Friday, December 08, 2006

Underhanded free throws

Would NBA foul shooters hit for a higher percentage if they threw underhanded?

In this
column (print subscription required) from this week's Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly says they would.

Using himself as guinea pig, Reilly took a bunch of shots overhand and found he hit 63%. After tutoring in underhand by hall-of-fame NBA player (and underhanded free thrower) Rick Barry, and a couple of weeks of practice, he was hitting 78%.

Reilly points out that if
Ben Wallace, a career 49% shooter, learned to throw underhand and raised himself to 69%, he'd have made 60 more shots last season.

Why don't players try it? Players don't like how it looks. "I would shoot negative percentage before I shot like that," Reilly quotes Shaquille O'Neal as saying. He says Wilt Chamberlain did it for a few years, improved, but then went back to overhand. "I felt silly – like a sissy," Chamberlain wrote.

Reilly writes,


"I ... asked [a few players] a simple question: 'What would it take to get you to shoot free throws like Rick Barry?' Not one called me back. Or e-mailed. Or texted. ... None.

"Do you know why? Because NBA players care more about looking cool on SportsCenter than winning games for their teams."

But: does the technique actually work better?

It worked for Barry himself, whose career mark was 90%, second all-time. In 1979, he went 160-for-169. (This page links to a video of Barry taking an underhanded shot.)

And
here is an article from "Discover" arguing that it does work, for reasons of physics.

So there's fairly convincing evidence that shooting underhand can work. And it can probably create a lot of wins. The Wages of Wins says that it takes an extra 30 points to add one win. If Reilly and Barry are correct, Ben Wallace could create two extra wins for his team just by switching to the "granny shot." Two wins is worth several million dollars in salary, isn't it?

And even if Wallace and Shaq refuse, why doesn't someone try it? Is there really such a strong cultural taboo? Is this another market irrationality?



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5 Comments:

At Friday, December 08, 2006 1:17:00 AM, Blogger Bob said...

I think even in the 1940s and 1950s, few players shot free throws underhanded. One of the best free throw shooters in history, Bill Sharman (career 88.3%) shot overhand. His single season record of 93.1% was broken by another overhand shooter, Ernie DeGregorio.

In youth basketball, no coach ever taught us how to shoot free throws underhand.

I don't know if it's an irrationality or just a case of players not wanting to radically change their style.

That, and it looks really funny

 
At Friday, December 08, 2006 7:49:00 AM, Blogger Dave said...

If I remember correctly, Sharman was the one who broke the habit of most players shooting underhand because he was so successful overhand. He wrote a great book about shooting, and I copied his style for free throws back in the early '70's. However, most coaches I've seen (if they teach free throw technique at all) don't teach Sharman's style.

My junior high coach shot underhand and I never saw him miss. However, he didn't try to teach us any particular style.

I definitely agree that shooting underhand would be more accurate.

 
At Friday, December 08, 2006 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Tangotiger said...

If free throws were from the other end of the court, you'd throw it baseball style. If free throws were at half-court, you'd do it underhand. If free throws were two feet from the baseket, you'd do it overhand. So, obviously, there's a transition point where you need to change your shooting method (and obviously, it changes for each player).

I agree that if Rick Barry shoots 90% underhanded for his career, there should be someone else doing it.

This is the equivalent of the knuckleball pitcher. We should be inundated with these pitchers, and we are not.

The "sissy" explanation is almost certainly the reason for basketball. The "I think I'm good enough not to be a knuckler" is the reason for baseball probably.

 
At Friday, December 08, 2006 2:19:00 PM, Anonymous Jim A said...

I bet Reilly also could have improved his overhand free throw percentage with a couple of weeks of practice. It's like those silly platform shoes that are supposed to increase your vertical jump. It's not the shoes, it's the training routine that comes with it.

The Discover article didn't really discuss whether you could achieve the optimal arc and backspin any easier underhanded than overhanded.

Still, I'd love to see a player try it and see what happens. If it works so well, it's hard to believe nobody at any level, high school, college, pros would dare use it. Maybe a women's player wouldn't be as offended by being called a sissy.

 
At Wednesday, December 20, 2006 5:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dWilt Chamberlain shot a terrible 51.1% FT over his career. He was so bad that out of frustration he adopted the granny style which helped him score 28/32 on 3/2/62 during his 100 pt. game. However, he claimed it made him "feel like a sissy" and he went back to overhand. His most notorious overhand debacle was a 1/11 performance in game 7 of the Championship final loss. I agree with Reilly, Shaq and Chamberlain really are/were gutless for not using the granny style.

Bob VanDeHey Rajjpuut@yahoo.com

 

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