw shot.
(1:11) So when I step to the free throw line some of the things that I think about is the fundamentals of the shot, but at the same time, to get myself relaxed and go through the rhythms of the things that I’ve been practicing away from the game situation. And that’s why when you’re practicing your free throw you should always have the mental thought of a game so that when the time comes within a game you’re relaxed, and everything comes to you very easily. A lot of inhibitors are out there, from the fans, to the mascots waiving their hands, or to the other players talking to you while you’re trying to focus on the shot. But as a free throw shooter, you gotta be able to focus on the job itself in order to make the shot.
(1:50) So the first thing is to try to get my base set. I also try to get shoulder width apart with my legs or with my feet. 9 times out of 10 my right foot is going to be ahead of my left mainly because that’s a certain comfort level. A lot of times players come in and they try to be parallel, or if they’re left-handed they try to put their left foot forward…which is all fine and good. The most important thing is to try and get a balance.
(2:12) Once I get my balance, everything starts from that point forward. I go through my ritual which is: I spin the ball, dribble three times, and I spin it again. Then I feel like I’m comfortable and I’m ready to go through with the shot. So as I go through my ritual I spin it, spin it again, and now I’m starting to focus on my target.
(2:33) There are three focal points that people try to teach. When you follow through with the shot you’re either reaching for the rim, reaching your hand inside the rim, or reaching to the back of the rim.
(2:42) Now when you think about shooting, the first thing you want to think about is getting the ball on your fingertips. “Fingertips” meaning you got space between the ball and the palm of your hand. The reason that you don’t have it on your palm is because once it gets on your palm you cannot control the basketball. When it’s on your fingertips you have better control of the basketball.
Now if you’re a right-handed shooter, your left hand is primarly going to be used as a guide. If you feel like your left hand is shooting the basketball, 9 times out of 10 you’re going to be a two-handed shooter, and I don’t know how accurate you can be with a two-handed shot.
(3:18) So, once I go back to my balance, getting my feet set and going through my ritual, now I got my fingertips, my target and my L shape of my arm pointing toward the target. The ball is just a little bit off to the right of my face and I see the target. Now I continue with my shot.
When I’m continuing on with my shot I’m taking all my motion from my feet all the way through to my fingertips and going straight at the target.
(3:45) So let’s try one. Go through my ritual, I got my balance, I see my target and I follow through. Now in following through, you’re going to use your thumb, middle and index fingers to shoot the basketball. If your other two fingers come into play you’ll be shooting with a different rotation than what’s taught. What’s taught is to try to have the correct backspin, where the ball is going end over end. If it’s spinning to the side you’re probably using your two other fingers a lot more than you should. That makes a difference when you’re up there at the rim and the ball starts bouncing around. If you have the correct spin your shot is more likely to bounce into the basketball hoop.
(4:30) (MJ demonstrates his shot again) You always try to finish on your toes. You’re finishing on your toes because you’re carrying every bit of energy towards that target, and that’s important. It’s hard to shoot if you’re going to be falling back, left or right. So, you want to take all your energy toward that target.
(4:54) Now another thing is, you always want to maintain a certain focus with the rim. Understand what you’re going to do, where you’re shooting it and maintain all the confidence you have. Now, if you don’t have the confidence that you can make a free throw, when you’re shooting free throws, if you’ve got negative thoughts negative things will happen. If you’ve got positive thoughts, positive things will happen. If you practice your free throws as often as you probably should, when it comes to the game you’ll have a certain confidence and a certain comfort level and you’ll make your free throw shots.
Believe me, shooting free throws demands a lot of work mainly becuase it’s not actually “free”. Anything that’s free is always difficult. Haven’t your parents ever told you that, “If it comes free, you’re not putting forth the effort”? You want to put forth the effort so that if it does come free, you’ve worked hard enough that your response is going to be something that you’re very comfortable with.