Michael Jordan famously spent all his free time on the practice court, and even built one into the basement of his Chicago mansion. The best place to watch LeBron being LeBron isn’t at a game, but at a Cavs workout, where he routinely lays down clinics on both the fundamentals and the fully unbelievable. It might be a tired truism, but it’s a truism because, dammit, it’s true: practice really does make perfect. Or at least, practice makes better — and you’re sure not going to get any better if you don’t put the work in. Nowhere is that more true than in sports, especially basketball, where the best players have a terrifying mix of agility, skill, domineering fierceness and god-given talent. And, yeah: a killer work ethic.
So even if you think you’ve got game and just want to fix the finer points of your jump shot, ask any expert on the subject and they’ll tell you the same thing: the only way to get better is to get on the practice court — or the backyard net or the school gym — and start shooting.
“Great shooters are not born, but they are created through time”, says Vlad Matevski, a former European league player and now a trainer and owner at Toronto’s Real Basketball Training. “You need to put in that time and effort in order to have a great jump shot.” Brandon Ball, a former pro baller and now, at Coach Up, one of the most sought-after coaches in the US, agrees. “Repetition is extremely important”, he says. “You want to build great muscle memory using proper shooting technique and form. Frequent repetition creates the opportunity to watch the basketball go through the net, which will build your confidence, so when you’re competing and the opportunity comes for you to take your shot you can rely on your muscle memory and focus to be a knockdown shooter.”
So you’re going to get out there and work. But what, specifically, should you be working on? Ball and Matevski both outlined some key steps to keep in mind when perfecting your jump shot. Try breaking it down a like this.
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1 Get your stance right. “Making jump shots consistently starts with having great balance”, says Ball. That means when the ball’s coming at you, try to be in your best athletic stance: knees bent, feet just under shoulder-width apart.
2 Get your eyes right. Matevski suggests locating the rim before shooting — but not for too long. “After release your eyes should follow the travel of the ball”, he says.
3 Get your hands right. Cradle the ball in the fingers of your shooting hand, with the back of your hand more or less in front of your face. Your non-shooting hand should be used beside the ball as a guide.
4 Jump. “Your jump shot should be smooth, jumping straight up and coming straight down”, says Ball. “You don’t want to have any unnecessary movements.”
5 Release the ball right at the top of your jump. Launch the ball upwards, in an arc, toward the net by extending your shooting hand. Don’t flick the ball: make sure the shooting motion is smooth, and follow through (see step 7).
6 When you land, land on both feet, leaning slightly forward, and keep your shoulders relaxed. It’s all about rhythm.
7 Follow through. This could be the most important part. Make sure you hold your follow through until the ball hits the target. “Especially with the index or middle fingers”, says Matevski, “which are the strongest fingers on the hand, and also the straightest.”
8 Take lots of shots at practice. And then even more. Do all of this slow at first, then take it up to game speed, then try it out in a real game. And then get back on the practice court and start again.
In Short: B.E.E.F.
Ball likes to sum all of this up with a simple pneumonic: B.E.E.F. Here’s how he breaks down the points you should focus on:
Balance: Easy enough. See step one.
Eyes: Keep them on the target, throughout the follow through.
Elbow: “When you’re raising the ball to shoot, your hand should be positioned behind the ball with your elbow aimed at the rim, and your arms should make a 90-degree angle”, he says.
Follow Through: “Your follow through at the end of your shot should be locked and aimed at the middle of the rim.”