Back in 2016, I asked what I thought was an interesting question: Is a free throw less aesthetically pleasing if the player shoots it underhand?
Today I have a different question: What about the aesthetics of a free throw that banks in off the backboard?
Interesting trend from the Korean Basketball League where a number of players are 80%+ from the free throw line shooting exclusively bank shots. pic.twitter.com/OBKmVW3pfa
— Eric Fawcett (@EricFawcett_) August 31, 2023
That question was prompted by a recent New York Times article (non-paywalled version here) about how banked free throws have been a thing among an increasing number of South Korean basketball pros for the past 10 years or so. And it’s not just a style thing — the Korean bank-shot devotees tend to be more successful than “nothing but net” players. While the NBA’s free throw success rate has been stuck at around 77% for decades, the Korean bank-shooters routinely push their percentages into the 80s and even the 90s.
These numbers are apparently backed up by some studies indicating that banking off the backboard can be the most effective approach. Why? One Korean player quoted in the Times article said, “Psychologically, the bank shot is easier than the clean shot because I can see where I should aim,” so he can “focus on the rectangle on the backboard instead of relying on muscle memory” — a really interesting point that I never thought about before.
The article also quotes a researcher who ran a bunch of computer simulations and concluded, “By first bouncing the basketball off the backboard, a bank shot eliminates much of the ball’s momentum, allowing it to drop into the net with a softer, more controlled trajectory.”
But here’s the key passage:
But even with those advantages, the bank shot has not caught on beyond South Korea. Experts point to the sport’s deeply ingrained culture that prizes the perfect high-arcing swish. The “nothing but net” shot has been established as the perfect shot in basketball culture, aesthetically and technically.
“When you shoot a beautiful swish, that net does a little dance,” [researcher Lawrence] Silverberg said, “and you get that sound.” He added: “It is pretty.”
Indeed. So here’s my question to you folks: Is a banked free throw inherently less aesthetically pleasing, even if it’s a more successful technique? Or to bring the question a little closer to home, would you be okay with the players on your favorite team switching to the bank-shot method if you knew if might mean, say, an extra two or three points per game?