Whose "Fundamentals" Are They Anyway? (A New Look at the Fundamentals of Basketball Shooting)

What are the so-called "Fundamentals" of shooting? This reflection was triggered in late 2005 by viewing some of my collection of shooting videos, DVD's and CD's, including some new ones I recently got. (I thought to update it as of a year later, with some new insights.)

Though there is some consistency of thought, I find a lot of differences, too. And some of the things that many of these people agree on are totally contrary to what I've discovered in my own exploration of shooting. (If you've read my stuff for awhile, you know what I'm talking about.)

That the Fundamentals can be viewed so differently by different people shows how mixed up things are. Since shooting is at such a low ebb, I think we have to look at everything we considered sacred and be open to different points of view.


The Dictionary defines the word "Fundamental" to mean: "... of or forming a foundation, a basis; basic; essential; a principle theory, a law." So it means things that are essential, things that form a foundation, in this case for putting a basketball into a basket. It's the things that need to be understood and learned in order for a skill like shooting to have a strong foundation for success.

The general areas of the Fundamentals I see are:

- GRIP -- your physical connection with the ball

- STANCE & POWER -- how you position your feet and body and how you generate power

- VISION -- how you see and relate visually to the target

- SETTING THE BALL, THE SET POINT -- how the ball is brought to the Set Point, and the alignment and positioning of the arm, hand and ball before the final releasing action

- THE RELEASE, ARCH AND SPIN -- how the ball gets to the basket

- THE FOLLOW THROUGH -- how the shot can finish for a powerful connection to the target


Here's a quick summary of the Fundamentals as described by other players and coaches.


... Some say the ball should be held by the finger pads of the strong hand only, not touching the palm at all.

... Some say the ball is held by the fingers and rests on the upper part of the palm.

... All agree the ball should on the finger pads, not the finger tips, and not be touching the base of the palm -- that there should be a "gap" there.

... Some say the first finger should be in line with the valve stem, other say to straddle the valve with the first and second fingers.

... Some say the middle finger should be the last one to touch the ball as it leaves the hand

... Some say both of the first two fingers are last to touch the ball

... Some say it's the first finger alone

... Basically everyone these days says the weak hand should be on the side of the ball, though one fine NBA player actually has it almost on the top of the ball. It's how his dad taught him, he says.


... Most say you should "Square Up," meaning the feet are pointing at the target (either parallel to each other or with the weak foot staggered back, the weak foot can turn, some say) and the shoulders should square to a line to the basket.

... I've even seen some great NBA shooters say, in their videos, to "Square Up," but in actuality they don't when they, themselves, shoot. It's such a "given," everyone seems to think they have to say it. Often on TV, I'll see a shot made by a player stepping into an open stance and the commentator says "He squared up that time!" I guess just because it went in they think the stance "must" have been squared up.

... Many say that the shot should be taken at the "Top of the Jump," though some say you should shoot "On the Way Up."

... One of the best 3-pt shooters of all time has a video out now that stresses squaring up and the B-E-E-F Method, though I don't think that's how he shot when he played. By stressing the elbow part of that (elbow under the ball), his stroke finishes with his hand moving abruptly to the side, which is not an effective finish to a shot. Though I couldn't see the spin his shots had in the video, I'll bet he's now getting side spin because of that outward motion.


There's a lot of variety here.

... Some say look at the back rim, some the front rim.

... A few say to focus on one of the hooks that hold the net.

... Some say focus on the whole rim, some say focus on the "middle" of the basket, one said focus "over the front rim."

... Most say to keep your focus on the basket when you shoot, though at least one suggests you watch the ball as it leaves the hand and flies to the basket.


There isn't much talk about setting of the ball, the movement of the ball from where you start or catch it up to the Set Point.

... A couple said to bring it up in a straight line with the forearm vertical, called the "shot line" by one.

... As to the Set Point, most people stress that it should be above the eyes and they then talk about the elbow and the angle of the arm, etc. This neglects all the kids under about 14-15 who are not strong enough to have a Set Point above the eyes.

... Also, many are obsessed with the elbow, saying it should be "under the ball," or "directly under the ball," or "tucked in."

... A major new DVD on shooting by a top NBA player says, in the little booklet that accompanies it, to "Keep your elbow in," but the demonstrators in the video, both NBA stars, do NOT tuck it in. Their elbows are out to the side about 7-10 inches.

... Several said the elbow should be pointing at the target.

... Most make a point of saying the elbow shouldn't be out too far (the "chicken wing"), so their answer is to tuck it in.

... Some opinions talk of the elbow having to be at a 90 degree angle, and some include the arm, wrist and hand needing to form a "Reverse C," with the hand facing straight upward.

... Several stress that everything needs to be "aligned," hand, ball, elbow and target. The eye isn't always part of that alignment, however, so some think it's good to shoot in line with the shoulder so that the elbow can, more easily, be under the ball.

... Most who stress the elbow has to be under the ball have the ball in line with the ear or further to the side for that to be possible. I was even told years ago in person by one of the country's top college coaches that he wanted his players to have their "Strong arm over the strong elbow over the strong knee over the strong foot" before they go to shoot. Perhaps you've heard that instruction. It isn't mentioned much any more.


... Flipping the wrist (or snapping it) seems to be the most prevalent action for this.

... One video says to have a relaxed wrist and hand, and suggests a way to learn this is to "wave" at the basket after the shot. In the example, a player snaps his wrist and then, after the ball leaves his hand, he waves at the basket.

... Many say the arm should be straightened (elbow lifted) with the elbow locking, so apparently you're supposed to do both: straighten the arm AND flip the wrist.

... Some say the arm is aimed upward, at a very high angle.

... Few, if any, suggest a pushing action of the arm (as I do). Most think that's a fault.

... The trajectory of the ball to the basket (and a discussion of arch and how one might control distance and direction) is rarely mentioned.

... Everyone sees backspin as the best spin, though there are different ways given to generate spin.

... Some specify that the first two fingers should control the flight of the ball.

... Some say you should drive down hard with the hand and fingers to create backspin.

... Others say the snapping of the wrist creates the desired backspin.

... Very common is the idea of "Reaching your hand in the Cookie Jar" after the release.


... Everyone says to follow through to finish the shot.

... Some say to hold the Follow Through until the ball reaches the target.


With all these different suggestions, how is one to find the truth? From the state of shooting in the game today in the U.S., obviously not many players have been able to find it. International players seem to have figured out things better than our players have. Or maybe it's just that we see the "cream of the crop" from Europe, South America, China, etc. My feeling is that the international players put more emphasis on shooting and spend more time at it. Thus more of them find an effective way to shoot on their own, and they're the ones we see over here. If you look at them, most have open stances, shoot on the way up and release the ball with a relaxed wrist and hand. Most are not doing it the way the Fundamentals are described above.


How simple can the Fundamentals be? One of the cornerstones of my coaching is to make and keep things "simple." Getting too technical or complicated will interfere with one's natural exploration and discovery, so I strive always to simplify. Rather than go through and comment on each the Fundamentals as described by other people and then give my, often, "different" takes on them, I'm going to just describe and define how I see the Fundamentals can be approached and invite everyone to examine, through practical experience, what works for them.

So what's "Essential" in the act of shooting a basketball? I can think of these things:

- That you feel "connected" to the ball and the target before and while you shoot -- with the ball, that's done by feel; with basket, it's done by vision.

- That power is generated quickly, efficiently and strongly by the big muscles of the body

- That you have a way of seeing the basket that increases your chances of making the shot

- That you have a setting of the ball up to the Set Point and a Release and Follow Through that are aligned with the target as long as possible

- That the Release delivers the ball up and into the basket with Accuracy, Consistency and Repeatability

- That your Follow Through completes the connection to the target

- That there is a "flow" of energy you catch and ride to the basket

- That you maximize the use of big muscles and minimize the use of smaller muscles




Ball is held in the strong hand with a wide grip without strain. A little pressure in the finger pads raises the ball up slightly more into the fingers. The Guide Hand can either be on the side or more under and to the side.


Have an Open Stance with the front foot turned a little toward the weak side and the weak foot back and open more, open as much as 45 degrees. Feet are roughly shoulder-width apart for balance. The legs drive the shot, and for maximum power, shoot on the way up as quickly as you can for most shots.


Have "soft" vision of the basket, without any particular point of focus.


As you set the ball, align it with the shooting eye and basket as long as possible. This alignment is critical for accuracy. If you catch the ball high, it helps to "dip" the ball for alignment. If you don't have time to dip the ball, it might be better NOT to shoot.

The Set Point needs to be below the eyes for younger players, above the eyes for stronger players. Very strong players can raise it even higher. Make sure the hand is turned facing in line with the target as much as possible. If the Set Point is above the eyes, keep the back of the ball generally in line with the front of the head.


Make the Release be an upward, automatic, elbow-locking pushing action, driven by the leg power. The wrist and hand can be basically relaxed, with only the job of keeping the ball on line. Arch happens automatically when you connect to the leg power early in the motion. The Release is the "Delivery System," what gets and keeps the ball exactly on line and determines the angle of release. You control distance by varying the arch. Spin will be consistent, medium backspin when you push at the same speed and force every time, an accelerating motion up to about 70% of the maximum possible for you.


Hold the Follow Through for an extra 1/2 to one second to complete the connection to the target.


These, then, are the fundamentals I see. I encourage you now to go to a court and explore them, play with them. Don't just believe me or someone else. Take these suggestions and find your own variations of them. Challenge them. See what works for you. What I offer is so simple and universal most people will develop a stroke that looks very similar.

Tom Nordland is a shooting expert and coach from California via Minnesota. His videos, coaching and writings are inspiring a Renaissance (a rebirth, a revival) in shooting around the world as players and coaches are taught the things that really matter in shooting. A great shooter as a youth, Tom was given a gift of seeing shooting like few have ever seen it. He sees the “essence” of great shooting and how to get there. The good news is that it’s very simple. The few great shooters of today and yesterday mastered simple things, not complicated motions. Improved shooting is now possible for everybody in the game, and mastery is available to those who sincerely dedicate themselves to it. Visit Tom’s website (http://www.swish22.com/) to read of his background and his articles and newsletters, and to view the remarkable endorsements and amazing testimonials for this approach to shooting.

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