Featured Shooting Articles by Tom Nordland
What Can Be Done With Free Throws?
Note: This article was written by Tom Nordland in March 1998 for The Basketball Highway website www.bbhighway.com. Tom is a Shooting Coach living in northern California. You may also find this article on his website at www.swish22.com under "Articles/Reviews.")
To order Tom's video, Swish - A Guide to Great Basketball Shooting, click here.
Articles by Coach Nordland featured on this site:
It's well known that shooting has been declining in the game of basketball for the past 20 years or more. In the first article of this series I wrote for the Basketball Highway called " The Trouble With Shooting" , I wrote about shooting in general and jump shots in particular and offered some suggestions. This time I want to focus on shots from the free stripe.
This article was inspired by a friend, Coach Paul Rundell, head coach for 17 years at San Francisco State and now a volunteer coach at Stanford University. He told me he was disgusted by the state of free throwing in the game today. He couldn't believe what he is seeing. Many players seem to have "no clue" as to how to put the ball in the basket consistently. It's perplexing because of these obvious reasons:
"Why can't players shoot free throws better?" Paul asked.
70% is considered quite good these days
Free Throws are Critical
Teams Who Can Shoot Rise to the Top
Statistics from the Professionals
Stories of failure from the line are shocking:
In the "NBA Rim Shots" feature of the Sports Page of the San Jose Mercury News for March 5th, there was this item. In a recent game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76er Derrick Coleman "went 9 for 9 from the free-throw line, and his teammates were 10 for 24." The team shot 19 for 33 for 57.6% overall. Derrick was 100%, his teammates, 41.7%.
Why the discrepancy in performance levels?
Here are some of the reasons for the poor shooting:
1. Many people believe it's "mental": A lack of confidence,
concentration, trust, etc.
2. Lack of practice
3. Lack of Effective Coaching
I'm sure all coaches coach the "Fundamentals" of the free throw - all the physical and mental preparation (where to stand, what to look at, etc.), the "static" information - but many have to leave it at that since they don't know how to coach control of ball flight. And since coaches have very limited time and a huge number of other things to coach, shooting gets short shrift out of necessity.
4. Ineffective Shooting Styles
In my work with players and watching games, most Releases I see consist of a throwing, slinging or flipping motion with arms, hands and fingers. And most players do not use the upward force of the legs and body to propel the shot. Some even stop all body/leg motion and shoot only with the upper body. I assume they think that by isolating the shot to just the arms, wrists and hands they can minimize muscle action and improve their chances. There's some logic to it, but from my experience, just the opposite is true. The powerful lower body muscles give stability and upward action, and the fast-twitch upper body muscles cause variability and a lower, flatter arch. Because Patrick Ewing stops his lower body and shoots only with an upper body catapult action, I do not believe he'll ever shoot better than 75%. (In December, when he went in for surgery on his right wrist, he was shooting 72%. The fact that he shoots even that high is a tribute to his coordination and his powers of concentration.)
Shaq O'Neal told Chris Meyers on the TV program Up Close recently that all he feels he needs to do is "...concentrate and take my time." But Shaq's motion is so flawed that concentration and time will not solve his problem. His shot is so flat and "hot," so understabilized, he constantly sabotages himself. A shot coming in very flat has a tiny, unforgiving target. Shaq needs remarkable precision to make a high percentage of shots. That's why he might make 7 for 10 one game and then 4 for 9 or 5 for 12 the next. He needs a major overhaul in how he uses his lower and upper bodies.
A "Guessing Game"
I can tell you what will work, and my "Swish" video can give you a specific, simple way to learn it, but you are going to have to put in the hours and attention you need to develop a great shooting style and touch. You need to want it, and make the commitment to spend as much time as possible to master the shot. The method I talk about does not take thousands of hours. In fact, results will be immediate, though the learning to do it under pressure and make it automatic take some time. As an example of how simple it is, I just got a letter from a man in Mississippi who bought "Swish" for his 14 year old son, Hunter. They went to the gym the next day and... "After he experienced the idea of letting the effort come from his jump, while keeping his release effortless and "pure," I had trouble getting him to leave the gym. Hunter plans to work on the Swish method all summer, and, it's early yet, but half the battle is having the student believe in the method."
And a final note: For Item 3 above, the mental stuff, you don't have try to psyche yourself into high performance. Concentration, confidence, etc. will develop naturally when you start to drop the shots effortlessly and consistently.
How can Free Throws be a "Sure Thing"?
Obviously the distance to the basket never changes. That's a given. Secondly, you can develop a constant body/leg action I call UpforceT that sends the ball the same approximate distance every time. Third, you can develop a Release motion that is also a constant. If the wrist, hand and fingers of the shooting hand are totally relaxed during the Release and Follow Through, then you've minimized variables. Lastly you will determine a constant arch for your shot through practice. Aim to have it quite high, thus requiring a solid, deliberate UpForceT action. This completes the puzzle.
Make it a Push instead of a Throw
A Simple Formula:
Constant UpForceT + Constant Release + Constant Arch = 13' 9" (dead center)
It's then no longer a guessing game! You just "DO" your practiced and memorized free throw motion and the ball will fly approximately the same every time. Height can be the final adjustment, like a Pressure Valve, taking into account fatigue, excitement, etc.
When you can do these things, free throws become easy. You'll be able to close your eyes and hit a fairly high percentage. Because you shoot upward instead of horizontally, the target is large and forgiving and your shots come in soft and high. Also, with a totally relaxed wrist, hand and fingers action, direction becomes more consistent ? the ball goes wherever you point and straighten your arm.
The Free Throw is a "Snap"
Then the only thing to attend to is distance, and that's a function of height or arch. It, too, will be approximately the same every time, but it can vary if you're tired or if adrenalin is flowing and you've got extra power. You will "know" how to adjust height instinctively, from practice and trust. It's quickly figured out.
Remember this is not Rocket Science. It's elementary Physics! You do this action and the ball goes that distance in that direction ... every time! Anyone can do it. It takes all the Guessing out of this. And free throws become easy.
An NBA Success
I hope you can see that all you need do is understand and learn some simple stuff. When your actions are accurate, consistent and predictable, the free throw becomes a "Sure Thing." No big deal! 75% will be a minimum and 80% or 90% or higher is within your grasp. It is no longer a Guessing Game, and you'll rise to the top of your team as a shooter. You might even be called on to shoot those "Technical" fouls for the team since you're now the cool player under pressure.
If you'd like more details and coaching on how to do all this, order my video"Swish - A Guide to Great Basketball Shooting," It's a 50-minute full instructional video that shows you how to use this method with both jump shots and free throws. It also teaches you how to coach others in the skill. It contains a fairly long section on free throws like I've described here, including an important Check List. Bill Sharman, Boston Celtic legend and one of the greatest free throw shooters of all times said this is "...one of the best shooting videos I've ever seen," and he especially liked how I coach free throws. Visit my Web Site at http://www.swish22.com to get more details, read other testimonials, and see how to order it. At the bottom of my Home Page you will see a link to a 1,000 word Review of the video done by Alan Lambert, President of the Basketball Highway. Thanks to Alan for the opportunity to offer my approach to becoming a great free thrower.
Good luck! Drop an Email or write/call me with your successes. I'd love to hear from you.
P.S. An Example of an Exercise from my video:
The rim has an inside diameter of 18". If you stand 9" forward of the free throw line and do your usual free throw motion, your 13' 9" shot will go past dead center and hit the back of the rim and rebound back to you. This is because you're sending the ball exactly 9" too long (or close to it) every time. Do this on purpose to practice distance control.
Then move back 9" of the line and shoot and your shot will hit the front of the rim every time. This is a way to practice consistency! Don't adjust to try to make the shot. Just keep firing the same motion and you'll see you are learning very powerful control of ball flight. When this long-and-short-on-purpose exercise is consistent, then to stand on the line and send the ball to the center of that big basket (twice the diameter of a ball) will be a very "easy" motion. Your confidence will start to soar.