The offensive object of basketball is to direct the ball through an 18-in (45.7 cm) hoop, which is supported by a rectangular backboard. There are a multitude of angles, deflections, spins, and trajectories that the shooter can utilize to be successful. Along with the often jaw-dropping, gravity-defying physical moves made by offensive players to take the ball to the basket, good shooters maintain consistent core fundamentals in the delivery of every successful basketball shot.
The basketball hoop has a number of synonyms, including the basket, the hoop, the hole, the cylinder, and the bucket.
There are four basic kinds of basketball shots: the jump shot, the fade-away jump shot, the bank shot, and the foul shot. Each involves the same combination of shooting mechanics, and jumping from the floor. The lay-up, and its aerial extension, the slam dunk, are more simplified applications of the general shooting principles.
Good shooting begins with footwork. While highly skilled players may possess the ability to contort their bodies while successfully shoot the ball, the shooting mechanism employed by most players will begin with the player's feet planted in a position that will ensure that the ball is delivered from a stable base. The feet should be at a position that best supports the body, approximately shoulder-width apart. To anticipate movement and to create lift in the delivery of the shot, the player will be on the balls of feet, not flat-footed.
The knees will also be flexed and not locked. To generate lift through the legs, the upper leg muscles and calves will not function optimally if the leg is positioned in a stiff, straight line from the hip to the ankle. Further, if the shot mechanism is begun with the knees in a flexed position, the player is quicker, more responsive, and will be able to jump higher than if the player's feet are not correctly aligned.
The shooter should be positioned in a slight crouch so that the muscles and structures of the hips, low back, and shoulders assist the body in generating lift on its jump. All sports have a variation of the "athletic position." There are similarities between the baseball fielder's crouch, the football linebacker stance, the hockey player skating stride, and others: bent knees, a slight flexion at the waist, head erect. The position of a basketball player preparing to shoot the ball is a variation.
The ball will be positioned resting in the palm and supported by the fingers of the shooting hand, while the shooter's other hand is located on top of the ball, above the shoulder and approximate eye level. The position of the ball aligns with the hand, shoulder, hip, knee to the foot to form a straight line. Shooting the ball from a lower position, such as at chest level, tends to result in the ball being pushed, and not directed, toward the basket. Pushing the ball tends to reduce the arc of the ball; the lower the trajectory, the less likely the ball will go through the basket (the opening available for the ball to enter is smaller when the arc is lower).
In shooting position, the player is now ready to jump and deliver the shot in a smooth motion. From the ball position at approximately eye level, a good shooter will extend the shooting arm so that the basketball will not be released until the arm is fully extended. The shooting arm and the ball will be released when the shooter has reached the top of the jump. It is a simple mathematical proposition that a player who can jump 12 in (30 cm) off the ground from a determined position will be slightly closer to the hoop than a stationary, or set, shooter.
The fingers, as the ball moves across the palm at the point of release, impart spin to the ball. Spin will tend to create favorable deflections off the rim and through the basket at the point where the ball makes contact. Because the ball is released from a position where the shooter's vision can track the rim of the basket (target) and the ball simultaneously, the shooter's aim will be improved, and the likelihood of a successful shot is increased. While it is possible to score with deficient mechanics (a fact proven regularly by less skilled or inconsistent players), in a sport where a top professional player will shoot 45-50% from the field, mechanics and adherence to proper form by the shooter will separate success from mediocrity.
Most shooters will seek to shoot the ball directly into the rim, often visualizing the ball entering just over the front of the rim. When the shooter is at an approximate 45° angle to the backboard, an effective shot is to utilize the backboard to bank the ball into the basket. Such shots have identical mechanics to a regular jump shot; the trajectory created by the ball deflecting from the backboard permits the ball to enter a slightly wider opening to the basket than exists without the bank.
The fade-away is an offensive weapon calculated to create space between a smaller shooter and a defender. Instead of jumping in a line perpendicular to the floor, the shooter "fades" by directing himself away from the defender, and delivering the shot at the top of the backward arc of his jump. It is difficult for all but the most proficient shooters to make this difficult shot on a consistent basis; further, fade-away shooter reduce their own chances of securing a rebound on the missed shot.
The foul shot, awarded to a player for a variety of fouls committed in basketball, is of critical importance to the success of a basketball team. Statistics from high-level university and international leagues confirm that teams that shoot foul shots well tend to win games. A foul shot, delivered from behind a line 15 ft (4.5 m) from the basket, is most effectively made with the shooter in a stable position behind the foul line. The mechanics of the foul shot should mimic those of all other shots with respect to foot position, knee bend, and the alignment of the ball relative to the line between foot and shooting hand.
Most foul shooters develop a personal rhythm while preparing to shoot the ball. This rhythm assists the shooter in slowing the heart rate after intense sequences of play, relaxing the body while maintaining focus and concentration. As a rule, foul shooters have 10 seconds to take the shot once the ball is handed to them by the referee.