28 March 2010

The physics of free-throw shooting

Brancazio explains that you need 45 degrees plus half the angle formed by a straight line between the position of the ball at launch and the basket. Depending on your height and where you are on the court, that typically ranges from 7 to 14 degrees. Thus, for a shot leaving your hands at eight feet above the floor from 18 feet out, you'll want to launch the ball at a bit more than 48 degrees. For most players at a distance of 10 to 25 feet, the least-effort angle ranges between 47 and 52 degrees.

Using that system, you can calculate the ideal free-throw angle. It's 13.75 feet from the free-throw line to the center of the basket, and a 6-foot player launches the ball from about seven feet above the hardwood. That works out to a shooting angle of 51 degrees. 
This sounds nerdy and trivial, but there are some interesting points in the article, including the importance of backspin on a successful basketball shot.

More at the Washington Post, via Kottke.


  1. The article states:

    "March Madness -- the annual NCAA basketball playoff spectacle in which millions of us, firmly docked in front of the TV screen, consume 1,000 calories an hour while watching young athletes burn 12 calories a minute -- begins in earnest this week."

    So the student athletes are burning 720 calories an hour, less than the people watching. I did not realize student athletes had become so lazy!

  2. I think you've misunderstood the numbers. For the athletes it's calories expended; for the fans it's calories eaten.

    720 calories per hour is equivalent to 17,000+ per day!


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