There are good free throw shooters, then there’s Elena Delle Donne. The WNBA star’s ability at the charity stripe is simply unrivaled by any other pro player, male or female.
Consider this. At .905%, Stephen Curry has the best career free throw percentage in NBA history. At a .934% career free throw percentage, Delle Donne beats Steph by a landslide.
The four-time All-WNBA selection once made 80 consecutive in-game free throws in high school, and she’s hit 50+ straight on more than one occasion during her pro career.
So how did Delle Donne get so good at swishing shots from 15 feet? Luckily, she detailed her routine to The Wall Street Journal. Her free throw technique consists of seven simple-yet-essential steps.
1. Find the “Dot” in the Middle of the Free-Throw Line
Almost every free-throw line on a hardwood court has a dot placed perfectly in its center. This “dot” is typically a small hole or nail. Its purpose is to help the people who paint the court. They anchor a string to the dot to help them correctly mark the court’s dimensions.
For Delle Donne, the dot is where she begins her free-throw routine. She lines up the top of her right foot with the dot before she receives the ball from the referee. You can actually see her looking at the dot and adjusting her foot accordingly before the second free throw in this video.
2. Take 3 Dribbles
After Delle Donne lines up on the dot, she looks up and receives the ball from the ref. Then she takes three dribbles in place with her right hand.
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3. Place the Index Finger on the Pin-Hole
After Delle Donne takes three dribbles, she places her right index finger on the pin-hole—you know, where you insert the needle to pump air into the ball.
4. Bring the Front Elbow to 90 Degrees
Next, Delle Donne pulls the ball in front of her and forms a 90-degree angle with her right elbow.
5. Bend the Knees
Delle Donne then bends her knees slightly, keeping her upper body completely stationary.
6. Lift, Flick and Pop
After she bends her knees, Delle Donne straightens her legs, lifts her right elbow, flicks her right wrist and pops her ankles. This is the actual motion of elevating and releasing the ball. Delle Donne stresses not getting any hang time on your free-throw motion. “It’s a little bit of an ankle pop—no jumping,” Delle Donne told the Journal.
7. Tell Yourself It’s Going In
When the ball leaves Delle Donne’s hand, she practices positive visualization. “I actually just tell myself, ‘It’s going in,’” Delle Donne said. “Every single time.”
Delle Donne’s been using this routine for over a decade, logging thousands upon thousands of practice repetitions. Her muscle memory is so strong that no matter what the situation is, she can calmly step to the line and drain a pair. The technique is certainly important for free-throw success, but nothing is more critical than practice.