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Basketball Shooting Mechanics
by Hal Wissel

Most players shoot seven basic shots: the one-hand set shot, the free throw, the jump shot, the three-point shot, the hook shot, the lay-up, and the runner. These shots all share certain basic mechanics, including sighting, balance, hand position, elbow-in alignment, shooting rhythm, and follow-through. The best way to develop your shot is to concentrate on only one or two mechanics at a time.


Focus your eyes on the basket, aiming just over the front of the rim for all except bank shots. Use a bank shot when you are at a 45-degree angle to the backboard. A 45-degree angle falls within the distance between the box and the middle hash mark on the lane line. The distance for the bank angle--called the 45-degree funnel--widens as you move out. For shooting a bank shot, aim for the top near corner of the box on the backboard. Sight your target as soon as possible and keep your eyes focused on the target until the ball reaches the goal. Your eyes should never follow the flight of the ball or your defender's hand. Concentrating on the target helps eliminate distractions such as shouting, towel waving, an opponent's hand, or even a hard foul.


Having balance leads to power and rhythmic control in your shot. Your base, or foot position, is the foundation of your balance, and keeping your head over your feet (base) controls your balance. Spread your feet comfortably to shoulder width and point your toes straight ahead. Pointing your toes straight aligns your knees, hips, and shoulders with the basket. The foot on the side of your shooting hand (right foot for a right-handed shot) is forward. The toe of your back foot is aligned with the heel of the foot on your shooting side (toe-to-heel relationship). Flex your legs at the knees. This gives crucial power to your shot. Beginning and fatigued players often fail to flex their knees. To compensate for the lack of power from not using their legs, they tend to throw the ball from behind the head or shove the ball from the hip. Both actions produce errors. Your head should be over your waist and feet. Your head controls your balance and should be slightly forward, with your shoulders and upper body inclining forward toward the basket. Your shoulders should be relaxed.

Hand Position

Hand position is the most misunderstood part of shooting. It is vital to start and finish your shot with your shooting hand facing the basket (behind the ball). Placing the non-shooting hand under the ball for balance is also important. This position, with the shooting hand facing the basket (behind the ball) and the non-shooting hand under the ball, is called the block-and-tuck. It leaves your shooting hand free to shoot the ball, rather than having to balance and shoot the ball. Place your hands fairly close together. Relax both hands and spread the fingers comfortably. Keep the thumb of your shooting hand relaxed and not spread apart to avoid tension in your hand and forearm. A relaxed hand position (like a handshake) forms a natural cup, enabling the ball to contact the pads of your fingers and not your palm. Place your non-shooting (balance) hand slightly under the ball. The weight of the ball balances on at least two fingers: the ring finger and the little finger. The arm of your balance hand should be in a comfortable position, with the elbow pointing slightly back and to the side. Your shooting hand is turned toward the basket behind the ball, your index finger directly at the ball's midpoint. The ball is released off your index finger. On a free throw, you have time to align your index finger with the valve or other marking at the midpoint of the ball. Developing fingertip control and touch leads to a soft, accurate shot.

Elbow-In Alignment

Hold the ball comfortably in front of and above your shooting-side shoulder between your ear and shoulder. Keep your shooting elbow in. When your shooting elbow is in, the ball is aligned with the basket. Some players do not have the flexibility to place the shooting hand behind the ball facing the basket while keeping the elbow in. In this case, first place your shooting hand behind the ball facing the basket, then move the elbow in as far as your flexibility allows.

Rhythmical Shooting Motion

Shoot the ball with a smooth, evenly paced, rhythmical lifting motion. Shooting involves synchronizing the extension of your legs, back, shoulders, and shooting elbow and the flexion of your wrist and fingers. The initial force and rhythm for your shot come from a down-and-up motion of your legs. Start with your knees slightly flexed. Bend your knees and then fully extend them in a down-and-up motion. Saying the key words down and up from the start of your shot until the release of the ball will trigger the down-and-up action of your legs, providing rhythm and force for your shot. Your legs and shooting arm work together. As your legs go up, your arm goes up. As your legs reach full extension, your back, shoulders, and shooting arm extend in a smooth, continuous upward direction. It is vital to keep the ball high with your shooting hand toward the basket. Use the down-and-up motion of your legs for rhythm rather than lowering the ball for rhythm. Keep-ing the ball high fosters a quick release and also provides less chance for error. As your arm goes up, the ball is tipped back from your balance hand to your shooting hand. A good guide is to tip the ball back only until there is a wrinkle in the skin between your wrist and forearm. This angle provides a quick release and consistent follow-through. Direct your arm, wrist, and fingers straight toward the basket at a 45- to 60-degree angle, extending your shooting arm completely at the elbow. The final force and control of your shot comes from flexing your wrist and fingers forward and down. Release the ball off your index finger with soft fingertip touch to impart backspin on the ball and soften the shot. Keep your balance hand on the ball until the point of release. The amount of force you should impart to the ball depends on the range of the shot. For short distances, the arm, wrist, and fingers provide most of the force. Long-range outside shots require more force from your legs, back, and shoulders. Smooth rhythm and a complete follow-through will also improve long-range shooting.


After releasing the ball off the index finger, keep your arm up and fully extended with the index finger pointing straight to the target. The palm of your shooting hand should be turned down and the palm of your balance hand should be turned up. Keep your eyes on your target. Exaggerate your follow-through. Hold your arm up in a complete follow-through position until the ball reaches the basket, then react to the rebound or get into defensive position. Holding your follow-through until the ball reaches the basket is not only good mechanics, but it also makes you look and act like a shooter and increases confidence.

Edited From:
Wissel, Hal. (2004). Basketball: Steps to Success. 2nd Edition. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL.
Wissel, Hal. (2005). Basketball Shooting: Confidence, Rhythm and Mechanics. Basketball World. Suffield, CT.
Wissel, Hal. (2005). Basketball Shooting: Off the Pass, Off the Dribble and In the Post. Basketball World. Suffield, CT.

Dr. Hal Wissel conducts SHOOT IT BETTER Mini Camps worldwide for players ranging from NBA to youth level. Visit: http://www.basketballworld.com

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