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Is a Bank-Shot Free Throw Less Aesthetically Pleasing?

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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?

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?




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Comments (41)

    I mean, yes. A thunk/swish is less cool than a straight swish, science backs it up

    I used to aim for bank shots almost exclusively when I played basketball as a kid. Hitting a point on a backboard that faces you is much easier than trying to aim for a point in front of and above you that the ball has to land in vertically.

    (I had the additional handicap of not being able to gauge distance with stereovision, which I imagine most people can do instinctively.)

    Nobody respected bank shots, but I’d rather make shots than miss them.

    I always wondered why more players don’t do this *cough Shaq cough* since they basically put a target on the backboard.

    I find it equally aesthetically pleasing. The ball “swishes” through the bottom of the net anyway, regardless of whether it hits the backboard first.

    And a made shot is always more aesthetically pleasing than a ball clanging away or otherwise missing.

    And here’s a weird place my brain went: I wonder if a backboard shot actually looks more difficult (even if that’s mathematically untrue), and thus looks more aesthetically pleasing (because a seemingly more-difficult sequence is more pleasing–just ask Rube Goldberg). Does the brain say, “Wow, he executed a two-step process to make that ball go in! Cool!”? I’m still debating that one myself.

    As a kid I thought the rectangle was there for players to aim for. Got a bit older and wondered why they weren’t. Guess I’d make a good Korean.

    Never shot free throws that way as a kid but could shoot them over 80% anyway so never thought to do it. Every other shot I took inside of 15 feet I tried to bank. Could play the angles well and get more shots in. Only shots I didn’t try to bank were 3’s that I took very few of.

    I’d say once you know a player is trying to bank the shot then it doesn’t become a problem aesthetically. It’s the unexpected bank shots that feel weird but the ball bounces off the backward funny even while going in.

    Makes are prettier than misses. But what is especially aesthetically pleasing is that basketball design.

    I think a shot that goes in is aesthetically pleasing. I always have used the backboard on foul shots though. You still get the swish, it’s just a little muted. Too many folks are looking at style over substance here.

    I clicked on this post expecting to answer “yes, a bank shot is less aesthetically pleasing”. But after watching the embedded video, I changed my mind. I didn’t see anything wrong with the bank shots. It looks fine; some even looked nice.

    The more I think about this the less clear a preference I can come up with, and I feel more like it all depends on the situation. I guess when you are talking about a foul shot, even perhaps a game winning foul shot with no time on the clock, a swish just feels right, probably because it is uncontested, and the shooter isn’t rushing into a shot. But for shots in general, there is something incredibly satisfying about a big three pointer that banks in.
    I was at the Big 5 Classic over the weekend, and La Salle hitting an OT buzzer beater hurry up bank in 3 to win the game was awesome. I can emphatically say it banking in made it more exciting and enjoyable than if it was nothing but net.

    I’d say a banked free throw is less aesthetically pleasing, in the same way a right-handed batter hitting a home run is less aesthetically pleasing than a left-handed batter, but they’re both home runs.

    Rick Barry’s underhanded free throws are/were less aesthetically pleasing than overhand, but you can’t argue with the results.

    The end (making the FT) justifies the means in my scorebook.

    i now love that there is a basketball team called the Goyang Carrot Jumpers (formerly the Goyang Orion Onions)

    I find a bank shot from the elbow more aesthetically pleasing than a swish. John Wooden was a big proponent of the bank shot, and Bill Walton and other Bruins were really good at it. I always was under the impression that a bank shot from straight on was less accurate. I guess I was probably wrong on that.

    More visually pleasing, perhaps? The ball going in the hoop is what’s visually pleasing to me. A guy shooting 90% from the line is more pleasing than a guy shooting 75% from the line, so I’m in favor of whatever works, aesthetics be damned. Notoriously bad free throw shooters over the years (Shaq, etc.) should have tried it.

    The whole topic of using the backboard made me flash back to a guy who played for Memphis State (now University of Memphis), named Phillip “Doom” Haynes, and he was known for using the backboard a lot more than your average player….but I don’t THINK he used it for free throws.

    If anybody needs me, I’ll be scrolling through photos of coffee cans for the next hour or so. Some of those cans are absolutely gorgeous.

    It would be hard for me to care any less about how the ball gets in the net. I want my favorite players on my favorite teams to score as many points as possible every time they get out there. I’m in favor of banking a FT if it leads to a decline in missed shots. I’m also in favor of shooting it underhand. The idea that aesthetics play into it at all drives me crazy, even if I understand why the players do what they do.

    50 years of basketball shooting chiming in here: Banked free throws add a TON of “forgiveness” to the shot. If you shoot it straight, a +/- 3-4″ of distance is still well within tolerance and it goes in. On a traditional shot, +/- 3-4″ too short/far means you need a soft rim/kind bounce to have any prayer of making it. So, yes – with practice, a bank has a higher yield, statistically. That said … put in the work and shoot it straight in like a real baller! By doing so, the marginal gain of a couple % points is FAR eclipsed by the unparalleled sexiness of nothing but net. (Is there any score in sports more aesthetically pleasing? – there’s a topic.) Blows me away to watch NBA games where the world’s best players hover around 70% (or less) from the line. (I’m looking at you, LBJ). I’m an old man and even today I shoot high 90’s from the line, no problem. Basketball needs to hold on to all the beauty it can – put in the work! Now, please excuse me – those damn neighbor kids are on my lawn again…

    While a swish is aesthetically pleasing, that doesn’t mean a bank shot can’t also be satisfying. Maybe it’s because of the novelty to us North American basketball watchers, but it was a pleasure seeing those free throws bank in.

    As many others have said, I’d want my team to make as many FTs as possible, so if bank shots increase the success rate, then by all means …

    Both are equally aesthetically pleasing to me, though the bank shot has more of a mechanical beauty.

    I’ll add that it was ridiculous that Shaq never tried shooting free throws underhanded. Rick Barry even said he would teach him. I love Shaq, but his ego was to big to try something that might make him look funny, regardless if it could give him better results.

    I think Wilt Chamberlain also didn’t want to shoot free throws granny style. I wonder if he would have won more titles than MJ had he done it. I’m certain that he would have won more than 1, though.

    Results, people, results! Sure, I love nothing but net swishes, especially by way of my hookshot (a weak tribute to Kareem) but in game situarions I always taught my teams to bank it. The rectangle is a help.

    Tim Duncan’s patented move was a mid-range bankshot. Almost automatic, like a Stockton-Malone give and go.

    This discussion reminds me of the decision that golfers need to make when putting: do you leave the pin in, or take it out?

    For years, the rule was that when a player is on the putting green, the pin must be removed before the ball got to the hole. However, to speed up play, a couple years ago the official Rules of Golf were modified so that players were now given the option of leaving the pin in when putting.

    Lots of people had done studies and determined that there was probably a slight advantage to leaving the pin in when putting (in addition to the possible time saving). However, there is one BIG issue I’ve encountered when the pin is left in: you lose out on the oh-so-satisfying “clunk clunk clunk” noise of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup.

    That’s a tough decision. Maybe save a stroke every 10 or 20 rounds… or listen to the satisfying sound of a putt dropping every time.

    Like someone else said, the target square on the backboard is there for a reason, so aim for the sucker. Less “pleasing”? I don’t think so, but to this day, any time someone uses the backboard, particularly in the case of a longer distance shot or free through, I say, out loud, “BANK”. I think it’s because when I was a lad playing ball, bank shots were considered cheap scores for some reason, almost a matter of luck.

    I don’t watch basketball…I had no idea that banking off the backboard wasn’t common practice. Seems like a no-brainer to do that

    To me, there’s something mesmerizing about watching those banked free throws go in. It looks different aesthetically, but not necessarily worse. I agree with everyone here who’s said that the most pleasing thing, aesthetically speaking, is seeing the ball go through the hoop, and this approach make that happen with a great deal of frequency.

    The banked free throw feels like an element of a kinetic sculpture or Rube Goldberg machine. I love it.

    I had a gym teacher and basketball coach who used to preach that science showed bank shots were more likely to go in. Something to do with how the backboard deadened the spin and the ball along with the angle. He’d show us his “proof” by taking out the phys. ed. ball cart and banking in about 90-95 percent of the shots he’d take from about 10 feet out on the wing, a shot with an angle. It always did stick in my head.

    As into sports aesthetics I am, I’m ultimately a pragmatist. The goal of the game is to score as many points as you can. It’s not like you earn style points for scoring in a particular way. If it goes in, it goes in, and if there’s a way to make it go in more often, do that.

    I was taught that as well.

    Since two basketballs will fit side by side through the rim, a ball falling more directly down into the rim (say, off the glass) will have a better chance of going in than a shot that is trying to go up over the front of the rim and then down before the back of the rim.

    I know bank shots are statistically more likely to go in but I had a harder time using the glass than shooting at the rim, except for layups. Not sure if it was a mental thing or what but I could never do as well aiming at the square. I had a coach growing up who said to aim for the net hook right in front of where you’re shooting, and it always worked for me. 88% from the line through high school. 11-11 in my best single game.

    I feel a taller player, as in Shaq or Wilt, would definitely have less success with the bank shot due to having to use more of a line drive shot. I assume the average player height in the KBL is less than the NBA. So maybe the NBA would have less success with this, but to what degree?

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