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Basketball Shooting Drills

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

It’s playoff time and I am loving it! Aside from the repetitive and endless NBA endorsement commercials, the action is really heating up and so are some of the shooters. Last night Ray Allen lit up the Cavaliers with his trademark quick release and dead-eye accuracy. There’s a link bleow that takes you through two great, clutch NBA shooters in Gilbert Arenas (should I used past tense here?) and Ray Allen going through some basketball shooting drills. There are three take-aways from this video. Fist off all stability, secondly where your shot begins and finally, practicing for game situations. You can implement these principles in your own shot or in helping coach one of your players along.


Youtube link:


Gilbert Arenas rises up for a jumper in his prime (past tense?)


One of the biggest differences that become apparent right away when watching a pro versus and amateur ball player is there shot. A pro looks fluent as they raise the ball from their hip (or wherever they catch it) to their shooting pocket. The only thing that moves is their arms. Legs are already bent in an athletic stance, the head doesn’t move forward or backwards during the release and their core is completely stable and still. Watch both Gilbert and Ray. Stable as a table with every shot. Even on the move. This allows them to shoot from a consistent base with every shot. Now, contrast someone who is just starting out and it often looks like a disconnected, broken and awkward motion with the legs, core and head all bobbing and moving. It’s as uncomfortable as it is awkward.


One of my favorite lines is 4mins and 30 seconds into the clip. Ray Allen talks about his shot starting with his legs and coming up through the rest of his body. As I hammer home on this blog, the foundation of your shot is your legs and core. Strength and stability start there. His actual release is automatic because his mechanics and foundation are sound. Both Gilbert and Ray have great lift with their shot. Their stability allows them to transfer this lift into shot power. Whether you’re shooting a jump shot or a set shot, you still generate power with your legs and stability.


Finally, preparing by practicing for game situations. Gilbert talks about how he practices for situations he thinks he’ll encounter during a game. When he was in his prime, there was nobody better in the league with clutch jump shots, at the buzzer and from distance. If you watch their basketball shooting drills, they are practicing, they are on the move, catch and shoot or quick spot up jumpers. Ray seems to practice what he preaches to a greater degree. It looks so effortless with him and he talks about how it really is a product of lots and lots of practice. Perfect practice makes perfect.


We can all take something from these great shooters and this clip follows two of the best. There isn’t a magic skill or technique for shooting a basketball; it’s a product of how effectively you practice equally hard and smart. These pros can teach us how to train smart, the implementation is up to you. Enjoy the playoffs and hopefully Ray Allen will keep sinking those J’s, unless he plays Phoenix, anyways (haha).

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Introducing pressure into your basketball shooting drills is one of the best ways to ensure your success in practice transfers over into game situations. There are a lot of practice superstars out there who are great shooters when there’s no one in the gym to guard them but these players bring no value to their team in a game situation and that’s when it really counts.

There are three (3) benefits to applying defensive pressure to the shooter.
  1. Improves Focus and Concentration
  2. Improves Speed of Release
  3. Good for the Offence AND Defense 

Improves Focus and Concentration
First it better simulates a game situation. If you’re used to shooting wide open jumpers in practice, its very distracting to have a defender with a hand in your face or rushing out to defend you in a game; even if they are’nt going to actually block your shot. With defensive pressure applied to you in a drill, you can practice focusing on the shot and zoning the defender out. This concentration is crucial to making shots.

Improves Speed of Release
Along with improving your focus and concentration, it will also encourage your or your players to practice at game speed. The best incentive I know to improve a shooters speed of release is to have a few of her shots blocked, challenged or swatted into the bleachers. You don’t want to be on the end of a big block or want more shots per game, get your shot off faster! So many players take practice shots with no sense of urgency and then when they get to a game situation, they can’t get their shot off. Adding pressure in practice will speed up the release. Now, a quick warning is that if you’re just learning a skill, take your time to get the fundamentals right before you start trying to do it faster.

Good for the Offence AND Defense
Not only is this drill beneficial for the shooter, it’s great for the defender, too! Often times when shooting drills are running in practice there is a missed opportunity to get some defensive work. Why not have the shooter rotate to the defender after they take their shot? If not, you’re missing an easy opportunity or “low hanging fruit” to get some defensive work in. If you teach your players how you want them to guard shooters in practice, you’ll save a lot of grief from fouling shooters or not closing out properly in games. 

So now that we’ve talked about the why, let’s talk about the how. Adding defensive pressure is all about trying to change the shot, not block it. A hand in the face is more than enough to contest and change a shot. The best ways to add pressure are to have the defender in their defensive stance with a hand to challenge the shot, again, not block it. In fact, this is sound advice for game situations, too. A shot block attempt more often results in a foul rather than block. Consider this, Dwight Howard (who currently leads the league in blocked shots averages 3.6 fouls per game and only 2.7 blocks! So what makes you think you’re attempts will be any better? I’ll take a shot changer over a shot blocker any day. In addition to this, a shot changer is in better position to box out and rebound than a shot blocker.

Finally, another way to introduce defensive pressure to a shooter is to have the defender close out on the shooter. Have the defender rush out towards the shooter and work on getting into good defensive position with a hand up as quickly as possible without being susceptible to a shot fake or drive. So, add that defender whenever possible into your basketball shooting drills and while your players might not thank you in practice, they will in the game.



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The toss out drill is a great basketball shooting drill that you can work on when it’s just you and the basket. This drill will improve your shooting off the pass, fitness and core and leg strength. It’s very simple and you can add in variations that work on your shot fake, change of direction and shooting off the dribble. If you look at the best pure shooters in the NBA, the majority of their shots come off screens and kick-out passes. This basketball shooting drill is perfect for simulating coming off a screen for a quick release jump shot.

Follow the steps below as the correspond to the diagram.

Step 1.
Start under the basket with the ball cut along the baseline.


Step 2.
Just before you make your cut as if you’re coming off a screen, toss the ball to the spot you want to shoot from and then make your cut. Catch the ball on the move and take your shot. Where you shoot from will depend on your strength and what type of shot you’re working on. It’s so important to not shoot outside of your range since this will only cause defects in your shooting mechanics as you start “pushing” the ball and lose form to generate more power.


Step 3.
Get your rebound and start a cut along the opposite baseline.


Step 4.
Same as Step 2 except now you’re on the other side. Cut along the baseline.


Step 5.
Again, toss the ball to your shooting spot and make a nice, hard and sharp cut. Step into the ball and take your shot. 


Step 6.
Get your rebound and start again.


You can either do this for a fixed interval of time (1 minute, 2 minutes, etc) or until a set number of shots or makes. whatever you do, measure so you can track your progress. Always try and best your previous effort.


Tips and Points of Focus
- Practice this basketball shooting drill like it’s a game situation. Make sure you’re going at a good speed that’s challenging and making you a better player.
- After you’re gassed or out of breath, go to the free throw line and take 5 free throws. This is a great time to work on your free throws since it simulates late game situations where you’re tired and at the free throw line.
- Stay low. Especially on your cuts and on catching the ball. You’ll find this gives you more agility, speed and control.
- As you progress, add in a shot fake then take one dribble and shoot.


Again, this basketball shooting drill is great for when you’re working on your game alone in the driveway or at the gym. It improves your shooting off the pass, dribble and your fitness.


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February 17, 2010

Groom your Shooting Stroke

So how can you develop and groom your shooting stroke?
When great shooters shoot, it looks like the ball destined for the bottom of the basket right from the moment the ball leaves their hand. A “pure shooting stroke” is a trademark of all great shooters. In this post, I’ll talk about the components of a great stroke, the mechanics and a basketball shooting drill to groom a healthy shooting stroke.
I’ll assume you’ve read my earlier post about getting the ball to your shooting pocket. Again, once the ball is in your shooting pocket, the rest should be muscle memory and reflex. An important point I’d like to make here is that the position of shooters pocket is largely dependent on the players strength and size. Youths (approx. 12 and under) pocket will be around shoulder level (Figure 1) while senior men, especially post players, will be at or above their head. With younger players, it’s important to keep their shooting pocket lower so they can focus on their stroke and not have to worry about power as much. As they grow and progress, their shooting pocket should move up since a higher point of release is harder to block/guard.


Figure 1 – Shoulder Pocket Level for Youth’s

There are essentially two components to your stroke. Wrist action and arm action. The flick of the wrist is responsible for the shooters “touch” and the backspin on the ball. You want nice, tight ball rotation with your shot. So, the more wrist action, the more spin and “touch” your shot will have. Don’t think of it as a quick flick of the wrist. It’s a controlled, directed motion. Think of your wrist as the fine tuning knob on your shot. If you want to hit your target with accuracy, you need to make use of the fine tuning knob.
The arm action on a shot will vary depending on where your shooting pocket is. The general rule here is that your arm should extend through the ball. Not pushing the ball but extending through it.  A tell tale sign a shooter is using too much arm or pushing the ball is the shooting shoulder coming forward. This usually happens to a player when shooting outside their range. Avoid and correct this early at all costs since this will lead to poor form and bad habits in the future. Shot power actually comes from the legs and core so don’t try and overcompensate with your arm. If it’s outside your range, you need to build leg and core strength.
A great basketball shooting drill for tying these two components together is The Standing Wall Shooting Drill. Stand five (5) feet back from a wall and work on stroking the ball against the wall (Figure 2). Aim for the same spot on the wall and  work on a nice, fluent stroke with good arm and wrist mechanics. The reason we don’t use a basket is because we want the focus to be on our shot itself rather than if it goes in or not. Work on a consistent stroke, follow-through (Figure 3) and the rest will follow. What we’re really doing here is muscle memory. Your wrist and arm should work together in harmony. Feel the balls weight on your shooting wrist and arm and then feel the ball slide off your non-shooting, or support, hand.


Figure 2 – Standing Wall Drill Set-Up


 Figure 3 – Follow Through


Do three sets of twenty (3×20) every other day and marvel at how natural it feels and the comfort.


A great youth basketball drill to begin practice with, get the team warmed up and get the team working together is the 3-Man Weave. One reason I especially enjoy the weave is because it allows a team to monitor its progress. Without fail, upon teaching and practicing this basketball drill for the first time there be a few confused players and even more dropped balls and missed passes. However, once you run it through a few times for a few days, the progress is astounding! Players who were running aimlessly before are now well coordinated in harmonic motion. It’s beautiful to watch.
Here are the individual and team skills that the weave will improve,

  • passing on the move
  • coordination and timing
  • footwork
  • team communication
  • team chemistry

How it works.

  • The mantra for this drill is to “follow your pass”.
  • Start with three players on the base line with the ball in the middle.
  • Middle player pass to his/her right and follows their pass to the right.
  • Player on the right (who now has the ball) passes the player on the left and follows their pass.
  • Player on the left (who now has the ball) passes to the player in the middle, who is now on the right and follows their pass.
  • Repeat until you make it down the floor and score a lay-up.

 See video demonstration

 Some points to remember are,

  • Walk through the drill to begin with
  • Say the person name before you pass to them (also a great way for a new team to learn names)
  • Above all, always remember to follow your pass.

Once you perfect the basic three man weave, there are many different variations and other youth basketball drills that build on the original. Some of these include moving it up to a 4- or 5-man weave, a half-court version  to run during warm- up before a game and a five-man weave on the way down and a 3 on 2 break on the way back.
So I encourage you to give this one a go. You will be frustrated with it the first time and amazed at the progress after a few cycles.

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In my earlier post I talked about the importance of breaking shooting down into smaller steps. Today, I’m going to talk about the first steps, in gripping the ball or the position your hands need to before you bring the ball to your shooting pocket and then bringing the ball to your shooting “pocket” (i.e. the point from which you release the ball). While this may seem like an straight-forward topic, it’s essential to develop good mechanics as they will lay the foundation for the rest of your shot. This is also the biggest factor in your speed of release. If you’re shot takes too long to get off then it will give your defender time to get back into position and you no longer have a chance to shoot, regardless of how accurate you are.

Your hands should be positioned as shown in Figure 1. It’s important to start from this position because from here you can shoot, pass or dribble; the “triple threat”. If you start with your hands in shooting position like in Figure 2, then it’s difficult to throw a hard chest-pass and putting the ball on the floor to dribble is an awkward motion. Also, you only need to grip the ball with your fingers tips and, when dribbling, with your palm slightly. This holds true with you shot and with dribbling. Even though it’s a drill, you need to practice like it’s game.  As you raise the ball to your pocket, your shooting hand (for most people, their right) should rotate behind the ball with your elbow in-line with the basket and sitting underneath the ball. The line from your elbow to your wrist should not be completely vertical but it should be tucked comfortably in to your body, as in Figure 3. Your off-shooting hand helps to raise the ball but only serves as a holder for your shooting hand. You should feel it “slide” to a position on the side of the ball. Again, it’s function is to support the shooting hand. It will provide no force in actually shooting the ball. When we look at shooting on the move, we’ll add a variation with shooting hand “sliding” into position, but for now, focus on using your left hand to help raise the ball and then stabilize your pocket.


Figure 1 – Good Hand Positioning


Figure 2 – Awkward to Dribble


Figure 3 – Shooting Pocket

A great basketball shooting drill to start with is probably the simplest and most straight forward. Practice bringing the ball to your pocket with out actually shooting. An important note is to remember to raise the ball to your pocket. Whether it be at your chest, chin or above your head. Drop the ball, pick it up and do it again. Do three sets of 20 reps (3 x 20). This motion needs to become second nature and the speed of your release is largely determined by how quickly you can get the ball from your hip into your shooting pocket. Once you’ve mastered this skill, releasing the ball is the easy part since you have a stable platform to do it from.


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The process of shooting a basketball happens in a second or two and, yet, is a complex, compound movement. To understand the components of a healthy shot, we need to break the movement down into simpler sub-components that can be analyzed and understood in isolation. We’ll then use basketball shooting drills to perfect these simplified movements.
The shooting process itself can be broken down to three (3) smaller steps,
1.      Gripping the ball/hand positioning,
2.      Raising the ball to the shooting “pocket” (point of shot release) and
3.      Releasing the shot from the pocket.
Many people only consider the “stroke” of shooting (Step 3), which is really just tip of the iceberg. Step 3, or the release, is built on the foundation of Step 1 and Step 2, which consist of getting the ball to ready position, the shooting pocket.
Furthermore, the many types of shots that are utilized in a game for a balanced attack can be classified into three fundamental categories with shooting
1.      Stationary (standing still)
2.      off the pass
3.      off the dribble.
That’s it. There are niche shots (think finger rolls, hook shoots, running floaters) but all shots in a game fall into one of these three categories.
Becoming a smooth shooter begins with targeting and practicing basketball shooting drills that perfect these skills first in isolation and then in harmony. Start with the simple. Bringing the ball from the waist into the shooting pocket and repeating until it’s comfortable and 2nd nature and then eventually progress to compound movement drills like shooting on the move and focusing on footwork and rhythm. It’s essential to perfect the smaller skills and processes before the complex because any efficient complex process is only a function of its smaller, simpler ones.
Some of the biggest and common mistakes to avoid practicing shooting drills are,

  • shooting too far away from the basket
  • “pushing” the shot with two hands
  • not using enough legs for power

These pitfalls will develop bad habits and mechanics that are difficult to correct later. Practice is perfect is

not quite accurate. The truth is perfect practice makes perfect. Repetition with poor fundamentals does more harm than good. It’s worse than not practicing at all since additional practice is needed just to unlearn these bad habits. This is yet another reason to perfect Step 1 and then move to Step 2 before working on Step 1, 2 and 3.


Jump Shot

Figure 1 – Ray Allen of the Celtics lets one fly