Shooting a basketball is one of those things we attribute to years of practice and some ineffable god-given talent. But what if you could become a great, or at least much better, shooter just by learning some mechanical science?
Larry Silverberg, a mechanical engineer at North Carolina State University, analysed "millions of trajectories based on shots by the best free-throw shooters," and he's pinpointed the best method:
The magic formula: a launch angle of 52 degrees, three revolutions per second of backspin, and aiming for a spot 7 centimeters (2.8 inches) back from the centre of the basket, toward the back of the rim.
"With backspin, if the ball hits the rim or backboard, the contact deadens the ball," said Silverberg. "That means it comes off slower, stays closer to the basket and is more likely to fall in."
Aiming behind the centre of the basket, instead of a dead-on shot, is better because it allows the shooter to miss the mark in either direction and still have a chance to make the shot. And while releasing at 52 degrees — which is actually only optimal for a 6-foot-6 player — might sound like an absurd thing to keep in mind, you can more or less match that by trying to make the top of the ball's arc even with the top of the backboard.
But you're not going to use a maths book in the middle of a game, nerd. Right? Well, not quite:
Players can't do all of this mental imagery in the frenzy of a game, of course, but by doing it in practice they can get an intuitive feel for where to aim from different points on the court. "It's a training tool," said Silverberg.
Of course calling a time-out to get your protractor out wouldn't hurt either. [Reuters]