How to Shoot a Basketball

There’s no better feeling than enjoying some fresh air in the sun with some friends shooting hoops, or spending time in the winter on the indoor court getting in a good workout while focusing on your technique. Weather your a beginner or a seasoned pro, there is always something to be gained by going over the basics. This article will take you through some of the do’s and don’ts of shooting a basketball and help you get those jump-shot techniques just right.

Shooting is generally done with two hands. One hand guides and directs the ball, supporting it during the shot. This is called the guide hand. It’s usually your non-dominant hand.

The other hand is your shooting hand and it is the hand used to give the momentum and power to the ball to get it to the net. There are many other names for these hands but these are the terms we will use in this article.

How to Shoot a Basketball - B.E.E.F.

BEEF is a popular acronym for remembering the key elements of a technically good basketball shot.

  • B – Balance – Good balance helps you control both the ball and your shot
  • E – Elbows – Keep your elbows up and inline with the net during the shot
  • E – Eyes – Keep your eye on the rim during your shot
  • F – Follow through – The shot is not complete until it’s hit something, weather that’s the basket or the floor
How to shoot a basketball infographic

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Pre-Shot Grip

Proper shooting begins with your pre-shot grip. By this I mean, the way you are holding the ball during a free throw or after receiving a pass from a teammate. It can also be the way you’re holding the ball as you transition between dribbling and shooting.

In all three of these scenarios, make sure that the ball is gently resting on your fingertips and not touching your palms.

If you have large hands you can place the thumb of your support hand just slightly in between the thumb and index finger of shooting hand. For smaller hands you may need your support thumb further out away from your shooting hand but try to have your thumb still in that general area if possible.

Your guide hand should rest on the side of the ball gently to stabilise and direct it towards the hoop during the shot.

Free Throws

In a free throw scenario, when you have some time to examine how you are holding the ball, line up the shot, take that deep breath, exhale and shoot, there is no reason not to hold the basketball properly.

I like to keep my thumb in the seems if possible and ensure there is a bit of space between the palm of my hand and the ball.

Shooting hand is behind the basketball and the guide hand is on the side of the basketball.

I’m now ready to take the shot.

Catching a Pass

Generally speaking you would catch a pass with two hands. Transitioning between two hands in the catch position where there is one hand on each side of the ball to a shooting position with one hand on the side of the ball and the other behind the ball is fairly simple.

Using your shooting hand begin to turn the ball towards your guide hand and slightly downward, almost on a 45 degree angle, to prevent your two thumbs from making contact. Allow the ball to slip across your guide hand until your shooting hand is behind the ball inline with your body. Remember that your guide hand should still on the side of the ball.

The shooting hand moves. The guide hand does not. Your now ready to begin the shot.

From Dribbling to Shooting

As you are dribbling the ball plant your feet and begin to sweep the ball towards your other hand as the ball reaches the top of the bounce. Once you have the ball in both hands quickly move your shooting hand, turning the ball with it until your hand is behind the ball and lined up with your body.

As with the “Catching a Pass” senario, your guide hand should allow the ball to slide across it as necessary to get the ball and your shooting hand inline with your body and behind the ball.

Your now ready to take your shot.

Body Posture and Positioning

A well prepared stance and being in a good position before and during a shot can really increase the chances of scoring on your opponent. Proper posture can improve your technique and make you open to quick maneuvering and being ready to make that explosive jump into a stellar shot.

Remember to keep your footing in check. Get your feet lined up square with basket before you take the shoot or while your in the air. This will help you line up the rest of your body including your arm which is doing it’s best to adjust the aim so the basketball goes in.

Don’t space your feet too wide or too close together at any time. You want to be able to quickly react. Place your feet approximately shoulders width apart but not too much more than that. It can be difficult to go into a jump if your feet are spread too wide.

A slight bend in the knees is important. It will play a large part in momentum you need to get the desired height from your jump. Most of your jumping power will come from your caves and thigh muscles.

The bending helps release that power in the calves which transitions into a powerful shot and can get you up over other players trying to block your shot.  

The Jump

A jump shot is a full body action. It requires so many muscles and so much strength to get high in the air and shoot the ball in a meaningful way.

Your feet balance you and help transition from standing flat to being on your toes just before leaving the ground and finally to landing safely and cushioning some of the impact on your body.

Your legs act as the spring, coiling as you bend your knees then releasing and propelling your body upwards into the air.

Your arms lever forward pushing the ball towards the basket and guiding its aim.

And your wrist flicks with a smooth transfer of power that gives the ball its arc allowing for the best possible chance of making a clean swoosh sound in the end.

All these muscles and joints act in coordination to create the perfect basketball delivery system with the ability to take a ball 9.55 inches wide and sink it in a net only 18 inches wide from more than 23 feet away and do it with ease!

As you begin your jump, the heels of your feet should first come up a bit. There is some jump height advantage that comes from a strong, quick punch of power when you transition from being flat footed, going to your foot pads, then to your toes and from there into the air.

Keep a gentle, forward momentum as your going up but also keep your body as straight as possible in order to get the maximum height. It’s a bit of a balancing act to get that just right but it will come with practice.

Most importantly, think “Power”. Power is the key so a burst of energy propelling you upwards as you jump and then the release of the ball at the top of the jump should be powerful and focused like a laser.

Aim

Aim is tricky. Aim is something that can only come with practice. There are some players who have a gift for this but with enough practice, anyone can get the aim down.

Visualize the shot before you take it if you have time. The game is only part skill. There is a large mental aspect to it as well. So imagine the trajectory of the ball and visualise it going in, then try to copy that trajectory as you shoot.

Keep your eye on the target from beginning to end of the shot. You can’t hit what you can’t see, at least not consistently. Do not follow the arc of the ball with your eyes, just focus on the rim and get comfortable with letting the ball naturally leave your hands. Your eyes should stay locked on the rim no matter what.

Get your body square with net before takeoff if possible and during the jump if necessary. Keep your head straight as much of your balance comes from your head being in line with your body and the net.

Maintain a good follow through at the end of your shot. Keep your hands up in the air until the ball reaches its mark. This keeps you from accidentally upsetting the angle of the ball as it’s leaving your fingers.

Your aim will improve as your form improves and good form relies on the use of both hands working together. As mentioned before, each hand has its job. The shooting hand shoots and the guiding hand guides.

Guide Hand

The guide hand is key to having good aim. It steadies the ball and provides much need support so that the shooting hand can focus on getting the amount of power needed just right.

When holding the ball to shoot, the guide hand stays on the side of the ball, out of the way. If this hand gets too far forward it will be in the way of the ball as its trying to move forward. It will prevent the shooting hand from being able to smoothly release the ball.

Too far back and you end up almost trying to two-hand pass the ball into the net. Only one hand should be powering the ball.

With your fingers comfortably spread, use your guide hand to keep the ball straight and on target as your shooting hand pushes the ball past it.

Shooting Hand

The shooting hand is responsible for releasing the ball with just the right amount of energy. The main power comes from your legs and arms but in order to give the ball just the right amount of power we need something a little more precise. This precision can come from the flick of the wrist as the ball is leaving your hands. A harder flick will give a lot more power and gentler flick will give a little more.

The flick is key as it provides a smoother shot than a stiff arm would give. Remember to keep that wrist up in the air after to ensure that the shot is smooth and on target.

The Shot

Taking the actual shot can be something you end up working on the rest of your sports life. It’s not that it’s all that complicated or difficult to get good at, it’s more about doing it consistently. After years of playing basketball I still catch myself not properly lining up my arm with my body or flicking my wrist lazily rather than with the appropriate amount of force. It’s more about focus and concentration once you get the movements down.

  • Begin by placing your guide hand on the side of the ball and your shooting hand on the back of the ball. As you begin to bring the ball up to shoot you’ll find that the shooting hand is then ¬†automatically positioned almost underneath the ball.
  • Continue to bring your shooting arm up to where your elbow is sitting around chin height or slightly higher. Your forearm and upper arm should form a 90 degree angle until you release the shot. The amount of power you use will mostly come from that release as your 90 degree bend rapidly straightens out and the ball is ultimately released into the air.
  • A key point of this release is a smooth flick of the wrist at the point of release, which is normally the peak height of your jump. I like to begin to release the ball as it reaches my forehead level or just above there to ensure I get enough arc to overcome any potential players blocking and to optimize the chances of the ball going in the net without hitting the rim. A swish! Too shallow an arc will increase the chances of hitting the rim rather than making a clean goal.
  • Make sure you keep your elbow, wrist and hand lined up vertically under the ball in front of your face. The ball should rest gently on the pads of your fingers.
  • Practice completing all these steps in one fluid motion.

There’s a lot to explaining it but once you try it a couple times you will see how easy it is to get a good shot going.

Technical mumbo jumbo aside, remember that not every player has a perfectly straight shooting arm. Many with amazingly accurate shots have the arm slightly off tilt or slightly to the side. It really ends up being about what you are most comfortable with and what helps you make the shot. There have been some fantastic players with seriously ugly shots so don’t get discouraged if your not right on point with all the technicalities. Do what feels natural.

Preventing Injury

Often overlooked is how important it is to try to prevent injuries.

A controlled landing is what allows you to quickly transition from shooting to rebounding or defending in the case you miss.

Before taking the shot, make sure there is no one coming at you in an overly aggressive manner. If you are hit mid air you may lose your balance and wind up with a severe ankle sprain or even a broken arm or leg.

My most cringe-worthy injuries occur after coming down from a jump and landing on someone else’s foot, then SNAP! A severely twisted ankle that puts me out for months.

Repetitive motion injuries are another problem if not remedied early on while learning to play basketball. Try to cushion the impact from landings by adequately bending your knees to absorb some of the downward force.

Proper equipment such as mouth guards, clean basketball shoes in good condition and ankle supports where needed will limit some injuries and completely prevent others.

Once injured, quick and proper care of the injury will make all the difference in a fast recovery and get you back on the court sooner. Finishing a game after you strain or sprain a wrist, finger  or ankle can often worsen the injury and turn a 2-3 week recovery time into a 2-3 month recovery time. I know there are lots of tough-toughs out there that can handle it but be willing to walk away and take a break for a few weeks so that you can get back out there sooner.

Bottom line is that proper technique and equipment will ultimately help you limit sprains, streigns and a number of impact injuries.

Important Additional Tips

There are a number of times to help you improve your game and master your shooting techniques.

  • Dipping is a technique that allows you to get a full, clean, momentum filled shot off every time you shoot. As you slightly bend your knees to begin your shot, dip the ball towards your knees to about calve height and then continue with the shot. It’s a gentle, quick motion that can add to your feel and coordination. It can make or break your shot at times and also provides for improved technique. It also provides a look of fluidity when you shoot.
  • I’m a big proponent of muscle memory. Making a shot from anywhere on the court without thinking too much about it is key to an aggressive offensive game. This means practising every shot over and over again until it becomes part of your nature. There is no substitute for repetitive actions during frequent practices in order to commit winning movements to memory
  • Practice, practice, practice! And did I mention practice?
  • Coordination is key and very much linked to muscle memory and practice so work on smooth transitions from dribbling into a shooting stance and also from receiving a pass into a shooting stance.
  • Exercise and strength training can take your game to the next level. There are so many exercises geared towards improving your basketball shot.
  • Push Ups to strengthen your arms which in turn will increase the power of your shot
  • Squats to strengthen your legs and calves and thighs in particular to get you extra height on your jumps
  • Any ab strengthening will help with your explosive power and overall fitness

Conclusion

It’s not incredibly hard to learn how to shoot a basketball with the right techniques under your belt but to become proficient and look natural doing will take patience and a lot of practice. Focusing on proper technique and smooth transitions will make all the difference and will ultimately increase your confidence and influence your overall skill.

So whether your a newbie or a seasoned pro, focus on the tips in this article and go take on the competition with ease!

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