Science of the Basketball Free Throw

For the past 50 years, NBA basketball players successfully shoot about 75% of free throws, so it’s natural to think that is the natural limit. But that’s before science got involved …

Using a computer simulation of millions of trajectories based on shots by the best free-throw shooters, Scientists determined how various factors affect the chance of success. 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 center of the basket, toward the back of the rim.

With backspin, if the ball hits the rim or backboard, the contact deadens the ball. That means it comes off slower, stays closer to the basket and is more likely to fall in. Learn more here.

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