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.
"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?