Not quite "free", are they?

Why can’t some basketball players hit free throws? Exhibit A- Shaquille O’Neal. From what I’ve heard, the guy practices them all the time and has a special coach to help him solely with free throws. After 7 years in the league, he still can’t break .500 from the charity stripe, yet he shoots over .500 from the field?!? But he’s not the only player with this affliction- Chris Dudley is infamous for his poor free throw shooting as was the recently deceased Wilt Chamberlin.

Is it a height thing? All of them are over 6’10. I would think it would be easier to shoot free throws when you’re a bit higher up but that’s apparently not the case. Most of the excellent free throw shooters are point guards and typically under 6’4.

Is it a mechanics/freak of nature thing? Does a person over 6’10 just not have a mechanically smooth shot?

Finally, why don’t they try granny style?

It’s almost always psychological. Once you believe you can’t make a free throw, it becomes even harder to do so.
Once you think it is difficult, you try to find a physical solution to the problem. So you change your shooting form. This usually exacerbates the problem.

The best free throw shooters have a set way of shooting and they do it almost effortlessly.

It’s like having a good golf swing. Some people have them and some people don’t.

As for shooting underhand (or granny style), if you can make it work, try it. But I don’t expect Shaquille O’Neal to start trying it. It’s too different from his normal shooting stroke. I think it would only work if you have been shooting that way since you were a kid.

Well, on the average, the farther out you are, the lower your shooting percentage is. Ergo, Shaq’s shooting percentage - mostly from close around the basket - is better than his FT%, which would be better than his 3-pt. percentage, though if he takes many of them, he’d be shot (pun alert!).

As for the height thing, the fact is while there are some pretty good free throw shooting centers (Patrick Ewing comes to mond), there are a lot of big guys who flat-out suck. Wilt Chamberlain always hovered around 50%, for example.

The reason is that big guys tend to not have as much range as smaller guys. Also, playing inside is very physical, and going from bunping-n-grinding under rthe boards, throwing and dodging elbows, and basically having major adrenalin rushes to all of a sudden, you’re on the line, nobody is in your face, and you get a free shot, is a transition that I don’t think a lot of people have noticed.

Overall, free throw shooting is down because mostly FT’s are mental (once you get past the physical items I mentioned above) and today’s players are more content to trash-talk than can free throws on a consistant basis.

Yer pal,

OK, let me give you another angle here, although the posters above have very valid points.

When you are higher, your eyes will be closer to the edge of the ring in terms of sheer height. Therefore, you are seeing the ring at a sharper angle. A sharper angle decreases the human ability to judge distances and depth.

Thus, a shorter player will be able to judge the distance to the ring better, and score more. A fact stating this hypothesis that missed free throws are usually off in terms of the LENGTH of the shot, not the left-right orientation.

And I do appologize for my crippled terminology regarding matters of scientific value :slight_smile:


“You know how complex women are”

  • Neil Peart, Rush (1993)

Yeah, finally an area of my expertise!
Satan and BobT have pretty much hit the mark, but I’ll still add my 2 cents. Big guys tend to shoot worse from the free throw line because they spend most of the game pounding inside and not having to worry about taking a shot with proper form. A lot of quick tip-ins, dunks, hook shots, lay-ups etc do nothing to help your shooting form. You get a higher field goal % but at some detriment to your shooting skill. Tall people with outside shots (Larry Bird, Karl Malone) are much better free throw shooters, because it is part of their normal range. Another possible explanation has to do with hand size. The bigger your hands, the more area they cover on the ball. Normally,it helps, but when shooting a free throw it can be a negative. If a big guy doesn’t use proper form (or has a mental block, etc) then being all over the ball gives them too much control and they release it poorly (Wilt Chamberlain).
With Shaq, I have heard the story that he broke his wrist as a kid and can’t use proper follow-through. While that might be part of it, I still prescribe to the notion that he is using that as a crutch for the mental side of his problem. It also doesn’t help that he has dozens of people telling him how to fix it.
Finally, shooting is getting worse. It’s a combo of players coming out early (not coached enough in the fundamentals), kids only wanting to make the big 3 or go for the killer dunk, and a general shift from driving to the basket and picking up fouls to getting your shot while stationery.

As for me, I played inside and got hammered around a good bit but made 80% of my free throws because I would shoot them like crazy whenever I could. And that may be what it takes for some of these poor shooters to get a little better.

Well, shut my mouth. It’s also illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling.

As for underhanded free throws, I simply offer as exhibit A: Rick Barry :slight_smile:

Exactly. He had a killer outside shot but the granny style free throws didn’t interfere with that.

Editorial: Personally, I think that Shaq doesn’t shoot free throws granny-style because of his “image”. For god’s sake, he was shooting FT under 30% in the preseason- How much worse can he shoot them? And with 7 years in the NBA (more than that for Dudley and Chamberlin) as well as personal coaches, you think that if it was mental they would’ve figured out a way around it by now.

IIRC, wasn’t Dudley shooting granny free throws at some point?

I think Dudley has done everything expcept for having magical dwarves help out his shot. He gets paid to take up space, play a little defense, and hack the opposing center and not for his point scoring skills.

I don’t think just because a person has been a pro for an extended period of time means he should be over a mental block by now. Heck, Shaq has countless more people scrutinizing his free throws. If he has a mental block, it is likely exacerbated by even more people pointing out his follies.

Well, shut my mouth. It’s also illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling.

Most likely, Rick Barry shot free throws underhand his whole life. His free throw shooting method was entirely different from his jump shot.
If you ever see tape of him shooting, he actually used a fairly difficult technique. He put a lot of backspin on the ball.

Another reason no one else will shoot like Rick Barry is that no player today would want to listen to a jerk like Barry. I don’t even think his sons in the NBA (Brent and Jon) talk to him very much. They also shoot their free throws conventionally.

There was only 1 game I can think of during Drew’s junior year that Rick actually showed up to watch. Jon and Drew never said much about him, but did call him by his first name. But, whether he was a jerk or outspoken, he did shoot .900 from the free throw line for his career. Not too shabby.

Update: Shaq is shooting .349 from the free throw line, and the Lakers are shooting an abyssmal .615 as a team, a league worst. So much for the “zen” influence of Phil Jackson.

New York is third best, probably because Chris Dudley hasn’t shot a free throw yet.

My WAG as to why they’re so bad at free throws? They’re bums.