Researchers Have Revealed The Physics Behind The Perfect Free Throw

by 2 years ago
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During a free throw, the game of basketball briefly transitions from a team sport into an individual one, with players channeling their inner golfer in an attempt to sink an uncontested 15-foot shot. However, a golfer doesn’t have to deal with an arena full of people screaming and a guy behind the hoop waving a Fathead of Brendan Frasier that somehow made its way into the game (and as a result, Justin Thomas would probably not fair too well).

PGA golfers only manage to sink 22% of their 15-foot putts, so while the NBA free throw average of 75% might seem stellar in comparison, it’s hard to compare the two considering the latter is literally the same shot every single time. Steve Nash nailed a record of 90.43% of his freebies over the course of his career, but not every player is able to crack the code —the historically bad Ben Wallace retired with an impressively unimpressive 41.4% FTP.

Wallace briefly lost one of the least sought after crowns you can have when Andre Drummond opened his career making less than 40% of his free throws, but the Detroit Piston has managed to turn things around after working on his technique over the past couple of years. Anyone who’s played basketball knows how many different approaches different people take to the shot (including Granny Style guru Rick Barry), but a couple of people claim they’d cracked the code for the perfect free throw.

According to Good Sports, researchers Larry Silverberg and Chau Tran have been analyzing the shot for the past two decades since teaming up with coaches at NC State University and spent years analyzing shot speed, trajectory, and backspin and ran millions of simulations to figure out the ideal shot.

The entire article is worth reading if you’re interested in the exact science behind their conclusion, but here’s their guide to the perfect free throw:

Our research suggests that players should aim the ball beyond the center of the rim. Launch the ball at a high angle and as high above the ground as possible. (The ball, at the highest point of its arc, should reach the top of the backboard.) Line up the ball to eliminate the side angle. And try to launch the ball with smooth body motion, to produce a consistent launch speed.

All you have to do is follow that advice and it’s only a matter of time until your rec league stats are through the roof.


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