Toes at the Rim
This is probably the hottest debate in shooting technique right now.
Toes at the rim, or turn?
I’ll start with what I teach, then explain why.
I teach toes at the rim. The reason why goes back to positive energy. As much as possible, I want the shooter’s body to generate energy that is straight up in the air or towards the rim. I define negative energy as any that is created to the left, right, back, or front (fading, leaning, turning, or falling forward).
Most players will start flat-footed when they load to shoot. Then, they roll up onto their toes and push up in the air to jump. The shooter is creating energy with their ankles and feet that will flow towards the hoop in the direction corresponding with the alignment of their feet. If the toes are pointed to the side, then the energy created will be to the side.
You can see this by the fact that most players will jump forward in the direction their toes are pointed.
Meaning, if their toes are pointed to 11 o’clock, they will jump towards 11 o’clock. From there, a cascading effect takes place: toes pointed to 11 o’clock, jump towards 11 o’clock. Jump towards 11 o’clock and the center of gravity moves in that direction. The snap of the wrist may be in a straight line towards the rim, but the body is actually moving in the air, to the left, adding an unnecessary degree of difficulty to the shot.
All of this results in energy moving left, not towards the hoop. Now, in order to make the shot in this situation, we generate compensating energy with another part of the body going to the right, in order to cancel out the energy from the feet.
While this is possible, it results in a shot that is tough to repeat.
A player that is shooting under duress, while tired at the end of a game, needs to depend on a repeatable shooting motion. You can make your shooting motion more repeatable and easier on yourself by generating as much positive energy as possible (straight up and down, towards the rim), and as little negative energy as possible. Make it easier on yourself. When players point their toes at the rim, the energy will be created at the rim. No need to cancel anything out, because that is where we want the basketball going.
The people that advocate for “The Turn” will say a couple of things.
1) It aligns the shooting hand’s elbow and hip.
My opinion? I don’t really care about either of those things. As you know by now, I’m far more concerned about the index finger of the shooting hand than the elbow and I don’t worry about aligning the hip with anything. I encourage the hips to be square and legs to be used evenly.
2) Turning relieves tension in the shoulders.
I’ve never had a player complain about being tense because they were square. Furthermore, I don’t believe it is “tension.” I think the people that want to turn are just uncomfortable being square. It feels strange and it’s easy to hide behind “it’s more comfortable when I turn.” That’s just another way of saying, “I don’t want to do the work to build a new habit. I’ll just stick with this.”
I try to think of the shot as a catapult. The torso of the body is the base, and the shooting arm is the arm of the catapult. Does it make any sense that the catapult would be more accurate if the base was moving to the left as we fired? Or rotating? Or twisting? Of course not.
The naysayers will shout, “but all the great shooters turn when they shoot!”
First of all, not even close.
We can list many that don’t, especially in specific situations. Of the top 40 free throw shooters in the NBA in 2017, 21 pointed their toes at the rim, 6 pointed their dominant foot at the rim and turned the other slightly, 3 were pigeon-toed, 4 had the slightest turn, and only 6 had a significant turn. These players were making 84% or higher of these shots.
I’ll grant you that turning is common, especially in games. But I’ve seen many of the players that turn in games, and many of them don’t turn in practice. In practice, they are making 60-70% as opposed to 40% in games.
Please realize that players make mistakes in games all the time.
There are five defenders on the floor trying to make the shot as difficult as possible, so even great NBA shooters aren’t shooting perfect shots each time.
Don’t just copy what you see NBA players doing in games and say “that is what should be done.” Instead, understand basic physics, biomechanics and habit forming.
In 2014, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote that Kyle Korver spent a summer working out at P3. He was trying to even out an asymmetry in his jumping mechanics. This is a guy who shot 45% from the three in the previous season. For one of the best shooters in NBA history, the only way he could get better was to try to create even less negative energy than he already was. Given that he shot 47% and 49% from the three in the following seasons, I’d say it helped.
In my opinion, toes at the rim helps with creating positive energy. More positive energy leads to higher accuracy. And that is what shooting is all about.