Shooting Skills for Basketball

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Are you a threat? Do you command the respect of defenders on the perimeter? When the ball is kicked out to you, does every man, woman and child in the gymnasium inch forward in their seats, anticipating the beautiful sound of leather meeting nylon? Are you money?

If you want to scare your opponents and excite the crowds, then Herb Magee is your man. Head hoops coach at Philadelphia University, Magee teaches the art of shooting better than anybody, according to New York Knicks superstar Malik Rose and San Antonio Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Rose contends that Magee is responsible for his professional status. "Magee's teaching gave me a chance to compete in the NBA, plain and simple. He gave me a jump shot." The Knicks forward came to Magee after signing with the Spurs in 1997. "Malik knew right away that he was going to be a perimeter player, because they already had David Robinson and Tim Duncan," Magee says. "So, we worked for about two hours a day for nine sessions, and there is no question that he improved his shooting by working on a few simple things."

Magee's system is foolproof—not just for NBA stars but for anyone. "Shooting a basketball is an easy skill," he says. "Anyone can master it if he is willing to admit that he needs to improve, has proper instruction and makes a commitment to practicing." Magee can provide the proper instruction, but you need to look in the mirror for the other two factors.


Magee focuses first on the grip—the element he deems most important. He says, "Nothing else will work if you have an incorrect grip. You can have the greatest footwork of all time. You can have tremendous conditioning. You can be perfect everywhere else. But if you have an incorrect grip on the basketball, you are not going to be successful."



Grip a basketball at your waist as though you are about to shoot it, then look down at your hands. Can you see the pinky of your shooting hand? "You should never be able to see your pinky when you are gripping the ball to shoot," Magee says. "If your pinky is visible, your shooting elbow will be forced out to the side when you raise the ball to shoot." He recommends rolling your shooting hand until you can no longer see your pinky. Then, when you raise your arms to shoot, your elbow will be where it should be—directly under the ball.


"As you raise up your shooting hand with the ball in it, you should be able to touch the palm of your shooting hand with the index finger of your opposite hand without touching the ball," Magee says. The space between the ball and your palm prevents you from shooting with your entire hand.


Magee believes that if he were to lose the ring and pinky fingers of his shooting hand, his shot would not be affected, because the thumb, index and middle finger do all the work. He explains, "When you release the ball from your shooting hand, your thumb comes in toward your index finger and forces the ball off the index and middle fingers. The last thing that touches the ball on its way to the basket should be your index and middle fingers—100 percent of the time. At that point, the ball is projected toward the basket with a snap of the shooting wrist."

To prove his point, Magee put together a portfolio of newspaper and magazine photos of some of the NBA and NCAA's best shooters, including Kyle Korver, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant and J.J. Reddick (who Magee says is one of the best he's ever seen). The clippings reveal that at the moment of release, each of these shot masters has only his index and middle fingers touching the ball.



When holding the ball at your waist, you should be able to see only the thumb and top of the index finger on your guide hand. "If you can see more than that," says Magee, "your guide hand is too close to your shooting hand, which causes you to shoot with both hands." Magee likens the grip and placement of the guide hand to shaking hands with the ball.


When Magee asks kids at his camps where the guide hand guides the ball, they always give the wrong answer: "To the hoop." The guide hand guides the ball to the release position. Magee coaches shooting the ball through your guide hand, not with it.


Because you can't go through this shot checklist during a game, Magee emphasizes the importance of building muscle memory for proper shot grip and technique. "When you are practicing, you think. When you are playing, there is no thought," he says. "It's all muscle memory. And the only way to build muscle memory is through repetition and practice." With this in mind, Magee instructs that every time you catch a basketball, you should immediately put your shooting grip on it. With that grip, you can shoot, dribble or pass. Your grip should become as instinctive as running up and down the court.


Improving your shot won't happen by sporadically practicing Magee's drills. "The only way to get better as a shooter," he says, "is to be committed to practicing. Not basketball practice, because that's when the coach needs to put in offensive plays. I am talking about off-season practice on your own. I know right away if a kid has been in the gym during the off season doing these drills."

When a player asks Magee how often to practice, his answer is always the same: "How good do you want to be? Do you want to be great? Then it's simple. You need to get in the gym every day and practice your shooting. You cannot take any time off."

Now that you are armed with the best shot instruction out there, hit the gym and elevate your shot status.


At the beginning of every practice, Magee's players perform this progression of drills without using their guide hands, until he is satisfied with the results. The athletes then repeat the Partner and Basket Shooting with their guide hands until he is satisfied with that. The session lasts about 12 minutes.

Solo Shooting

• Grip the ball in shooting hand with palm off ball, elbow under ball and shooting arm in an L shape

• Snap wrist and shoot ball into air, making sure that index and middle fingers touch ball last

• Turn hand back and catch ball with same shooting grip, palm off ball

• Repeat

Partner Shooting

• Stand 15 feet from partner who is creating a target with his hands overhead

• Shoot ball with shooting hand so it comes down into partner's hands without his having to move

• Partner then shoots at your target

Basket Shooting with Increasing Distance

• Stand under basket with ball in proper grip and put ball in basket

• Back up 4-6 inches and repeat

• Continue until you get to foul line

• If you miss a shot, partner begins under basket

For more information about Herb Magee and his instructional DVDs, Nothing But Net and Nothing But Drills, go to

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock