Analysis of the Basketball Free Throw

Analysis of the Basketball Free Throw


The purpose of this paper is to analyze free throw shooting in basketball and to demonstrate the relationship between structural and functional anatomy and movement performance. This paper will discuss the muscles and actions that are important for the movement and how these muscles relate specifically to the movement outcome, limiting/facilitating joints and associated structures. Also discussed is the combination of muscle and joint motions important for movement success. We also briefly discuss the sources of movement failure. The final section of this paper will discuss how this movement is critical for success in sport and what happens with aging, disease, or injury that can compromise function and ability to perform the movement.


The free throw shot is one the most important shots in basketball. In fact, around 20% of all points scored in the NCAA Division 1 are from free throws shots (Kozar, Vaughn, Lord, Whitfield, & Dve 243-248). The importance of this shot increases later in the game, because free throws tend to comprise greater percentage of the points that are scored in the last 5 minutes than the initial 35 minutes by either the wining or the losing team (Kozar et al., 123-129). The free throw shot is considered as the easiest shot for a professional basketball player, as the player stands alone, 15 feet away from the hoop with no defense or distraction. The player needs to get ready target, prime the ball and shoot (Okubo & Hubbard, 2006). A successful free throw shot requires deep concentration, and most importantly good mechanics to take a perfect shot.

While a free throw shot does not seem like an action that needs a lot of movement, muscle groups and joints in a body work together in isotonic contractions, utilizing multiple muscle groups in creating the movement. A free throw shot engages elbow, hip and ankle extensors in addition to wrist and shoulder flexors. In the case of the knees, the joints are hinged and the movement starts with a flexion, preparing for the free throw. Quadriceps and hamstrings become the antagonist and the agonist. This movement happens as you utilize knee flexion so that the muscles work in pairs. Hamstring contraction pulls the joints which makes the individuals bend their knees. The next movement after the flexion is the knee extension. When the shooter releases the ball, the quadriceps is the agonist and the hamstring is the antagonist. The upper body sequence would be: extension of trunk, shoulder flexion that will follow extension of elbow and wrist flexion. A common error during the shot is performing shoulder flexion and elbow extension at once, so that the elbow extension contributes less in taking the shot and is combined with the shoulder flexion rather than adding to the hand velocity. As the ball is brought up with use of both hands, it passes directly in the front of shooter’s eyes and the shot is aimed with the eyes underneath the basketball (Alexander 9).

When the trunk moves from its flexed position to an extension, the upward movement of trunk would push down on the lumbar vertebrae, pushing down on the sacroiliac joints, which in turn will push down on the body’s hip joints. Knee joints respond to downward force transmitted by the hips by producing a greater knee flexion. Players who, for various reasons, do not have the needed trunk flexion in this stage of the free throw shot would decrease their ability to load their legs for the shot and consequently might end up losing full contribution of leg extension from the deeply flexed position to free throw. It has been suggested that trunk extension can help in triggering more forceful moment of knee extension. Additionally, a deeper trunk extension produces added hyperextension at the neck area helping the shooter to retain the focus on the rim (Oddsson 109-118).

Following the release of the ball, the final phase of a shot, the follow through, occurs. During this time, all joints continue moving through the end of its full motion range following the release of the ball. In a skilled follow through, both legs fully extend and the toes points towards the floor. The trunk is aligned vertically with shooting hip, ankle and the knee. Additionally it aligns with the shooting arm’s joints, bringing the upper and lower extremities into harmony (Alexander, 16). The angle of the shooting shoulder should be somewhere between 140-150degrees of the shoulder flexion. Generally, the closer the shooting arm is to vertical, the greater the amount of vertical force that is applied to the shot. The trunk is often rotated away from shooting hand. This helps in lining up the shooting shoulder and the arm with the rim. This trunk rotation would happen at the moment the ball is released from the shooter’s hand (Alexander, 18).

In cases when the ball gets released too late or too early, the ball’s velocity would not optimize as the elbow and wrist joints speed up or slow down rather than staying in the peak velocity. The wrist flexion provides the ultimate thrust for releasing the ball and helps in determining both the angle of projection and velocity of the ball (Martin 127-133).A common failure in free throw technique occurs when joint range of motion does not reach its end point and stops movement early, before the release of the shot, resulting in a decreased velocity of the basketball at the release.

As far as joint movement pattern is concerned, there is not a huge difference between the success rate of the shot and the angle of the joint from where the ball is being shot. But, some dissimilarity can be found that could possibly determine the success of scoring a basket. One such dissimilarity is the joint’s peak angular velocity involved in the free throw. The knee, hip and the ankle joints have a higher peak angular velocity in comparison between successful and unsuccessful free throws. Distinctively, the angular velocity of the upper body joints during successful attempts have a lower peak angular velocity than that of missed shots. Additionally, proximal joints that are found closer to the hub and trunk of the body are utilized earlier than the distal joints more commonly associated with the free throw. In sum, movement and energy start from the core and work their way outward towards the distal extremities.

Full range of elbow movement relates to greater success in free throw shots. However, it should be noted that this is also accompanied by a slight flexion in individual’s shooting elbow which occurs around mid-range and not at the full extension. By allowing the shooter’s wrist to remaining between full flexion and full extension during the release, maximum velocity can be achieved when the basketball is released (Alexander 10). Unsuccessful shots are often associated with periods of longer muscle activation. Measurement conducted with use electromyography suggests that muscle tension needs to be minimal at the release for successful free throw shooting. Shots that require the least amount of energy expended during the release are the easiest for controlling and have the highest probability for success (Huston & Grau 49-64). In addition, height of release is also found to be crucial in success of the shot, as successful shots are related to height ratio that is calculated by comparison of the shooter’s standing height to the shooter’s release height. The rule is: ‘The higher the release height, the better the shot’ (Hudson 242-251).

There are some errors that turn out to be common in Free throw shooting for most individuals. One such reason is poor alignment that happens when shooters fail in lining up the shooting side knee, hip, shoulder and elbow with a line through the ball towards the basket. Another common reason is lack of backspin that happens when players apply side spin during the release or avoid any spin at the time of release. Having low arc on the shot makes players, who have insufficient shoulder trunk or elbow extension, flexion at the time of release making the ball release too flat. Relaxation of the shooting arm is needed at time of shot, with only active mover muscles needing to be contracted while complimentary muscles should be relaxed and loose. Full follow through is important as players need to finish their in the goose full-neck position of their shooting hand with arms pointing towards the ceiling and hands pointing at the basket. Some other reasons for failure are interference of non-shooting hand, shooting ball too hard, high tension on the shooting arm, taking off the shot angle and leaning at the time of release (Alexander 17-18).

As mentioned in the introduction, free throw shot are considered as some of the easiest shots for a professional basketball player to make. However, a decline in performance is witnessed in the free throw attempts of basketball athletes in their post-injury and aging days. This drop-off in free throw attempt numbers is also demonstrated in abysmal shot rates, plummeting usage rates and inability to create their own offense. Taken as a whole there is an expected and obvious drop in the efficiency of almost all athletes as they get grow old and start sustaining injuries. The reason behind this is simple physiology, as the body starts aging the ligaments and tendons start losing water, making them less elastic and more fragile. Knee troubles are common trouble for most experienced and newly retired basketball players as with age knee troubles start to disturb athletes (Wagner).


Every muscle in human body comprises of a network of fibers that are responsible for certain types of movements. When a human body engages in playing a game like basketball, these muscle fibers start to make the movements in conjunction with directions from your brain. This is seen functions like dribbling, running, passing, catching, rebounding, dunking and of course hitting free throws. The actions taken causes muscle contractions, that is, specific movement to lengthen, shorten and stay the same. While the free throw shot does not seem like an action that needs a lot of movement, muscle groups and joints in the body work together in isotonic contractions, creating the movement and allowing the body to perform even the most routine and fundamental actions.

Works Cited

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