Free Throw Physics


Everybody hates physics, right? Well, at least any good basketball player who would rather be out on the courts than staring at a blackboard crammed with equations does. But a little physics can go a long way, and it can also help to understand why Dr. Tom’s Free Throw method is so successful.

To simplify things a bit, let’s start by assuming complete accuracy (a big assumption, but we’ll get back to that later). In this case, you have to shoot the ball with the right angle above the ground and speed for it to go in. Of course, getting the right speed and angle on the court is an issue of feel. But from a physics standpoint, if the ball arcs more, it will hit the plane of the hoop at an angle closer to 90 degrees, giving it a better chance of going in.

This idea is backed up in an article in Discover magazine, which finds that shooting a ball at just over 45 degrees (depending on the height of the player) is the best way to go. The article also advocates a shooting style virtually identical to Dr. Tom’s – though unfortunately it refers to the style as the “granny shot”, since it leads to shooting lower, and thus gives you a more direct angle at the hoop plane.

So if lower is better, why not just throw the ball underhand? That’s where accuracy comes in. If you go too low, it’s harder to control the direction of the shot, and you miss. But at just the right height, you can make sure the shot goes in. Some of Dr. Tom’s techniques, such as keeping the elbow in and feet square to the line, help with accuracy even more.

For more free throw tips, check out our book and video!