The “Imperfect Gap” – An Inquisition Into Free Throw Shooting Problems and How to Improve


Shooting a basketball is a relatively simple movement, as a whole. Simple in appearance, complex in actuality. And it seems that the more I understand and learn by self analysis and scrupulous self diagnosis, the more I come to grips with the shooting problems or inconsistencies suffered by shooters or players who think they are shooters all over the globe. (My definition of a shooter is one who can score 90% from the free throw line, and I mean 90/100 every time he shoots 100.)

In the early 80’s of the last century I was a consistent shooter in the 90th percentile. In fact I was in the top 10 all time NCAA best free-throw shooters, since 1895. I couldn’t believe it but it was a true fact. I led the Nation in 1972 with a % of 92.4% while I played for Ricks Junior College in Rexburg, Idaho, just prior to going to play in the Munich Olympics. Even at that time I had good mechanics combined with nice touch, but I did not really understand why I was about 20% better than the rest of the country, or rather why the rest of the country had all kinds of problems.

It wasn’t until1981 when I experienced a head on collision with a concrete bridge on a freezing nite on the country roads of Utah that this “mystery” or enigma of shooting mediocrity begun to unravel. Being hospitalized for about 10 days and later relegated to a wheelchair for a couple months. My whole right side was busted. My shooting arm was severed with a compound fracture, My right shin bone was compound fractured as well as 3 ribs, and all on the right side. But I was lucky to be alive.
At the time of impact all I could think of was the damage to my shooting arm and how it would affect my shooting ability.

Anyhow, Time was on my side. Watching TV soaps got boring after a while and ESPN sports was still not operational. I would lay around and be bothered by the fact that I was a regular 94% free throw shooter and couldn’t figure why I would miss about 6% on a regular basis. I started some basic shooting movements from my wheel chair which was very awkward and the reason was that I only had a half body to work with. Any major muscle strength from the lower body was useless. BUT, this became a time of deep self-analysis of my own shooting skills. I completely dissected the whole anatomical structure as it related to the shooting process. Don’t forget that in this case I am directly under the basket. (Always shooting in 100’s of course). In my own mind I thought if I could make 1 FT, why not 2, 3, 4, 50, 100, 250, 500 ad infinitum.

Then it slowly all came to me. My thought forces directly lined up in harmony with scientific principles and laws of nature. One big destructive factor that hurts good free throw shooting is the culprit ‘lateral movement’ of the finer joints and muscles. This is the common denominator that is the rule of most wrong. In other words I believe it causes more misses than any other part of the release.

Then I came up with the theory of the “Imperfect Gap”, which is what drove me to a greater awareness of free throw shooting technique and mechanics. The (IG) is basically the percentage of Deficiency (D) compared to the percentage of Efficiency (E), or in a formula it would look like this:

“IG” = %E – %D = Shooters IQ

In other words, if you average 72% (like the NBA does) then you have a 28% Imperfect Gap. If you shoot 60/100 your IG is 40. Not too complex but disturbing if you are a conscientious player or coach. In my case, my IG at the age of 31 or right before my almost fatal accident was 6%.

Now that you can figure your Imperfect Gap or Shooter’s Intelligence Quotient [I.Q]. Every player who practices shooting, in actual fact is really trying to reduce his/her IG or improve his/her shooter’s IQ. Either way most players in essence really do not know or understand the finer points of superb shooting. They keep practicing what I call “in the comfort zone.” More on this later.

The first step to find your IG is to start shooting 100 free throws, and from now on always shoot in groups of 100 to get a standard of reference. Lets say you hit 71/100, well this is not a real good indicator because the IG is rather large, and thus there is a good chance of error of between 5-10%. In other words on your second 100 shots you may hit 68%, 3rd 100- 73%, 4th 100- 76%, 5th and final 100 – 65%.

If you do follow such a format, this tells me that your shooting mechanics have plateaued or levelled out to 70.3% (using the above 500 shots). Obviously you would not be happy with this number so you practice your 70.3% even more.

Long hours of practice will help some but until there is a new mental approach and complete breakdown and comprehension of mechanics and movement accountability of all body parts, then your physical DNA or genetic makeup is going to continue shooting in what I call your anatomical “comfort zone”. What does this mean?

You obviously are averaging 70.3% from the hypothetical numbers above. Your mental approach should be to fix the 29.7% deficiency. Here’s the problem. If you continue shooting the same way you always have without any thought to any part of the shot then you are in your habitual, anatomical comfort zone. So your numbers will always be around the 70th percentile give or take some small variation.

I know for a fact that 99% of all players out there think of making the basket at the moment the ball is released. This is a BIIIIIIIG PROBLEM bordering a national epidemic.

Since the mind can only think of one thing at any given moment, how can I give the shot the best chance of success if I am thinking of the end result (making the basket) while the ball is still on the pads of my hand, just about to be released. Go ahead coach ask any of your players the question ” What are you thinking, the moment you release the ball”? Surprise!

Lets analyze. Since you are a 70%er, your IG has flaws that make up 30%.
No matter what your IG is, you need to be asking yourself these questions.

o What is the biggest flaw I have that can be corrected in the least amount of time?
o What action do I do that causes the ball to go left, right, long or short?
o Why is my shot flat? Why is my shot too high?
o Why cant I make 2 shots exactly the same?
o Why cant I shoot 2 shots exactly down the middle of the rim, make or miss is irrelevant here. Why can’t I shoot it perfectly straight down the middle ALL the time?
o Why does my ball rebound so far when I miss long?
o Why does my ball have a skewed rotation? (off center)
o Why does my ball not rotate at all?

These questions must be answered in a scientific and comprehensive manner so that the shooter can understand why the ball does what it does. The ball path does not lie. Remember Isaac Newton’s laws. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  yalla shoot Understanding all the minor details will make a huge difference in your accuracy re-engineering. You have to change your physical mechanics to reduce your IG or improve your shooter’s IQ. Why keep doing the same thing you have been for years if you get the same mediocre result? It just doesn’t make sense. Not to me anyhow.

Here are some of the answers to the questions we asked above.

o Maybe the biggest flaw you have is that the elbow joint is not directly under the center of the ball prior to the ball release. A major mechanical flaw is if the elbow moves sideways anytime during the shot. Elbow can come from inside out or outside in. This is very subtle to read and recognize, but pays huge dividends when corrected.
o Several things can cause the ball to go in all directions. Firstly, out of line elbow can cause irregular line. Closing the fingers on the follow through can and does cause inconsistent direction as well as the guide hand thumb can cause directional and rotational problems.
o Your shot can be too flat or too high simply because your whole arm may be thrust too directly AT the rim (where your arm or wrist is level with the forehead from the sideview, or your arm is too high (where your bicep touches your ear). Get the arm to the 45-50 degree line and leave it there till the ball hits the basket.
o Irregularity of ball direction is a direct result of finger closure on ball release. By this I mean, your fingers should never touch each other or bend at the knuckles on the follow through. Just as the hand is wide at the beginning of the shot, it should stay that way till the end of the shot. There is real strength, accuracy and consistency in my wide finger theory.
o The angle of entry=the angle of release. You can tell if your shot is too flat if the ball hits the back of or side of the rim and comes back into the net real shallow, or any time the ball hits the rim more than once on entry it is telling you that the arch was not optimal. Get it up next time. Remember, the errant shot is your best coach and teacher. No one knows the shot better than the intimate relationship you have with the rim, ball and shooting mechanism.
o You can’t shoot consistently straight because the ball does not come off the index finger (#1) last. Do two-finger push-ups with thumb, index finger and mid-finger knuckle and after 30 seconds (or less for many) you will feel pain in the first pad of the index finger just beneath the fingernail. Transfer this pain feeling to the ball on the shot release and you will get a new sensation of accuracy.
o Your ball rebounds too far because your shot is too flat or too high and crooked.
o You have trouble making 2 shots exactly the same because the ball is not released from the same finger pads or too many fingers are involved in the direction of the ball and you have not learned how to feel or direct the ‘straightness’ that you so desperately seek. It’s all in the mechanics.


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