How to Shoot a Basketball Properly

Derrick Rose (left) and Keith Bogans work on their shots.
Derrick Rose (left) and Keith Bogans work on their shots.

I’m sure you know how to shoot a basketball, but do you know how to shoot correctly? Here are some basic tips to make sure you are doing it correctly.

  • Stance – A correct stance is very important to having a good shot, and different stances work better for different shooters. There are basically two types of shooting stances: closed (with your shoulders squared to the hoop and your feet pointing directly towards the hoop) and open (with your shooting shoulder turned slightly closer to the hoop and your feet pointing slightly to your off-hand’s side of the hoop). Many coaches teach a closed stance (which works for a lot of players), but you need to use the stance that is most comfortable for you. I tried to shoot closed for years before I finally figured out that my motion was smoother and I could shoot more consistently and with more power when I opened up my stance.
  • Grip – The ball should set on the fingers and thumb of your shooting hand (not on the palm), with your off-hand resting on the side of the ball and acting as a guide. When you shoot, your off-hand should come off the ball before it leaves your shooting hand.
  • Mechanics – When you start your shot, your knees should be slightly bent (your power comes from your legs, not your arm). Make sure your shooting elbow stays in, under the ball, during the entire shot (don’t let it stick out to the side, this will cause side spin and push your shots wide). Keep your eyes on the target during the entire shot. Extend your shooting hand up and forward towards the hoop. Aim your middle finger towards the middle of the rim as you shoot. Fully extend your arm, “snap your elbow” and extend your wrist at the top of your shot.

If any of this is new to you, practice your shot a bit while thinking about these points until you feel comfortable with your shot. When you are comfortable with your shot, it is time to perfect it and get it game-ready with some basketball shooting drills for kids and older players both.

Basketball Shooting Drills

Here are five of my favorite basketball shooting drills to help you improve how you shoot a basketball. Some of them focus on developing consistent form while other help you put that form to use in game-like situations. You don’t even need a gym or basket for some of them, all you need is a ball. So, you have no excuse not to work on your shot every day.

  1. Bedtime: 

    This drill helps you develop consistent arm motion on your shot, and can be done anywhere you can lie down. My preference was always to do it when I was lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep. Lie completely flat and take the ball in your shooting hand (hold with your fingers, not your palm). Extend your arm and shoot the ball straight into the air (making sure to “snap your elbow” and extend your wrist for a full follow through). Concentrate on making the ball go straight up and catching it again in your shooting hand. Watch the rotation of the ball (make sure it is smooth and doesn’t spin to one side or the other). Do not use your off hand unless you have to. Do fifty to one hundred of these every night.

  2. Chair shots:

    Very similar to the bedtime drill, but this one is done sitting in a chair (or it can be done standing up as well). This time you will be shooting the ball straight over your head and trying to make it come straight back down into your shooting hand. Once again watching the backspin to make sure it is nice and straight and consistent. You can use your off hand in this drill, but make sure it is not pushing the ball at all. The drill fits well during commercial breaks if you’re watching TV or if sitting at the gym waiting to get on the floor.

  3. Bunnies: 

    This drill helps you perfect your overall shooting form, and it helps you develop confidence in your shot. Stand two feet to one side of the basket and get in your shooting stance. Make sure your feet are lined up correctly, that your knees are bent correctly, and that you are holding the ball correctly. Now, shoot the ball smoothly making sure to maintain correct form and mechanics throughout the shot. Catch the ball as it comes through the hoop, step to the other side of the basket and repeat the shot from there. Make sure you are using your legs; you should end every shot on your toes. Concentrate on making your form perfect on every shot. Alternate between using the backboard and not using it. Not only will this develop the muscle memory needed to have consistent shooting form, it will also boost your confidence in your shot when see yourself make shot after shot. (Don’t believe me? Watch the video below of former NBA player and three point master Dell Curry talking about the importance of using shooting drills that boost confidence.) Make at least twenty-five, but it’s even better if you do fifty or more.

  4. Elbows:

    You can do this drill alone or with a partner. You will be taking shots from the elbows (the top corners of the lane). Start on one elbow and quickly dribble to the other. As you reach the elbow pivot with your foot that is closest to the basket, come set, and shoot all in one fluid motion. If you have a partner, they can hit with a pass in stride as you reach the elbow and make your pivot. Either way, the point is to work on coming set quickly and taking a shot while in motion (it’s not likely defenders will give you tons of time to take a shot in a game). If you are working alone, follow up your shot to get the ball. If you miss, get the rebound and make a layup. This will help you work on your layups, and also helps your confidence.

  5. Game time free throws:

    The point of this drill is to help you get ready to shoot free throws in a game by making you shoot them while slightly tired and with a bit of pressure. Start off by running three down-and-backs (from one baseline to the other and back) as fast as you can. Then step to the free throw line and shoot ten free throws (make sure to use your free throw routine and concentrate on taking good shots, but don’t waste time). If you don’t make eight of ten you have to run another three down-and-backs, but if do make eight of ten or better you only have to run one down and back. You should be able to make eight of ten on a fairly consistent basis but if you are struggling, pick a number that works for you like six or seven out of ten. You should be breathing hard when you shoot (just like you will be after running around and playing hard during a game), and you will be shooting under pressure to keep down the number of sprints you have to run. Continue the drill until you have taken at least fifty free throws.

Keep Working to Improve Your Shot

If you consistently work on your shot, over time you will soon know for sure how to shoot a basketball properly. It takes dedication and hard work, but the payoff will be worth it. One of the keys to sticking with it and continuing to work on your shot is to consistently challenge yourself.

Just shooting some jumpers with your friends won’t help you get to the next level. You need to continue to challenge yourself with more difficult shots and shooting drills if you want to continue to improve. There are tons of shooting programs and products (like straps and braces to improve your form) to help you work on your shot, but you don’t have to have them to get better.

All you need is a willingness to keep working on your shot every day. If you get bored with what you are doing, talk to your coach about different things to do or get on the internet to find new team or individual basketball shooting drills to work on. The key is to make sure you do something every day to get better, and before you know it people will be coming to you to find out how to improve their shot.