This is an excerpt from Basketball Shooting by Dave Hopla.
Free shots will involve the same fundamental shooting techniques that we discussed in chapter 3. We take you through the physical components as well as the mental components of the free shot. The technique you use for free shots is virtually identical to the technique you would use when practicing the drill for balance-hand shooting form. The major difference with free shots is the mental component of being on stage or on the spot. Recall the importance of being consistent. If you are consistent with how you shoot the ball, then you can develop a sense of confidence when you step to the line.
Great shooters attempt to align their feet in the exact spot every time they shoot. When stepping to the one-point line for a pair of free shots, obtaining proper stance becomes much easier than, say, coming off a screen for a jump shot. This is because free shots are stationary shots, allowing players to properly align their feet using the mechanics discussed in chapter 3. Yet another aspect of free shots is the tack or nail located in the center of most one-point lines. The first thing you should do is locate this tack or nail. This spot is aligned with the center of the basket. In the rare event that you find yourself shooting at a line with no tack or nail, do your best to determine where the center of the basket is and place your shooting foot there (right foot if you are right-handed). A majority of courts should have a tack or nail in place, so this shouldn’t be an issue. If you are a right-handed shooter, you would align your right foot with the tack, as shown in figure 4.1. If you are left handed, you would do just the opposite and align with your left foot. This positioning sets you up to shoot the ball in your shot line in accordance with your shooting hand.
Once the shooting foot is aligned, place the other foot next to the shooting foot (see figure 4.2a) and slide it back until the toes are even with the arch of the shooting foot (see figure 4.2b). Next, move the back foot (nonshooting foot) over until the feet are shoulder-width apart (see figure 4.2c). You are now in a staggered stance, obtaining perfect balance.
Once the feet are set, bend at the hips and knees to generate power and momentum for the free shot. When bending at the hips, bring the head and shoulders down or forward so that the shoulders are in front of the feet and the head is in front of the shoulders. Then, bend at the knees until the heels come off the floor (see figure 4.3). Bending at the hips and knees gives you proper balance and power to get the ball to the basket.
If you’re a younger player, you might need to bend at the hips and knees slightly more in order to generate enough power to get the ball to the basket. If you still require additional power, you might consider stepping into the free shot. To do this, first establish your stance exactly as described previously, and then bring the shooting foot behind the nonshooting foot. When ready to shoot, take the shooting foot and step to the tack or nail. This step allows younger players to gather enough power to ensure that the ball will reach the basket. However, you must be cautious of stepping over the line when using this technique because that will result in a violation and a forfeiture of the free shot. What is truly important is to stress the bend at both the knees and the hips. As a younger player, if you bend just at the knees and do not bend at the hips, you will fail to bring the head and shoulders forward. This means that the heels will likely remain in contact with the floor and you will be flat footed until you raise the ball. If you shoot in this fashion you will have significantly less power, and your free-shot attempts will likely clang off the front of the rim.
How Many Shots Should You Take?
Far too often, players will practice all kinds of fancy dribbling moves that they will never use in a game, but they won’t put the time in at the line. So exactly how many free shots should a player take every day that they shoot? You need to be more interested in makes than takes. A lot of coaches end practice with “foul” shooting. They ask players to shoot 50 and go home. In this situation, a poor shooter will most likely shoot 50 as quickly as possible so he or she can get out of the gym and go home. Practicing that way is almost like giving someone a machine gun. He or she might get 50 rounds off quickly, but not many shots will have hit the target. Instead, a coach who asks players to make 50 before going home requires more focus and concentration from players. Eventually, the players who want to be great will aim to make 100 free shots before heading home. And guess what! It doesn’t take long to make 100 free shots—perhaps anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes if you are a good shooter and depending on the number of bounces that you like to use.
Read more from Basketball Shooting by Dave Hopla.