Dissecting the Rick Barry “Granny Shot” Free Throw

August 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Rick_Barry_1972_publicity_photo

Rick Barry

Rick Barry had the fourth highest free throw percentage in NBA history of 90%. During his playing years, he was easily the best free throw shooter the game had ever seen.

To give an idea, Rick Barry joined the NBA in 1965. Only two players who entered the league before Barry had a career free throw percentage greater than 85%.

Rick Barry used an underhanded free throw shooting technique — aka the “Granny Shot.” In the video at the bottom of this post, you can see Rick Barry performing his free throw technique to legendary coach Red Auerbach. According to Auerbach, Barry’s form was the standard until ‘forty years ago,’ which would likely be the 1920’s or 30’s, depending  on whenever the video was made.

So should we all shoot free throws with a granny shot technique?

In a previous post, I talked about the four elements which make up a good shooting form. They are:

  1. Fast
  2. Tough to block
  3. Stable horizontal plane of motion
  4. Controllable power generation

For shooting free throws, we can eliminate the first two, since there are no defenders.

So initially, it makes sense that the ideal free throw shooting form may be different than the ideal shooting form in games.

I took a gander and tried out the granny shot at my local court last night. What I found was interesting.

Let’s first compare the horizontal planes of motions between the two shooting forms.

When shooting ‘regularly,’ the natural inclination is to swing the ball towards the left (vice versa for left handed shooters) while raising the ball upwards. The elbow is the main joint that determines the accuracy of the shot.

With the granny shot, the ball naturally follows a straight line when bringing the ball up. Instability in the granny shot comes from the release, where a slightly different angle in the cocking of the wrists can result in inaccuracy.

After trying the granny shot, I found the momentum of the arm swing significantly mitigates any unwelcome wrist movement. In fact, my granny shot was arguably more accurate last night, despite having never practiced it before.

I give the edge in accuracy to the granny shot.

Next, let’s look at power generation. First, I believe the bulk of the power from any shot comes from the glutes. Try shooting sitting on a tall stool. It’s much harder.

The secondary muscle is what affects power generation here, and allows you to control it. The secondary muscle for the normal shot is the triceps, while for the granny shot, it is the shoulder and back.

The shoulder and back are significantly stronger than the triceps — and this results in very inconsistent power generation for the granny shot. This makes it hard to have a consistent shooting form on each rep — you may often alter the angle of your arm swing to account for how much strength you think you’ll need.

Conclusion

Most of you probably skipped straight to this section.. and I would have too.

I feel as if the granny shots’ strength control is too poor to make it a realistic free throw option for most people. But keep in mind, I only tried out the shot for one night. It’s possible after a month of practicing, this problem would be naught.

Here’s who I recommend try out the granny shot free throw:

  1. People who are struggling to raise their free throw percentage to where they want it
  2. Tall players who struggle with consistent strength generation anyways (Dwight Howard…)
  3. Anyone who shoots from their chest (mostly girls) — the granny shot’s poor strength control is less of a disadvantage for chest shooters.

There are other considerations regarding using the granny shot — whether you care about the aesthetic of your shot, whether you to use your free throws to help train your jump shot, the spin on the shot, etc.

At the end of the day, if you try the granny shot, you must be careful with biases. It’s normal to be embarrassed by such a shot — but if you try it out, don’t grasp for reasons why it’s not working (this is called confirmation bias). On the other hand, don’t be so committed to being ‘unbiased,’ you ignore substantive evidence the shot isn’t working.

The best way to try it out is to commit to practicing by yourself for one month (individually if possible) and see how it goes.

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