Function Over Flair: The Granny Style Free Throw

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-02 05:49

Chinanu Onuaku gave the uncool granny throw a chance.
[Photo by Jamie Rhodes - USA Today Sports]

Mathematical analysis has found that professional basketball players have a higher chance of success if they use the granny style free throw.

It's not the most sophisticated-looking of basketball techniques, of course. It basically entails holding the ball in front of you with both hands, bending your knees, then throwing the ball as your legs straighten up. It doesn't look all that good, and may even make the player look ridiculous. However, if the player has good control, this ridiculous-looking technique is going to have fans cheering.

Shaquille O'Neal once said that he was too cool to shoot a granny style free throw. Well, math and physics would like a word with him.

The Math and Physics of a Free Throw

Nothing but net
[Photo by William Stitt]

According to a team of researchers, an experienced player can make this unorthodox throw work. The technique can lead to marginal gains, and marginal gains can lead to successful outcomes. In layman's terms, this weird-looking throw can lead to successful free throws.

The researchers think that there may be some cultural and social forces behind the reasons the granny style free throw isn't very popular. After all, it just doesn't look good. It doesn't make a player look cool, though one would think that scoring points is more important than looking cool.

Looking cool wasn't a concern for Rick Barry, though. Rick Barry broke free throw records with the granny style technique. That's not bad for a technique that has bad rap for not looking good.

So what does make the granny style free throw effective? It boils down to physics and a dash of geometry. A player has to be able to control the angle of the throw as well as the release speed. The player will then have a slightly better chance of scoring.

However, the numbers won't be the same for less experienced players. Newer players haven't yet developed the control it takes to make the granny style effective. An overarm throw may be more suited for players who are still in the learning stage.

Love for the Granny Style Free Throw

For players with better control but low free throw stats, the granny style is worth looking into. In the typical granny style throw, the ball approaches directly above the net. Imagine the ring as a target. If the ball comes from directly above, the cross-section of the ring is larger from the ball's perspective.

This increases the chances of scoring. However, imperfect control and small errors can make the ball soar too high, thus hitting the backboard instead of going through the ring. It can also go too low, thus missing the ring entirely. This is why the overarm throw is better for players with less control. An overarm throw is less likely to make the ball go where it shouldn't go.

Thus, style and looking cool don't always have to beat out substance. If players' free throw stats aren't as high as they should be, then perhaps these players would like to consider a different approach. If the granny style free throw shoe fits, it's best to wear it.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!