The physics of the 3-point shot

Mar 25, 2014

He may not see very many basketball players in his classroom, but Creighton University physics professor Gintaras Duda, Ph.D., says they are instinctual physicists because of what it takes to make the perfect shot on the court, particularly the 3-pointer.

What makes the perfect 3-pointer? Well, there is the angle the player takes on the 3-point line and the arc of the ball, which is the path the basketball flies from the time it leaves the shooter's hand until it arrives at the basket.

According to Duda and the research he has read, the lowest arc is 33 degrees for even a hope of making a 3-point shot, but with an arc of 45 degrees, a speed of just under 20 miles per hour and two revolutions per second of spin, at 20.9 feet from the basket, the player has the makings of the perfect 3-point shot.

While some people say gravity is the only thing affecting the ball once it is in the air, Duda is not so sure.

In the book The Physics of Basketball, the author, John Fantanella, explains the Magnus effect, the backspin which gives the ball a little bit of lift allowing for the slowest possible speed and a less violent rebound if it hits the backboard or rim and may even allow the ball to go in the net.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"I've heard about it in baseball, you know the curve ball that pitchers throw to curve one way or the other over the plate, but I really didn't realize how important it is in basketball," said Duda. "On certain shots, like the free throw and the 3-pointer, you want a slower speed on the ball for that soft shot that has a better chance of landing in the basket than a faster ball with no spin."

In other words, avoiding the brick, that shot with the distinctive sound that lets you know the ball is not going in at all. It takes practice for the player to find that perfect shot. After all, consistency equals reliability, but by finding that perfect shot, the player has found the right speed, the right angle of approach, and the perfect arc of the .

Creighton All-American Doug McDermott has that consistency. McDermott, who ranks among the top college scorers of all time, shot 45 percent from behind the arc. Teammate Ethan Wragge is the team's leading 3-point shooter, hitting 47.3 from 3-point.

Duda, the 2013 U.S. Professor of the Year, said he will be watching March Madness with renewed interest and understanding this weekend, and he's hoping the Bluejays get an A in physics for netting 3-point shots.

Explore further: Defensive role swaps prove predictive of 3-point success

Provided by Creighton University

4.3 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Defensive role swaps prove predictive of 3-point success

Feb 27, 2014

Everyone knows a basketball player is more likely to miss a three-point shot if a defender is in his face, but a new automated method for analyzing team formations, created by Disney Research Pittsburgh, shows how players ...

Nothing But Net: The Physics of Free-Throw Shooting

Nov 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Pay attention, Shaq: Two North Carolina State University engineers have figured out the best way to shoot a free throw - a frequently underappreciated skill that gets more important as the ...

Basketball shot selection analyzed mathematically

Aug 05, 2011

In the sport of basketball players are constantly faced with the choice of whether to shoot for the hoop when a shot opportunity arises or to hold on to the ball and hope a better opportunity will arise. Now ...

Recommended for you

First in-situ images of void collapse in explosives

Jul 25, 2014

While creating the first-ever images of explosives using an x-ray free electron laser in California, Los Alamos researchers and collaborators demonstrated a crucial diagnostic for studying how voids affect ...

New approach to form non-equilibrium structures

Jul 24, 2014

Although most natural and synthetic processes prefer to settle into equilibrium—a state of unchanging balance without potential or energy—it is within the realm of non-equilibrium conditions where new possibilities lie. ...

Nike krypton laser achieves spot in Guinness World Records

Jul 24, 2014

A set of experiments conducted on the Nike krypton fluoride (KrF) laser at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) nearly five years ago has, at long last, earned the coveted Guinness World Records title for achieving "Highest ...

User comments : 0