Nothing But Net: The Physics of Free-Throw Shooting

Nov 04, 2009
basketball

(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 game clock winds down.

To get a swish rather than a brick, you need the best possible conditions for releasing the basketball from your hand, say Drs. Chau Tran and Larry Silverberg, mechanical and aerospace engineers at NC State and co-authors of a peer-reviewed study.

The engineers used hundreds of thousands of three-dimensional of basketball free-throw trajectories to arrive at their conclusions. After running the simulations, Tran and Silverberg arrived at a number of major recommendations to improve free-throw shooting.

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.

“Our recommendations might make even the worst free-throw shooters - you know who you are, Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace - break 60 percent from the free-throw line,” Silverberg says with tongue firmly in cheek. “A little bit of physics and a lot of practice can make everyone a better shooter from the free-throw line.”

The engineers used a men’s basketball for the study; it is heavier and a bit larger than basketballs used in women’s games. They also assumed that the basketball player doing the shooting was 6 feet 6 inches tall, and that he released the 6 inches above his head, so the “release height” was set to 7 feet. The free-throw line is 15 feet from the backboard, a cylinder-shaped opening that is 10 feet off the ground. Though it looks smaller, the diameter of a regulation basketball hoop is 18 inches; the diameter of a men’s is a bit more than 9 inches.

More information: Optimal release conditions for the free throw in men's basketball, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 26, Issue 11 September 2008 , pages 1147 - 1155, DOI: 10.1080/02640410802004948

Provided by North Carolina State University (news : web)

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Physics can improve your football

May 22, 2006

As the World Cup draws closer and football fever starts to take over, physicist Nick Linthorne has found out how players like Gary Neville can achieve the perfect long throw-in, which could be crucial in setting ...

Engineers devise basketball system for the blind

May 27, 2005

Three Johns Hopkins engineering undergraduates - two of them starters on the women's basketball team - have designed and built a system that uses sound emitters in the ball and on the backboard to enable blind ...

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

Apr 18, 2014

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RkeyTeq
not rated yet Nov 05, 2009
How 'bout 3-pointers and lay-ups? I could understand that lay-ups are much more complicated, since the re are many more variables. Analyzing 3-pointers, though, would increase the analysis with a few more variable, namely the angle to the basket and the distance from the 3 point line (though most 3-pointers are shot just outside the 3-point line).

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...