The Danger Signs of Poor Basketball Shooting

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How to tell if your team needs work on shooting!

A few years ago I was watching a women's professional ABL basketball game and I was stuck by how ineffective were the shooting styles of most of them. Only a few were what I would call good or great shooters. I see the same in the men's game, at all levels, still today. Few really understand how to shoot "lights out" … all the time! The thought occurred to me that, although I can see what the problems are, probably most coaches are not seeing what I see. This article is an attempt to describe what to look for. If you see these danger signs, realize your team needs to work on shooting because the flaws I point out are probably going to lead to missed shots. Missed shots at critical times will lose games.


1) Flat Trajectories / Little Use of Body & Leg
2) Set Points Not Aligned with Eye / Too Far Overhead!
3) No Inertia in the Shot Motion!
4) The Release – Slinging or Throwing vs. Pushing
5) Jerky or Stiff Follow Through
6) Funny Spins


1) Flat Trajectories
Watch your players and the team as a whole while they're shooting in practice or as they warm up before a game. If shots are getting only a foot or two (three feet for longer shots) above the rim, then you're probably in trouble. Such "flat" shots have a very small target and they come in very "hot," meaning gravity has not had time to slow them down. This is usually caused by not using any or more low body power in the shots.

If the apex of the arch of shots (the bottom of the ball) is approaching the top of the backboard or higher, then you can know the players are using more leg drive (what I call UpForce) to power their shots, so giving larger , more forgiving targets, softer landing. Better shooters put up shots more like mortars, very high. Think of it this way: YOU HAVE TO GO UP IN ORDER TO COME DOWN! And a more upward action gives gravity a chance to slow the ball's flight.

2) Set Points Not Aligned With Shooting Eye / Brought Too Far Overhead!
Observe the "Set Point" of your players. This is where they bring the (back of the) ball before starting the Release. (For a Free Throw, there's no need to pause at that point in the motion.)

If the Set Point is aligned with the ear or shoulder, accuracy and consistency are more difficult. If it's too far overhead, a mostly horizontal motion is required to get the ball to the target. Better shooters have the ball in front of the head in line with the shooting eye and basket and then push the ball upward from there. I see other great players take the ball too far overhead and decrease their odds of making shots because the ball flight is so flat and hot.

3) No Inertia in the Shot Motion!
"Inertia" is from Newton's First Law of Motion and means that the ball is moving and in line with eye and basket before the Release, and, by shooting on the way up, that energy is captured and used in the shot. This makes Accuracy much easier! If you bring the ball up off-line, or if you bring it up moving and in line AND THEN STOP, you lose any Inertia possible.

4) The Release – Slinging or Throwing vs. Pushing Motions!
Watch how your players power their shots. Are they Releasing slinging or throwing motions, or are they more of a pushing action? Slinging and throwing create horizontal ball flight – a flat trajectory. They also mean that the arm and hand muscles are doing most of the powering. A pushing action – with passive wrist and hand – is more reliable and is more upward. The key to great shooting is to rely on the larger, lower body muscles to provide most of the power and keep the release down to a simple, pushing action, always the same speed and force. Once you have that down, varying arch is how you solve the puzzle of distance.

5) Jerky or Stiff Follow Through / Arm Not Straightening!
Watch the shooting arm and hand of each player in the Follow Through. If the arm jerks or pulls back, you can guess there's fear or doubt in the player's mind. If the wrist and hand are generating much (or all) of the power, you'll see the hand stiffen in the Follow Through. The old instruction to "reach in the cookie jar" causes players to fire the wrist and hand, even to the extent of the hand winding up pointing downwards with a lot of tension. These actions employ small muscles and flatten the shot. Watch better shooters. They have a relaxed wrist and hand in the Follow Through. Such a motion is more "repeatable," especially under pressure.

Observe if the shooting arms straighten in the Follow Through or if they wind up bent at the elbow, indicating a "short arm" or throwing motion. Better shooters straighten the arm to its full extension so it can do the same thing every time. This gives greater consistency.

6) Funny Spins
Watch the spin your players give to their shots. If the ball is dead in the air (no spin) or if there's side spin, you will know the player is doing something "extra" in the Release. The most effective spin is medium backspin … not too slow, not overly fast, just in the middle. And it's not something you have to "do." If you just straighten your shooting arm with a relaxed wrist and hand, perfect backspin is created … every time. If your hand or fingers manipulate the ball in any way, you interfere with this natural backspin. If you twist the hand during the Release, side spin is created.

Although you can make shots with any spin, some of the time, little manipulations introduce variables that are difficult to repeat, especially under pressure. Work with your players to have them relax their release motions and observe the resulting spins.

These, then, are Danger Signs that will reveal your players are probably not going to have a nice day in the shooting stats area. Of course, there are exceptions. You'll find some players doing all of the above and shooting quite well. Sometimes just strong intention and will power, raw confidence and high expectations take over for a while. In my experience such shooters are almost always "streak" shooters who will just as easily have days and games when they can not make anything. When the technique is flawed, all the mental gymnastics in the world will not help for long.

I offer my Swish videos and my writings and coaching as resources to improve your team's shooting. The Danger Signs will start to disappear from your players' shots as you coach them to more effective use of their upper and lower body actions and effortlessly control distance and direction. The first step in learning it is careful and patient awareness of what they're doing now. Then when you help them to see and know where they want to get – what works – learning can be reliably quick.

Print out this page
I suggest you print out this article and add it to your coaching notebook. Refer to it to help you see your team's shooting tendencies. You'll start to see why they shoot well or kindly and know where to start to improve their skill at shooting. If you have a great shooter or two on your team or an opponent's, watch them carefully – you'll start to see what they do with lower and upper bodies that makes them such consistently fine shooters. Have team shooting discussions where you talk about these things and ask everyone to watch (and learn from) the better shooters. Good Luck!

– Tom Nordland, Shooting Coach