How to Shoot a Basketball like the Pros

Learning how to shoot a basketball with proper shooting form is one of the first skills youth basketball players should learn.

how to shoot a basketball

Photo: Some rights reserved by Regina/acrphoto

College players and pros make shooting a basketball look easy.

But when something looks effortless, you can be sure there was tremendous effort involved behind the scenes to get there.

Great shooters excel because they've learned the basic basketball shooting fundamentals and practiced them over and over again for many years. 

They also learned the importance of good shot selection.

Shooting a basketball with accuracy depends on 3 key actions:

  • shooting the ball straight
  • with good trajectory
  • with the right amount of force

The following basketball tips analyze the mechanics of a stationary set shot. See how each component affects shooting accuracy:  

  1. Alignment
  2. Eyes
  3. Hand position
  4. Wrist
  5. Elbow
  6. Shooting pocket
  7. Feet & balance
  8. Legs
  9. Aim
  10. Arc & shot release
  11. Ball rotation
  12. Follow through
  13. Full body extension
  14. Timing

Since the set shot is the most basic shot in basketball, it's a good place to start. From there learn how to shoot other kinds of basketball shots:

A great way to practice your basketball shooting form is with the help of repetitive drills that help train your muscles to perform good technique.

Before you get started, here are 5 helpful tips when teaching beginners the proper basketball shooting form.

14 basketball shooting tips for perfect form

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #1: Alignment

Your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders should be squared up to the basket.

(Many coaches prefer teaching an open stance where the feet point to one side of the basket while shooting. For example, a right-handed shooter's feet would point slightly to the left side of the basket. It really comes down to coach/player preference.)

Even though your feet will be slightly staggered, your body faces in the general direction of the target.

The shooting foot, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and hand should be in line and extend along the same line in the same plane.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #2: Eyes

Keep your eyes focused on your target until you release the ball.

If you were shooting a rifle at a target, you would never think about letting your eyes roam. You would peer intently through the sight on the rifle.

Shooting a basketball is no different.

It's easy to get distracted by pesky defenders or shouting fans and teammates, and it's tempting to take your focus off of the goal.

Big mistake!

Your eyes are really important in helping judge the distance to the rim and sending signals to the brain about what your body needs to do to get the ball up there.

Keep your eyes on the rim until your follow through is finished.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #3: Hand position

The ball should rest just off the palm of your hand with your fingers spread comfortably. It should touch the finger pads of all 5 fingers, but not lay flat on the palm.

When first starting, it might be helpful to locate the little air hole on the ball. That makes a good point of reference.

I start out by placing my index and middle finger around the hole in a "V". These two fingers are really important because they are the ones you really shoot with.

Your non-shooting hand should be placed on the side of the ball (not the front). It's your balance hand. It only serves to hold the ball in place kind of like a golf tee. It has nothing to do with the shot itself.

*Important note: Small players may need to start out shooting the ball with two hands because the ball is too big and heavy for a one-handed set shot.

That's okay.

Just work on the other mechanics and, as they grow, they can adjust to using one hand.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #4: Wrist

The wrist starts out slightly cocked so that the ball can rest on it.

When releasing the shot, the wrist completely flexes to put the backspin on the ball. Let the wrist completely follow-through and stop moving on its own.

Don't jerk it to a stop.

A good way to get the feeling of the wrist snap is to cock your shooting wrist with your arm in shooting position.

With your non-shooting hand, push back and down on the fingers of your shooting hand so the palm of your shooting hand points directly up in the air.

Follow through with your wrist like you're shooting a ball against the pressure of your non-shooting hand until the shooting fingers of your hand flick free.

You should feel your wrist kind of snap. That's the kind of wrist action you need.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #5: Elbow

Your shooting elbow should be tucked comfortably in at your side with your palm facing the goal and your fingers facing up.

You should be able to rest a basketball on the palm of your hand without it falling off.

Don't let your elbow poke out to the side like a chicken wing because this forces your fingers to point off to the side.

To have a good follow through with good touch on the ball, you have to be able to release it with your fingers pointing up.

To get your elbow in the right position, try raising your shooting hand above your head like you're asking a question. From that position, drop it straight down to your side so it makes almost an "L" shape.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #6: Shooting pocket

The ball should start out in a position referred to as the "shooting pocket."

For a right-handed shooter, the ball rests comfortably in the right hand just off of the palm with the wrist slightly cocked, elbow touching the side of the body, and the ball held just under the right eye.

(It's just the opposite for a left-handed shooter.)

This position allows the shooter to look over the ball at the target, not under it.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #7: Feet & balance

Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart to give yourself good balance. A solid base allows you to go up strong and push upward with your legs.

The foot on the side of your shooting hand should be slightly ahead of your other foot About half the length of your foot.

Your weight should be leaning forward slightly, so that you're not standing flat-footed. Make sure you're not leaning back on your heels.

If you get off balance, your push off is likely to be off to the side. It doesn't take much of a lean to throw off your shot.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #8: Legs

Your knees should be slightly bent at the start with both knees facing the basket. As you prepare to shoot, bend a little deeper and then push upward to get power from your legs.

Young kids don't have a lot of strength in their arms, so a lot of the muscle behind their shot has to come from the legs.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #9: Aim

The index and middle finger of your shooting hand are the last things that touch the ball. As a result, the ball will go where they direct it.

basketball shooting aid

I emphasize that these fingers (which form a "V") need to point toward the target at the end of the shot.

Without using a ball, I exaggerate this point with my young shooters by having them pretend to shoot a ball toward the goal and freeze their follow through.

Have them check to see where the "V" is pointing because that's where the ball will go. If their "V" is off to the right or left, they're pushing to the side instead of straight up.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #10: Arc & shot release

The actual size of the basket is a lot bigger than it looks.

A lot of people don't realize it, but two balls can fit through the rim side by side at the same time. That's great news for a shooter because there's room for shooting error. With good arc, the ball has a chance of dropping through even if it's slightly off target.

The best way to take advantage of this large target is to shoot the ball with a high enough arc so that it drops through the rim from above.

The position of your shooting arm when you release the ball determines the trajectory, or arc, that the ball will travel.

Release the ball too high, and the shot is likely to end up high and short.

Release the shot too low, and the ball heads toward the basket in a straight line like a bullet.

Think of your shooting arm like a hand on a clock. If you raise it straight above your head, it would be in the 12:00 o'clock position.

On your shot release, you want to let go of the ball when your arm is at 1:00 o'clock. That angle of release will give it a nice loft toward the basket.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #11: Ball rotation

When you release the ball it should have a nice backward rotation on it. That indicates you have released it properly off of the pads of your fingers with good wrist flexion.

The last fingers to touch the ball should be the index finger and middle finger.

Work on snapping the wrist and releasing the ball off of these two fingers with a medium speed backward rotation.

Ball rotation is what gives the ball a nice touch when it hits the rim or backboard, allowing it bounce or drop in after contact.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #12: Follow through

At the completion of your shot, the elbow should extend fully and the wrist flex completely so the fingers point to the ground.

I like to imagine the basket is a huge cookie jar.

My shooting arm stretches up, and my wrist reaches right over the rim and down into the jar.

Some coaches call it a "gooseneck."

The follow through is what gives the ball a nice backspin and soft touch.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #13: Full body extension

Before the shot, your weight should be forward toward the balls of your feet with your knees bent and your shooting arm tucked in to the side of your body.

As you go up for the shot, your whole body kind of unfolds.

Extend your legs first, then your hips, your shooting shoulder, and your elbow. You end the shot up on your toes with your wrist completely flexed like its reaching down inside the basket.

It takes practice to make this progression a smooth one, but it's important that the motion has a steady rhythm to it and isn't jerky.

How to Shoot a Basketball
Tip #14: Timing

It takes a lot of repetitions to get the shooting form into a well-timed smooth, rhythmical motion.

Start in slow motion focusing on each body part from the ground up.

Notice how your body transitions from bending your knees to full extension of the legs and hips, to extension of the arm, to a complete follow through with the wrist.

Repeat the basketball shooting form without a ball over and over again to train the muscles of the body what good form feels like.

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