How to Shoot a Basketball: Step by Step Guide


Essential to any good game in basketball is the ability to shoot the ball to make a goal. It’s a simple but often tricky art to master. Applying proper techniques with a strong, applied foundation will ensure repeatable results. Learning to play basketball with excellent, consistent results is an essential quality for any great player to have.

How do you shoot a basketball? First, you should have a stable, firm stance. Then, square up your arms; your dominant hand will be used to shoot, while the other guides the ball up and over your head in a path that will lead to the basket. Follow through with the shooting hand in a way that gives the ball backspin.

While shooting a basketball may seem straightforward, here are some tips from some of the greatest athletes to ever be on the court; from how to stand to how to position your arms, all good players take note from the greats on making even the smallest adjustments to take their game to the next level. Stick around for more on how to make your shooting game epic!

How to Shoot a Basketball

The following is a step-by-step guide to shooting a basketball into a hoop. Keep in mind that although these necessary steps will help you get your positioning and form set, a successful player will only get better at shooting hoops through practice and repetition.

It’s a good idea to use a good basketball for practice, because you will most likely be using a professional quality basketball when playing games. I like this Wilson Evolution Game BasketballOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) because it’s the most used basketball in America. If you want to see what other gear I use, like re-bounders and driveway hoops, check out this Recommended Basketball Gear page.

Step 1: Body Foundation

At the start of any great shot, players will need to position their feet to face the basket. Usually, in basketball, this can be a comfortable stance. You will need to find a position that feels stable and allows you to focus on the ball and less on balance easily.

Typically facing the basket with both feet shoulder length apart and at a perpendicular to the basket is easiest. Though this is not required, some stances allow the dominant foot, either right or left, to be more forward, which will make it more comfortable for the player.

Whatever hand you use to shoot should be the dominant side, and the feet can be adjusted as such.

Consistency is Vital

Once you find your stance, it’s vital to replicate it every time you shoot. The more adjustments you make to take the shot, the harder it will be to determine any mistakes you are making with your stance to re-adjust.

In other words:

  • Small moves, small wins
  • Move small, win small
  • If you think in these terms, you can adjust minor things
  • Then, you can see what is and isn’t working
  • A simple fix can then be made to get the desired outcome.

Finding the desired footing on the court before shooting is vital to make sure the ball has enough power and momentum from the body as it’s shot into the basket. While in this stance, it is essential to bend the knees slightly and stay loose.

A good shooting stance should feel like you are about to jump.

Step 2: Body Momentum

Because basketball is a fast-moving sport that offers a lot of fluidity, body momentum is a given across this sport. However, when getting ready to take a shot, most players try to focus on their body, even for a moment.

If you watch a basketball player, in their pre-shot movements, you’ll notice they make square like positions with their arms. They position their bodies to face the basket and begin to raise the ball up over their head before the shot.

Players need to look at the basket over the ball (or from below, depending on their distance from the hoop) and then up before the shot. 

Keep It Loose

Most basketball players bend their knees similar to the stance before a jump. Body momentum allows the force and movement of the body to be exerted in an upward path for the ball to follow—the more vertical your leg, body, and arm momentum, the more power behind the shot.

Step 3: Arm Positioning

The shooting arm should be vertically in line with your legs and should form an imaginary line through your dominant shoulder. The ball needs to be held just above the head, with your elbow bent toward the head. The dominant hand should be under the ball. Lifting the ball this way allows for the ball to easily follow an arch path into the basket.

If the player pulls the ball back to their chest and shoots, it will not have the momentum or the arch to make the shot consistently.

Think Vertical, Yet Perpendicular

Try to keep the ball balanced on the dominant hand. Hold it up in an upright stance along the outside of the elbow, with the forearm vertical. Keep a perpendicular angle inside the elbow to the forearm, as well as from the wrist to the hand. Positioning your shooting arm like this will form three “squares” that keep the ball at the ready.

Keeping the shooting arm in a vertical line upwards—if viewed facing the player—from the shoulder, will keep the ball from going left or right after the shot.

basketball shooting arm position

Consistently players form squares or “C’s” from their shoulder to the elbow and up with the shooting hand back. It is imperative to have the shooting arm straight and in a vertical line from the ground right up through the shoulder into the ball.

The more you can feel this kind of movement in your arms, the easier it will be to land a shot consistently from anywhere on the court.

Step 4: Hand Positions

Dominant Hand

The dominant hand is the hand the player most feels comfortable with directing and shooting with. It’s more preference than anything. Whatever hand you use, the dominant one should sit just below the ball and send it on a path toward the hoop.

Guiding Hand

If the dominant hand is right, then the guiding hand will be the left hand, and vice versa. The guiding hand keeps the ball seated in the dominant hand’s grip, and allows the dominant hand to project force upward and outward with backspin. The guiding hand keeps the ball centered and prevents it from falling as the movement for shooting happens.

There should be no more force exerted on the ball by the guiding hand; it is meant to be a guide only.

Fingers

Basketball players use their fingers more than the whole of their hands. They will never palm the ball and smack it as it bounces while they dribble. They also don’t shoot with just their palms; instead, they spread their fingers nice and wide and hold the ball up in the same manner a server holds a platter or tray.

It may feel odd at first. However, if practiced, one can adjust the pressure and direction on the ball as it is lifted into the arch that makes the shot. The player has more control over the ball with widely spread fingers.

basketball shooting hand placement

Look Through the Small Window

Finger placement in this way also creates a small pocket between the ball and the player’s palm. If the player practices having this small window or pocket, they can be sure ball control is becoming something they can master as they shoot.

The more one can strengthen their fingers to control the ball and balance it, the better it will be in directional and force control to make the shot.

Horizontal Lines on the Ball

In free throw shots, many great players pause and bend their knees to get ready to shoot. They might dribble the ball but then adjust to having the horizontal lines on the basketball match the ground. This is more of a mental exercise, and a simple way to get their bearings with their spread-out fingers.

Step 5: Ball Path

Imagine the ball going in an arch-like path rising from one end to the other. The ball needs to flow from the player up and over their head in a straight path to the center of the basket.

If you imagine a red circle filling the goal and a small four to five-inch barrier around the outside of the hoop, it’s an excellent mental exercise to try to get the ball into the basket without hitting the rim, or backboard.

This allows the player to aim higher, and in such an arch that the ball will follow that path no matter the angle from the shot. It will also enable a more upward momentum from the body through the arms and ultimately into the ball’s trajectory.

Step 6: Follow Through

Finishing is more important than you might perceive. As the ball is lifted through the dominant hand, the guiding hand will help balance the ball—nothing more. The dominant hand will need to fully extend and go downward after pushing the ball off the fingers and into the air.

It should almost make a swan or goose head, with the arm entirely straight and the hand down.

The arm will be fully extended upward and outward at a forty-five-degree angle toward the goal. It is important to keep the elbow straight. Think of the arm as an extension of your body’s momentum upward. If you hold back and do not force the ball in the correct path, it will not hit the goal.

Keep the momentum going through the entire arm and up into the wrist and hand.

Backspin

The follow-through hand will make a motion allowing the ball to create backspin; this helps flight and momentum as well as maintain a trajectory toward the basket. Once the ball hits, it will keep spinning backward, allowing it to land where it’s meant to go.

When the ball leaves the player’s hand with no spin, the ball will go off course. Continuing the motion until the hand is down will keep the ball in the correct movement and on the desired path. It will also stop some of the force from the body that would overcompensate when the ball hits the goal, allowing for a lighter drop in the net.

Here’s a good video that shows these shooting steps in action.

Tips for Shooting at Different Distances

It’s essential to think about your whole body and its motion when making your shot. Think of your shot as one fluid motion that includes various moving parts of your body. Whether shooting at the hoop or beyond the 3-point line, the only way to shoot for any distance is to have one powerful fluid motion.

Typically, long-distance shots need more power, and closer shots need finesse. To shoot the ball closer to the basket, you need to exert power but not too much as to overshoot the goal. However, for long shots, you need lots of energy and one fluid motion to keep the ball going toward the goal.

Start with your foot, balancing on the toes before the shot. Think through these kinds of questions to diagnose your shot:

  • Are the hips low or high? How are they positioned?
  • Feeling the hips rise, where is the ball? Is it moving up toward the head as you begin to jump to shoot? If the hips and basketball do not move in unison, this kills the shot.
  • Lastly, when exploding upward to release the ball, is the ball following the desired path? Or has the jump shot begun without the ball in motion?

Here’s another video with some good shooting tips, but this video is more focused on distance shots like the ones Trae Young makes.

How to Practice Your Shooting

Really looking at how you practice and move will reveal the things that need to be adjusted to make the basket at any distance. All the above techniques should be practiced in repetition to get consistent shots.  

Mimic Great Players Movement

Looking at videos of someone shooting will help you assess a successful shot in slow motion. You will notice that all great players start with their tiptoes on the ground and their heels up.

Many players will bring the ball low to starts, often called “loading the ball lower”

Their hips go down with the ball; their eyes are on the basket. This is counter-intuitive and not often taught by coaches and parents. But, at any age, if the player begins practicing bringing the ball low and following the hips, the ball will explode up through the arms into a long, well-shot basket.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Shooting Ability

A lot of exercises exist out there to make any player better. However, the best players use the power in their legs and hips to bring the momentum and explosive energy to move a basketball toward the goal. The arms are an extension of the player’s power; they simply guide and push the ball from the force the whole body exerts.

Try working out your legs with some of the following exercises to strengthen the legs and hips:

  • Leg Curls
  • Leg Press
  • Dumbbell Triceps Kicks
  • Belgian Split Squats
  • Fire Hip Rotations

Even attaching some weights to your ankles while practicing will strengthen the muscle groups in your legs. Do not overdo it though, or else you may cause injury.

Here’s a video of an example exercise you can do at home to improve the muscles used in basketball.

Drills for Improving Shooting Accuracy

We all remember suicide drills and running. They may be great for aerobic exercise, but these do little for your shooting game. Pickup games like Lightening often help speed up your shot but still don’t account for more than shooting practice without accuracy. Pickup games like PIG do well to mimic great players’ shots but also don’t allow you to adjust for weaknesses in your shot accuracy.

A few of the best shooting drills are listed below:

  • Block Shooting – Most of the time, shots are not all the same, and there may or may not be a defender trying to block the shot. Try ten jumping right arm shots without a blocker, then ten jumping shots from a curled arm position. Mixing it up and trying new no-block shots improve accuracy, repetition, and form.
  • Jump Shots for 3 Point Shots – Interweaving the shots with varying random movements as you would move in a game helps to incorporate your shots into something you can use in the game.
  • Shooting with a Defender – Get a friend and have them try to block you while you practice your form at various distances and places on the court. Dribbling and then performing jump shots help hone your coordination and situational awareness as you shoot the ball.

Check out my article, 10 Basketball Drills You Can Do At Home to get some more ideas. If you don’t feel like training, these 14 Fun Basketball Games For All Ages will still be a great way to keep yourself on the court.

Conclusion

Using these simple steps will elevate your game, your shooting accuracy, and your confidence on the court. By following the same basic principles over time, your practice will help make sure you maintain a good foundation to make a basket every time.

Consistency is the true definition of success. If you want to succeed as a basketball player, keeping the same correct positions and motions, no matter if you’re defending or advancing on the hoop, will help you succeed in making every shot.

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Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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