The name of the middle finger can be confusing for young basketball players. It implies that finger is the middle of everything. The reality is, all we mean is that “of the 5 digits on your hand, this one is in the middle of the 5”.
Why does that matter?
Physics. Shooting is really just about physics.
The ball is going to go in the opposite direct of wherever the middle of the force applied to it was. In other words, if you apply force to the bottom of the ball, it will go UP. If you apply force to the right side of the ball, it will go to the left. This is incredibly precise. Draw a straight line from the middle of your grip (or the total force applied to the ball) through the middle of the ball, and that is where the ball is going to go. Not SHOULD go, WILL go. It’s physics.
So if you misinterpret what the middle of your hand is, you are going to push the ball off line.
Lets figure out what the middle of your hand REALLY is. Just be aware, I’m going to explain what I’ve seen from tens of thousands of players over my years as a shooting coach. 95% of all players, when they take a good grip on the ball, the INDEX finger is actually the middle of their grip.
You can check this for yourself. Grip the basketball with a nice wide grip. Spread your thumb out comfortably wide to the side. Then with your non-shooting hand, measure the distance between the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Then compare that distance to the tip of your index finger to the tip of your pinkie. For 95% of all players, I’ve found those two distances to be exactly the same. This means the index finger is the middle of your hand. This means your index finger should be on the bottom of the ball at the set point, so that you are equally supporting both sides of the ball, so that you can push the ball straight up in the air.
If you get your middle finger on the bottom of the ball (which is actually REALLY hard to do. Most players that think they are middle finger on the bottom actually aren’t), then you will be covering the thumb side of the ball more than the pinkie side of the ball, and will push the ball off-line.
Some people will say, “but Coach, how do you explain the fact that some players release the ball off their middle finger?”
Simple. This is really hard to do precisely, over and over again. We all make mistakes with this and we still make a reasonable percentage of the flawed shot. Here is how. Most players end up with their index finger (assuming their are right handed) slightly over on the right side of the ball at their set point. They are in a position to shoot the ball left at this point, and so as they are lifting the ball to their release point they pronate their wrist slightly to get their middle finger and push the ball back to the left at the last moment. It can be slight, but it happens. We all do it to an extent. We even make some of those shots, but that doesn’t mean we should build that habit. We should be trying to build the simple habit. The simple habits are the shots that leave your hand and you start back-pedalling right away, knowing you made it. The more complex release is the shot that it leaves your hand and you hold the follow-through a little longer and give it all kinds of body language to will it in. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.