The free throw. It's either a basketball player's best friend or worst enemy.
While shooting percentages of the uncontested 15-footer have steadily increased since the beginnings of the NBA -- the league average is better than 75 percent in nine of the past 10 seasons -- some of its best players still struggle with the shot.
Cue Hall of Famer Rick Barry, who famously converted 90 percent of his attempts during his 14-year pro career, all while tossing them "granny style." Still No. 3 on the all-time list behind ex-Cav Mark Price and current Laker Steve Nash, Barry thinks more players should be shooting underhanded to increase their free-throw percentage.
"If you're shooting 80 percent or better, great," he says. "If you can't shoot 80 percent, you're not a good free-throw shooter, that simple. If you can't shoot in the mid-70s, you need to think seriously about it. If you're a 60-percent, 50-percent free-throw shooter, by God, you should try anything."
And so, Barry persists in passing along the technique for which he is most remembered, step-by-step:
First and foremost, regardless of which free-throw style, Barry says you need a routine.
"Every shot that you take, you have to take it exactly the same way every single time the ball is placed into your hands," he says. "I don't care if it's bounce the ball off your head three times, bounce it off your stomach, kick it with your knee, I don't care what your routine is, you have to do it every single time."
Barry thinks the mental game is a big aspect of free throws. He says having a set routine is important because in a critical moment, you won't think about making them, but rather simply go through a consistent and familiar progression.
"The last thing you want to be worried about is, 'Oh, God, I've got to make these to tie the game, or win the game,'" he says. "Go into your routine, like you've practiced thousands and thousands and thousands of times. So your entire being is focused on what? Your routine, not the situation."
With his trademark underhand technique, Barry says the shooter has to be old enough to hold the ball properly. As he explains it, the shooter's palms should not go underneath the ball with what may come to mind with the typical granny shot.
"Your hands have to be big enough to get over the top of the ball properly," says Barry. "And your thumbs should be even."
Next, the arms.
"Everything you do in the game, at least if you're playing it properly, your arms are up in an unnatural position," he explains. "You've got your arms up playing defense, you're shooting the ball up there, you're rebounding up there, and during the course of a game, you're going to get a little tired. When I get to the free-throw line, my arms are hanging down in a totally, completely relaxed, natural position. So I'm not going to get tense and tighten up or anything, because I'm in a totally natural position."