Different from other popular sports such as soccer and volleyball, basketball gives its participants an overall workout of their upper bodies as well as lower bodies, and it allows them to play with similar skill sets for all five positions.
With the moves, passes, tricks, and so many ways of scoring, basketball is a game full of spectacular plays. People enjoy playing or watching the game because they want to have the physical dynamics, mental excitement, and creativity of basketball.
However, the basketball shooting is a rigid part of the game. It lacks variety, dynamics, and creativity. The sole incentive of players for spending most of their training time in shooting practice is that the conventional shooting method is the most effective way of scoring three-pointers. That is the reason that the modern basketball produces so many dedicated, strong-willed shooters—because they can dramatically change the game results with their three-point shots.
CONTRAST OF SHOOTING ACCURACIES
A jump (or standing) shot is the prime scoring method in modern basketball games; therefore, it is the most practiced skill of the sport. In preparation of competitions, great shooters might make over 90 percent of jump shots in practice just a few hours before the game. But facing challenging defense, they can only score about 40 percent of their attempts during the game. That is the reality of professional basketball games. Clearly, the defensive pressure makes the huge drop (about 50 percent in the NBA games) in the shooting percentages.
The conventional two-hand over-the-head shooting, whether jumping or not jumping, is a hard and explosive shot. Long-range shots require great physical strengths. The shooting skill utilizes limited resources of the body, mainly the upper body. Ergonomically, the conventional shooting mechanics are rigid, unnatural, or too mechanical—not related to any common, traditional human civil or military activities such as lifting, throwing, pushing, swinging, turning, running, and even jumping (one-footed).
Learning the shooting techniques is a long, hard process, and it takes players years to practice. The training process is tedious and boring, and there is a lot of wear and tear and overuse in their body tissues. Professional players tend to gradually loss their shooting sharpness and range when they reach a certain age, around thirty-five years of age.
Biomechanically, the unnatural shooting mechanics are the main cause of declined shooting accuracies and early retirements of many professionals. It is disadvantageous to the majority of people (not big or strong) to play basketball by shooting that way. This method is not suitable for small children, women, and older players.
The following sections are the detailed technical analyses of the conventional shooting problems.
Ball Release between Index Finger and Middle Finger
In the conventional shooting method, the ring finger and little finger of the hand are not very useful. As a de facto shooting standard, the basketball is released between the middle and index fingers, though some experts recommend that the ball finally be tipped off the index finger. That way, the shooting power and control are concentrated on the first three fingers, the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, in the form of a “chuck” or tripod grip. The shot is set on a relatively small and unstable control area of the radian tripod on the ball, and the non-shooting hand support is needed. Therefore, for the conventional shooting method, one-handed shooting is technically feasible for practices and practically impossible in real games.
The ring finger and little finger of the shooting hand can support the ball in the shooting process, but they cannot, and should not, produce any power or control in the shooting push, since the two fingers are shorter than the middle finger and hold on the outside curvy surface of the basketball.
Because the ring finger and little finger are directly associated with ulna mobility, a turn (supination or pronation) of the palm will change the shooting direction or cause a sidespin on the ball. This is the reason that the two lower fingers should not be applied to generate any shooting power or control in the shooting process, except for temporarily supporting the ball for stability. In fact, even their support is unnecessary since there is the non-shooting hand support.
Elbow In, a False Shooting Alignment
Elbow in, to keep the shooting arm a straight line, is a desired alignment of the conventional shooting method. It requires good flexibility, which many players lack. Physiologically, it is unreasonable to form such an awkward arm position. Also, the elbow-in posture disobeys the basic principles of ergonomics for natural body movements and low impact of joints and muscles. It makes many players ignore the alignment; they just shoot the ball with the forms they are comfortable with.
Today’s basketball players are used to shooting the ball with both hands, along the midsection of the body toward the basket. This shooting stance is commonly accepted for its game-situation practicality and effectiveness. You aim at the rim with your eyes, with the ball and the basket in the same line. In this stance, you can even shoot a double clutch or fadeaway without losing orientation to the target, and it is good to balance your body by jumping with squared feet.
The problem is that it forms an isosceles triangle, with your shoulder as the baseline and two arms as sidelines. When a player’s flexibility does not permit a good elbow-in alignment, her shooting arm will be pushing the ball in the wrong direction, along one sideline of the triangle. Many shooters can adjust their shooting with their hands without good elbow-in alignment.
There are players who do possess the elbow-in flexibility that many young kids have. They have to align their arms to the shooting side of body in an odd stance, with their elbows sticking in the ribs for a skewed spine. This might yield a good shooting percentage with hard training, but that is extremely vulnerable to defense by shooting-side overplay. It is not useful in congested game situations, and there is rarely great outside shooters in that shooting stance, since it is contradictory to the inside shootings.
Therefore, elbow-in alignment is just a desired or proximate shooting posture for certain players. It should not be a standard for shooting alignment.
Squared Feet for Balance
Shooters must square their feet to balance their bodies, and it is the only correct footwork to keep good shooting posture. No matter what kind of move you are making—whether running, jumping, or turning—you must step or jump to square your feet in order to launch a makeable shot. That is the best way, and the only way, to keep the body balanced for good shooting posture; otherwise, the shooting accuracy would be extremely compromised. That also makes the conventional shots predictable for their uniformed foot-square shooting stance, and it gives defenders the opportunity and time to interfere with the shots.
In the conventional shooting mechanics, the ball is pushed by the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, with limited power and control. The shooting hand sets the ball on the thumb and the radial palm, the portion near the MP joints of index and middle fingers. These three fingers are directly associated with radian stability. The shooting power is transferred through the radian to the wrist and then to the thumb and inner palm in a relatively small control area. With the pads of the index and middle finger touching the ball, it is hard to apply the fingertips to push and control the ball. It is difficult for players with bigger hands to shoot this way since the ball is relatively too small in their hands, and more palms and less fingertips are involved in the shooting push.
Shooting Alignment Summary
The conventional shooting alignment can be summarized as squared feet, elbow in, the first three-finger control, and index finger and middle finger release. This alignment is mechanically designed and trained, not a naturally possessed mechanism of players. Many players do not have the flexibility required for the alignment.
Because of the infeasibility of applying the alignment, players are shooting the ball in different nonstandard postures. Good shooters with smooth strokes and coordinated body posture usually have good flexibility in better elbow-in alignments. Their shots might be accurate, but the arms’ position is odd and vulnerable to defensive interference. Other players without such good flexibility have different styles of shooting. Their postures, especially the hand and arm position, vary quite extensively. Many players do not care about the alignment; they are just shooting the ball with feelings and hard training. With great shooting mentality, many players with bad elbow-in alignment become good shooters through assiduous shooting training.
Shooting training with elbow-in alignment is tedious and boring. You have to correct or compensate for every detail since the alignment is physiologically not coordinated with your shooting posture. Players are not playing with their natural abilities or talents, but training hard for unnatural shooting mechanics. That could lead to occupational hazards of overuse injuries.
This alignment is extremely hard for players with broad shoulders. A number of NBA centers are having the same problem in the shooting alignment, and they have to give up the shooting technique, only scoring by hook, layup, and dunk.
(to be continued)