I watched the local high school play-offs this season and was appalled by the poor shooting. In four championship games featuring college-bound players, the best offense was “chuck and chase:” throw the ball at the rim and fight for the offensive rebound and put-back opportunities. The big arenas and the over-reliance on the three-point shot contributed to the poor shooting, but it resulted primarily from players’ hand positioning on the ball and their failure to prepare to shoot before receiving the pass.
Hand Placement Issue #1 – Centering Your Hand On The Ball
Coaches concentrate on the shoulders and elbow when correcting player’s shooting woes. However, many players hand positioning negatively impacts their shot, regardless of the elbow or shoulder. First, players must correctly position their hand on the ball; to do this, players should have their shooting hand centered under the ball. When shooting, the index and middle fingers should be the last two fingers to leave the ball; therefore, it makes sense to have these fingers centered.
There are three popular ways to achieve this: first, split the index and middle fingers with the nozzle (the ball’s center); align the middle finger with the ball’s center; or, put the index finger in the middle. All three make sense: if the goal is to shoot with the last two fingers, then both should be equally centered; however, centering the middle finger spreads the hand equally over the ball; but, if you extend your fingers toward the rim in a shooting motion, it is the index finger, not the middle finger, that points straight to the rim, while the body’s physiology points the middle finger slightly to the right for a right-handed shooter.
My shooting philosophy is to make the player comfortable and confident, so of these three approaches, the player’s comfort is most important. The problem, however, is when the player has his hand on the side. The shooting hand must be centered using one of these three approaches.
Hand Placement Issue #2 – Pointing Your Hand Towards the Target
The next hand issue is getting the hand properly pointed to the target. Again, the concentration is normally getting the elbow straight or the shoulders squared; however, many players have their elbow in, but they must twist their wrist to the target as part of the shot. When the player has his hand properly under the ball, with a “wrinkle in the wrist,” there is a small indentation at the base of one’s palm. This indentation should be directed toward the target as the player lifts the ball into his shot. This will ensure the player shoots the ball straight to the target; when players twist their hand and wrist as they shoot, they add another variable, and thus decrease consistency.
Here’s a quick drill to help you improve your hand placement:
- Start one foot from the rim, directly in front of the basket
- Using proper form, shoot the ball with one hand
- You must make three in a row to take a step back; continue taking a step back until you reach the free throw line for your last three shots
- Try your best to swish the shots; this will help improve the arc on your shot
- A miss means you must take one step forward and continue the drill
Catching The Ball Ready To Shoot
These two elements will improve a shooter’s technique and opportunity to be a consistent shooter. However, to be a great shooter, the player also must improve the base of the shot. The base is the shot’s foundation, and determines everything thereafter. A poor foundation leads to an inconsistent shot.The first issue is receiving a pass ready to shoot. Many poor shots are taken because the player takes too long to catch and shoot and then fires the shot under duress; when receiving the pass, a player should have his feet wide (shoulder width) and knees bent.
Here’s a drill to help you improve your “catch and shoot” skills:
- There are five spots on the floor and three shots in each series
- The five spots are the baseline, forty-five degree angle on each side, and the top of the key
- Start under the basket, sprint to touch the sideline, then cut towards the pass, receiving the ball at the three-point line for shot #1
- Rebound the ball and return and touch the sideline, then cut towards the ball
- After receiving the pass, execute a shot fake, take one dribble and pull-up for shot #2
- Rebound the ball, run back and touch the sideline, then cut towards the ball, again receiving it at the three-point line
- Execute a shot fake, then make one dribble for a lay-up
- After completing the lay-up, move on to the next spot, touching the sideline near the hash mark and then cutting towards the basket
- Continue through all five spots
- Work one time through going to your left and once going to your right
Using Your Legs To Power Your Shot
Additionally, players must use their leg drive to power their shot. Many players shoot a jump shot, but they shoot the ball on the way down, thus eliminating the power generated by the leg drive. By shooting the ball on the way up, earlier in the jump, the player will harness the power generated by the leg drive and increase the player’s power. Also, an increase in force created by utilizing the leg drive will increase the arc on the ball; many inconsistent or streaky shooters shoot a very flat shot, one that has very little room for error. By shooting with more arc, the player gives himself a better chance to make the shot.
Here’s an exercise to develop your leg drive and power: (3 sets of 5 reps)
- Start by standing, with hands cupped and both arms folded one on top of the other, in front of the chest area.
- Widen the distance between your legs so that your feet are shoulder width apart for a stable base of support. Make sure that your toes are pointed forward.
- Carefully lower yourself to a full squat. Contract your leg muscles to support your weight as you lower your body down.
- Keep your back straight and lift your chest up and out to help support your balance
- Push against the floor for an exploding jump. Contract the muscles of your lower extremities as you push off to jump as high as you can.
- Straighten your legs as you jump; you can maintain your arms as they are or you can open and extend them upwards, as if you’re reaching for the ceiling.
- Position yourself in a squat (starting position) once you land back on the floor.
Breaking Your Bad Shooting Habits
While the hand position, preparation to catch the pass and leg drive will not automatically create a shooter, improving these three areas will improve a player’s ability to shoot consistently. Change is difficult, and players who have taken hundreds of thousands of shots have built bad habits that are difficult to change, especially if the player has had some measure of success. But, for a player to reach his potential, he must learn to shoot consistently, as the game boils down to the ability to put the ball in the hoop. By tweaking the hand placement on the ball as the player lifts the ball into the shot, while concentrating on receiving the pass prepared to shoot and then utilizing a solid leg drive, a player’s consistency will increase, creating a better overall offensive player.