November 10, 2009

N.C. State engineers discover the perfect free throw

Why they decided to release it to the public rather than give their methods directly to Sidney Lowe is beyond me. If 2009-2010 goes as planned, the Wolfpack will need the help.

Yes, two N.C. State engineers say they've found the best way to shoot a free throw, a combination of setup, release speed, and aim that, when scientifically recreated, always leads to a made shot. The process is simple physics and geometry -- notice how I say "simple", as if I understand anything about physics, geometry, or even basic arithmetic -- and sounds pretty straightforward, given the science involved:

First, the engineers say that shooters should launch the shot with about three hertz of back spin. That translates to the ball making three complete backspinning revolutions before reaching the hoop. [...] Where to aim? Tran and Silverberg say you should aim for the back of the rim, leaving close to 5 centimeters – about 2 inches – between the ball and the back of the rim. According to the simulations, aiming for the center of the basket decreases the probabilities of a successful shot by almost 3 percent.

The engineers say that the ball should be launched at 52 degrees to the horizontal. If you don’t have a protractor in your jersey, that means that the shot should, at the highest point in its arc to the basket, be less than 2 inches below the top of the backboard.

There is also something about a 52-degree angle to the backboard and a high release that the researchers want to hammer home, but I stopped reading because ew, math. Am I right? Learning sucks! Let's quit with the boring stuff and get to the funny tongue-in-cheek quote from a researcher, please:

"Our recommendations might make even the worst free-throw shooters – you know who you are, Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace – break 60 percent from the free-throw line,” Silverberg says with tongue firmly in cheek. “A little bit of physics and a lot of practice can make everyone a better shooter from the free-throw line."

I have a feeling Ben Wallace and Shaquille O'Neal and horrid free throw shooters the world over are not exactly going to be persuaded by that. The "lots of practice" thing isn't a problem. It's the "little bit of physics" that will likely prove prohibitive. Interesting stuff, though.

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