Which finger should the ball leave last?

Which finger should the ball leave last?

In my travels around the world teaching shooting to NBA players and youth basketball clubs (and everywhere in between) I hear a lot of ideas about which finger the ball should leave last.

And guess what?  I barely worry about it at all.

Let me explain…

The first thing I want you to understand is if we are going to try to really CONTROL something, we need to make sure it is CONTROLLABLE.  There is no sense spending a lot of effort trying to control an aspect of our shot that will always have a lot of variability no matter what we do.

To me, this is the release of the shot.  It’s such a short, quick movement that is hard to control. We have all shot shots that leave our hand and we know it wasn’t close to ideal, but we also know it’s going in.  We are amazing at making tiny little adjustments at the moment of release to correct little flaws that might have happened leading up to that moment.

So instead of trying to control this moment that will be near impossible to control, I try to focus my attention on a part of the shot that we CAN control better, and might narrow the scope of variability at the release.  I focus on the set point.

I would LOVE it if a player was able to release off the same finger every time, but since it’s so variable I focus on building habits that will help leading up to the trouble area, rather than AT the trouble area.

Here is what I focus on…

I want to know what the middle of the players hand is, and I want to try to get the middle of the hand under the middle of the ball as early in the shooting motion as possible.

How do I measure?  Simple.  Have the shooter take a comfortable, wide grip on the basketball.  Using your guide hand, measure the distance from the tip of the shooting hand index finger to the tip of the thumb.  Then compare that distance to the distance from the tip of the index finger to the tip of the pinkie.

I’ve done this with every pro player I work with, plus 10,000+ youth players at my clinics all over the world.  I’ve found that for 90% of players, those two distances are the same, and the index finger is the middle of their grip.  Therefore, I want the index finger to be under the ball as early in the shooting motion as possible, I want to try to lift both sides of the ball evenly, and if I can do that I have a chance of the ball leaving the index finger last consistently.

Make sure the thumb is wide.  Most players that think those two distances aren’t the same don’t have their thumb spread wide enough. Once they do spread the thumb out and remeasure, they find the index finger IS the middle.

There will be 10% of players that have a very flexible thumb, or long flexible fingers and the middle of their grip may be in between  the index and middle finger. I’ve never measured anyone in 20 years as shooting coach that the middle finger is the middle of their grip.

So why does it appear that so many people release off their middle finger?  Simple. They are correcting one mistake with another in the opposite direction.  It’s possible.  Just not the HABIT I want to try to build.  What happens is the player doesn’t get their hand under the middle of the ball.  Usually a right handed player will end up slightly under the right side of the ball and be pushing the ball slightly to the left and as they lift the ball they rotate their hand to get under the left side and push the ball back slightly to the right.  In other words, they start pushing the ball slightly one direction in their shooting motion, then cancelling it out by pushing back in the opposite direction later.  And they never really push the ball AT THE TARGET.  The more we can simplify this, the more consistent a player will be.

So focus on getting the hand in a position to push ALONG the target line as early and as much as possible.  Figure out what the middle of the player’s hand is and build from there.

This is what I do in my Online Workout Program “7 Days to a Better Guide Hand“.  We figure out the middle of the players grip, then work on drills to isolate that habit and improve it, then layer drills to apply the new habit in progressively more game-like situations.  All the same drills, progressions and teaching points that I use with my NBA clients that have helped them improve by 20-30% in one season!

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