November 26, 2009
For those NBA players struggling at the charity stripe this season — I'm looking at you, Shaq. I'm always looking at you — two NC State engineers have figured out the best way to shoot a free throw.
Drs. Chau Tran and Larry Silverberg used hundreds of thousands of three-dimensional computer simulations of free throw trajectories to arrive at a number of major recommendations to improve your chances of throwing up a swish rather than a brick.
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. Back spin deadens the ball when it bounces off the rim or backboard, the engineers assert, giving the ball a better chance of settling through the net.
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.
Free-throw shooters should also release the ball as high above the ground as possible, without adversely affecting the consistency of the shot; release the ball so it follows the imaginary line joining the player and the basket; and release the ball with a smooth body motion to get a consistent release speed.
Also, just a personal bit of advice here — practice.