Why Johnny can’t shoot (free throws)

   The Hawks can’t make free throws. They are next to last in the NBA at 73 percent, and that is disgusting. First, it will kill them in the playoffs. Second, how can anybody not make free throws? Worse, their shooting consultant is Mark Price, the NBA’s all-time leader in foul-shooting percentage.

  This really bothers me.

  “Well, it definitely bothers me. No question about it,” said Price, chuckling to keep from sighing.

  Price sank 90 percent of his foul shots during his dozen NBA seasons, mostly with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Before that, he was a splendid point guard at Georgia Tech, and speaking of the Yellow Jackets, they can’t make free throws, either. They are last in the ACC at 62 percent, which makes me wonder about the other two men’s programs in the area at the Division I level.

  Georgia State is last in the Colonial Athletic Association at 61 percent, and Georgia is 10th out of 12 teams in the SEC at 64 percent.

  What’s going on here? “During the past two years, since I’ve gotten into a lot of teaching and training and working with players, this (foul-shooting problem) has been amazing to me,” said Price, in his first season with the Hawks after a one-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. “In the broad picture, I don’t think free-throw shooting has gotten as much time as it has needed from a team standpoint.

  “It’s difficult when you have two hours to practice and teams are trying to put in schemes for offenses and defenses and everything else. Still, when I look at this in my mind’s eye, it’s just not that difficult to make a free throw.”

  That’s because it isn’t. I’m eternally influenced by Coach Hasselbush, a youth coach I had in Cincinnati. I don’t remember his first name, but I do remember he fumed over missed free throws. He said making free throws was as easy as dribbling. To prove his point, he ended practices sinking 15, 20, maybe 30 free throws in a row. He did so after using his crutches to place his brace-dominated legs at the foul line. He suffered from polio.

  Many of the Hawks, Jackets, Bulldogs and Panthers suffer from apathy when it comes to foul shooting.

  “Since it’s tough to do during the season, a lot of this has to come from individual effort, where you put time into it during the offseason,” said Price, whose father was his Mr. Hasselbush. The older Price coached high school basketball for years in their native Oklahoma, and the younger Price said, “His pet peeve was free-throw shooting as well. For one, I didn’t want my dad griping at me. He also taught me the correct way to shoot.”

  Price does the same for the Hawks, with hints of success. “I was with Josh Smith the other day in practice, and he made 91 out of 100,” Price said. “Then he goes into the game, and he misses one, he misses two, and it becomes a mental hurdle. It’s been a work in progress, for sure.”

  It shouldn’t be.

  It’s a “free” throw.

30 comments Add your comment

Just a Fan

March 12th, 2009
8:46 am

The Flash

March 11th, 2009
5:39 pm

The premise that free-throw shooting can be taught is simply wrong, and insisting that there is a proper technique that fits all players is also wrong. If it were otherwise, we’d all be great putters and scratch golfers.

Shooting is a self-learned art, and requires discovery through play not tied to makes and misses. One way of shooting might work terrifically for someone whose feet are relaxed on a particular day but will need to be tweaked to adjust to the different contact one’s feet are making the next after a hard run the previous day.

The problem with players today is not that they do not practice enough or do not get enough coaching, it is that they are told how to do things and try to do them one way because that is what the experts tell them.

You take young kids who are genuises in their bodies so that, in addition to extraordinary athletic gifts, they perform in ways that get them to stand out. No one “taught” them how to carry themselves, how to move their pelvis and ribs and shoulders and carry their heads so they are so, so in sync that throwing a baseball, hitting a baseball, catching a ball, throwing or shooting it has a special quality to it.

In a different age, that intelligence was given freedom and time to develop without outside intervention. People did not just become better they became smarter at figuring things out. Now, kids don’t get to learn by playing on their own, experimenting in the world of what is possible and what feels good and what looks worth replicating. Rather, from the time that they are tots, EXPERTS are telling them not only what to do and when, but how and what they need to change. EXPERTS WHO DON’T KNOW JACK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE LEARN AND HAVE NEVER BEEN TRAINED IN IT.

Blaming players for the faults of the experts presupposes that learning movement can be taught the way someone is taught to add 2 plus 2. It ain’t.

Now, certain fundamental information can facilitate learning, but the key to being a good foul shooter does not lie in technique nor in blind repetition. It lies in adapability and understanding different modes of how to use your body to accomplish the task at hand given how your body presents in that moment.

Stand on a busy street and watch people walk. Some make you chringe and you ain’t even in their bodies. We learn to do some things poorly for any number of reasons. For someone like Smooth, who is so obviously gifted in having learned to do some incredible things with his body, I have to believe that there are some very fundamental things that he has upside down concepts about when it comes to shooting that get in his way, as opposed to supporting his shot.

As I posted on a recent Sekou thread, Smooth could do worse than practice shooting really little shots righty, using what he understands are core credentials and be committed to producing shots that float with a high arch and lots of backspin, then lesser arch and less backspin. From 3 feet, 5 feet, trying to soften and change how he holds his torso (the tension in various parts of it), his release point, etc. Do that for a while, then shoot some shots from the same distance lefty. Then to different spots righty. Only as long as it is fun. Then come back to it. Then on one foot, then another, noticing how he has to change. He’ll figure it out, as long as the experts stay the heck away.

Yes, I am an expert in this stuff, both in shooting and in how people learn. The shooting was self taught, the how-people learn stuff has come through having completed more than half a 4 year course of study in a highly credible body of work about such matters put together over a 40 year period by an Israeli whose name was Moshe Feldenkrais.

Gregory D Martin

March 9th, 2009
6:09 pm

The problem is that free throw shooting has NOT changed in the NBA or NCAA Division over the last 50 years. Declining free throw skills is a myth or mass misperception. The Charlotte paper had and article about this recently. NCAA 2008 FT% 69.1%. NCAA 1968 FT%- 69.1%. Did you actually research any statistics? Furthermore, basketball at the upper levels involves more running and intense defense than decades ago- thus more fatigue which makes free throw shooting more difficult.


March 9th, 2009
11:37 am

Amazing how poor dumb rednecks can change even free throw shooting into a racial issue….LMAO

Chris Broe

March 9th, 2009
1:30 am

Free throws are difficult in your driveway, at the high school gym, and during a pro game. The basket is too small. The ball is too big. The free throw line’s distance is just out of reach for surety. You try making free throws. Practice doesn’t help you at crunch time. People forget about crunch time, yes, crunch time…. free throws. they just don’t mix.

As far as comparing today’s players to yesteryear’s, you cant. Today is more of a wrestling match. They respected the foul in the old days. They mug each other now. It’s unwatchable. I like women’s basketball because they respect the rules. You may not touch the player with the ball at all. Don’t touch him/her. Don’t do it. It’s against the rules. See, there was a movie called “no country for old men” where the theme was that once kids stop saying “sir”, then the whole society goes down hill. I disagree. I think it’s more accurate to say that once basketball players start cheating, then the fans don’t care, and then society goes to pot.

Respect the foul. All I’m sayin’.

Ray Miller

March 8th, 2009
10:54 pm

Thanks for a very interesting article Terrance. It seems to me that too many youngsters never develop a Mark Price shot because they spent most of their shooting practice “launching” shots from beyond the 3 point line. Unfortunately, this practice begins with 7 or 8 year old players. They never learn the basic mechanics of a good jump shot that can be deadly from the 12 – 15 foot range. Parents might consider not letting their children “throw” up shots, but teach them how to shoot a fundamentally sound, mid-range jump shot. I think the free throw percentage would improve drastically. Good luck with that dad!!!!

chuck allison

March 8th, 2009
5:20 pm

Terrance, this is by far the best article you have ever written.

Jeff Grady

March 8th, 2009
4:01 pm

SEC BB is to clogging as ACC is to ballet.


March 8th, 2009
3:57 pm

Mr. Moore,

Excellent thought provoking column, this is astute insight! I have always found it hard to believe that someone who plays basketball for a living, full time, can’t hit at least 70% from the “Charity Stripe.” I sat the bench in high school, but still can shoot 65-70%, so the best athletes we can muster should be able to do better.

It would be interesting to see how many games each of these teams would have won if they could have averaged 72%?

Ken Stallings

March 7th, 2009
8:15 pm

Great column! You are very right Terence, and I will say this and perimeter shooting have both suffered. When I watch classic games up to the mid-eighties I am forced to say it was a better played game then. Pop in a video of a Magic-led Lakers team and marvel at how efficiently they played. I only wish players and teams today could match it. They cannot!