Developing Your Jump Shot

by Coach Brett Ayers email the author at

I think one of the things so many folks who either are learning to shoot or critiquing a shooter seem to over look is that a good, even great shot is found in a shooter's legs and the base they create when shooting. If you look, for example, at David Blumenthal, his shooting inconsistencies stem from three things, but the first and most important is his base. Too often he catches the ball and brings his feet to close together. When trying to figure out what the proper base a good rule to remember is first you need to be comfortable with your base. Second, make sure that no matter how you catch the ball that you are on balance. The best way to assure this is to work on shooting the ball with your feet two to three inches wider than shoulder width. Having your feet a bit wider than your shoulders will give you the kind of balance that will allow you to get the shot off with some consistency and balance even when being hit while going into the shot and or releasing the shot.

The second thing having a wider base assures you of is good leg involvement in your shot. To often you see kids shoot with their upper bodies. This usually means they dip the ball before shooting and or use an unorthodox release that either takes time and or takes away from the accuracy of their shot. One of the most important aspects of basketball is understanding that it is played from your mid stomach down, not your chest up. I have said this when talking about posting up, but it certainly applies here and that is when you get this good wide base you need to tell yourself and or your players to "sit down". Drop your ass because it will get you both better timing and better rise and lift on the shot. "Sitting down" is crucial in all things basketball related.

The next thing to keep in mind when working on your shot or looking at another player shoot is their positioning of the ball. There is a thing that some might have heard of before and many coaches refer to it, that is the "shooting pocket". That is the when a player gets the ball teed up, so to speak to shoot it. That is the area slightly off the nose, depending upon whether your or right or left handed, and around the shoulder area.

A key to remember with getting the ball in the shooting pocket is to form what looks like the letter "U" when you bring it up to shoot. You should see that the wrist is cocked back and the ball is behind the elbow. One of the things to also remember is to not get the ball with this "U" to far out because it creates balance problems and with tightness in the shoulders that will make the shot one mostly of arms and not of legs.

When you get the shooting "U" and get the ball up into the "shooting pocket" it is key to have your head and back relaxed. When you make the motion of "rocking the ball" into the shooting pocket the only things that should move are your arms. Your head should remain still and focused on your target and back forward into the shot. Once again to use Blumethal as an example, he tends to rock the ball up into the pocket but at the same time he leans his head back. In doing this he brings his shoulders back. What folks forget is that the head can weigh between 7 to 10 pounds and when you move that caba melon back you really throw your balance back a lot. This is why UNC's Brian Morrison has a poorly timed shot, at times, shooting it on the way down. When he does this he has to compensate for the bad timing on his shot delivery by using his arms and throwing the ball to much even though he is often way off the ground.

The next crucial thing to look at when either developing a shot and or critiquing one is the grip the shooter takes. Often you see kids will go to extremes either setting the ball on their palm, a la Tayshaun Prince from Kentucky, which leads to a flatter shot and less touch on the shot because of either no rotation or an awkward rotation or they tend to try to palm the ball. Palming usually gives you a sideways spin and or a knuckle ball depending upon how you release the ball. Tim Hardaway has a knuckleball release.

The proper grip to get is one where you have pressure, but not trying to palm it. A key here is to have side pressure on the ball with your thumb and not have front palming pressure with the thumb. A good thing to look for is the formation of a "U", again, with your thumb and the finger over from it on your shooting hand. Do not have your fingers stretched to far and certainly do not have them bunched up.

When putting your off hand on the ball here is another tried and tested method of doing this. It is called the shooting "T" that you form with the thumbs on both hands. Your off hand's thumb should be put on the ball totally perpendicular to the thumb of your shooting hand. This forms a sort of disconnected "T" and they should be about two inches apart.

Once you have the base down, the grip and shooting "U" down the next thing to look at and or work on is the mechanics of starting the shot and the timing needed to shoot the ball.

It has been phrased to me this way before, and I find it to be rather easy to remember, "Rock, cock and fire." With this motion order in place you will find that you can get the desired result of shooting the ball on the way up, not on the way down and that you will have an easier time subsequently of getting your shot off a lot quicker and with greater ease with a defender near your or even right in your mug. A guy who was great at this, yet only got over the Sunday paper so to speak when jumping up for his shot was Lenny Wilkens. He used to tell the story at his camp in Seattle that my pops used to work at about being asked how a guy who could not jump very well could get his shot off so easily. He said it was all about timing and shooting the ball on the way up and keeping the ball up high in the shooting pocket and not having a lot of wasted motion with his arms in his shot.

By rocking, you bring your knees forward and you "sit your ass down". Then you cock by bringing the ball up and or if you receive it on the pass you bring right to the shooting pocket with the "U", wrist cocked back and good, but not suffocating, finger pressure. When you get the ball into this position a great way to check if a kid and or you is getting the good grip is to check for light and spacing through your fingers on your shooting hand. Often I would get the ball to this place when playing in games and the basket would be for a split second somewhat invisible to my right eye. (I am a righty) But, when someone would grab me I could still see the basket with my right eye through the spaces between my fingers. Sounds funny but you shoot 500 jumpers a day from the age of 10 on you gain such abilities.

After you have rocked your legs under the ball that you have cocked back, you then jump up and fire the shot. The next thing to think about when shooting and or your shot proper is the release.

The proper jump shot is shot with one hand, not two as it used to be back in the old days. The shooting hand will lift the ball up while the guide hand will be taken away from the ball when the ball is about five to seven inches above the shooters eyes. The shooting hand continues to lift the ball up in a straight line off of the shooters eyes while the ball begins to roll off the fingers coming off primarily the first two fingers on the hand. You will sometimes see shooters lose their grip as the shot begins and they will role the ball off of their hand in a funny way, never the same from shot to shot. This will have on very damaging affect, it will send the shot all over the place, never allowing for the shot to be right on but either short and or long.

The shooting arm extends up off of the right eye straight up, not bent but straight and the hand comes up and over finishing with the shooting wrist bent over as if the shooter is reaching into the rim like it is a cookie jar. The next thing to look for and or remember is that the shooting arm's elbow should almost always end up above the shooters eyes. When having that good timing on a shot a shooters arms become nothing more than a vehicle by which to deliver the ball. The arms will not be a primary power source. They usually only become that if the legs are not used or the shooter is shooting on the way down. The further out a shooter goes from the hoops the further down the elbow will be on release. Though it should never fall below the eyes.

If a shooter has a flat shot it is for one of three reasons. He is either not lifting his elbow up above his eyes. Or he is shooting off of his palm and or he is shooting on the way down and not on the way up thus losing whatever power he has gained from his legs.

Two other factors to keep in mind are these.

I remember Jerry West likening his approach to shooting to have two rubber bands attached to his shoulders. When he did not get his shoulders squared to the rim one of the rubber bands would snap thus throwing him out of balance when shooting the ball. His legs could be flying every which way, but his shoulders are something he always got squared. The Zeke from Cabin Creek knew a little bit about shooting the rock.

The next thing I would also put forward is what is your target as a shooter? I see a lot of kids, once again using Brian Morrison as an example, of someone who watches the ball as soon as they release the ball instead of keeping their eyes on the rim. When you pull your eyes off to watch the ball right away often you will pull your head back thus throwing your balance all off and leaning your shoulders back and all of the timing of the shot is no good. Keep those eyes fixed, most preferably on a spot on the back of the rim.

Well, that is very long, very drawn out, but hopefully some of you will enjoy it and perhaps get some use out of it. Once again, as I have always said, feel free to e mail me with questions and or comments.