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."

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With a vertical leap reportedly measuring more than 40 inches, LeBron James reigns king of the air. Sure, great genes help. But any man can increase his hops with a little work. The secret is adding plyometric training -- explosive power movements -- to your workout, says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., author of The IMPACT! Body Plan. That's why Durkin created this high-powered fitness challenge.

The test: How fast can you complete 24 jumps on a 24-inch box or bench?

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Here's how it works: Stand facing a box or bench that's 24 inches high. Jump onto it with both feet, landing softly with your knees slightly bent. Step down and repeat. Do 24 total.

Is a 24-inch box or bench too high? Use one 12 inches high to start, and work your way up to taller boxes each time you try the drill.

Want to give it a shot? Watch the video above to see Durkin perform the challenge. He completed 24 jumps in 58 seconds. What was your time? Tell us in the comments below. (Or, try one of these other exercises in the Men's Health Train For Life Challenge Series.)

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Among the many qualities that separate LeBron James and Magic Johnson from other NBA players who are in the 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-9 range is their extraordinary ball-handling skills. James and Johnson are the epitome of the "point-forward," the player who has the body of a power forward and the dexterity of a point guard.

When Clark Kellogg, another former prep star who was nearly as comfortable in the backcourt as he was in the paint, looks at his career, he quickly identifies ball-handling drills as the most important in his development.

At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, Kellogg has nearly the same body dimensions as James and Johnson. And while he never had the same professional success as either Magic or LeBron, Kellogg's smooth handles make one wonder how good he could have been were his career not derailed by creaky knees.

Kellogg told ThePostGame that his father's weakness as a basketball player was always ball-handling skills, so from an early age Clark Kellogg Sr. emphasized to his son the importance of being comfortable with the rock.

"As a 9-, 10-, 11-year-old who looked like he was going to be tall, my dad’s admonition to become a good ball handler is something that served me extremely well as I developed," said Kellogg, now a CBS analyst.

After a stellar prep career at St. Joseph's High School in Cleveland and an impressive stint at Ohio State, Kellogg could have been a fascinating foil for Johnson. In his first season with the Indiana Pacers, Kellogg averaged 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds. That feat has only been matched by one rookie in the past decade: Blake Griffin.

Kellogg succumbed to knee problems after just a few years with the Pacers, leaving many to wonder what could have been.

Kellogg was always heralded for his drive and his basketball IQ, but when he looks back on his career he credits his solid ball-handling as perhaps the most important skill in his development.

"Any type of ball-handling drills that were part of my team practices or camp sessions that I attended always resonated, and I tried to put into practice," Kellogg said.

Even if Kellogg had stayed healthy, he likely would be remembered as more of a traditional big man than James or Johnson. But Kellogg's case is further proof that for big men, it never hurt to think outside the block.

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College professors rarely mention Nate Robinson in the same lecture as Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein even though he's experienced the movement of a body (his own) through space on a level none of those physicists ever could. You can stare at an equation on a chalk board that involves energy and mass and acceleration all day long, but until you've propelled a 5-9 frame over 43 inches into the air, until you've felt your body break free from gravity, until you have, ever so briefly, flown, can you truly grasp how the earth's pull affects the human form? Some people ace physics, others defy them.

This is theory versus experience, reading versus rubber meeting the road. Like Robin Williams said to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, "So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him ... But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that."

That's how it might feel to be someone who studies the earth's gravitational pull for a living but relies on machines and technology to escape it. Nate Robinson relies on his legs. He knows what it's like to push off the earth with his own two feet and actually get somewhere.

For most of us who watch the NBA on a regular basis, that level of physical prowess is off limits; as unattainable as swinging through a city by slinging webs from our wrists. When we're standing under a 10-foot hoop, in our driveway or our gym, and we look up at the cylinder that's only three feet away from our outstretched arm, we think: How the hell does someone shorter than me get from here (the ground) to there (above the rim)?

***

The reason you care is because Nate Robinson is your height. He's a palm tree playing in a forest of redwoods. The reason you cheer is because he entertains. He's a basketball player and a showman, though the order on any given night is debatable. He's as much Harry Houdini as he is Harlem Globetrotter as he is guard for the Chicago Bulls. But he's a legitimate basketball talent -- always has been.

In his last year at the University of Washington he averaged 16 points, four assists, four rebounds and nearly two steals a game, which was good enough for the New York Knicks to select him in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft. He played nearly 30 minutes a game in each of his first five years in the NBA, culminating in a career-high 17.2 points a game during the 2008-09 season.

There are more stats and big games and memorable moments, especially during his 2010 playoff run with the Boston Celtics, where he played Abbott to Glen "Big Baby" Davis' Costello. Or, as Robinson described it in a press conference, "We're like Shrek and Donkey." Yet those moments all take a back seat to the seemingly impossible slams, the out-of-nowhere blocked shots and the three nights he performed for the entire basketball universe and won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

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Tim Manson says that every single workout he puts Nate Robinson and his other clients through is totally different. There is no typical workout because the body adapts to routine and he tries to stay as far away from that as possible. For someone who wants to improve their jump, or who wants to start jumping the right way, he recommends the simplest of exercises to start with, though only after extensive stretching and what he calls "activity movement preparation."

"When Nate comes in to workout, we'll do at least 30-45 minutes of active prep," he says. "It's all dynamic and stuff to prepare the body for a workout. The idea is to prepare the body to go through a workout at 100 percent without getting hurt."

After you do your own version of stretching and preparing your own body, Manson says you can put yourself through one of the below vertical jumping exercise complexes. These exercise complexes are closed chain, multiple joint threaded exercises that utilize the entire kinetic chain. All exercises are 20 repetitions for two sets with two minutes of recovery between exercises:

1. Mobility (bodyweight stabilization, flexibility, strength)
Weighted Bar Straight Leg Ground Push + Overhead Concentric Squat + Overhead Squat

2. Mobility Power Absorption (resistive stabilization, flexibility, strength, explosive power, absorption)
One dumbbell in each hand: Straight Leg Ground Push + Squat + Explosive Overhead Concentric Vertical Jump to Absorption Stick.

3. Strength Power Absorption
One dumbbell in each hand: Hanging 6-Count Burpee to Explosive Vertical Jump to Absorption Stick.

-- More DIY Training: How Nate Robinson Continues To Soar In NBA
-- More From Trainer Tim Manson: Check out TERNION

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Practicing every day is great, but frequency alone isn't the answer to becoming a better player. It's how you approach each practice. Developing a strategy to make the most out of each session in the gym is crucial. This is what Dwight Howard means when he says he wants to be smart about how he practices:

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One of the keys to playing good man-to-man defense is being able to see the player you're guarding and the ball at the same time.

This is tricky as you are forced to split your vision while moving around on the court. Learning to take the better angles in relation to the ball and the player you're guarding helps.

So does having great peripheral vision.

Some might be born with a greater range, but Hall of Famer Bill Bradley actually did a drill to improve his peripheral vision.

The beauty of Bradley's training technique is that it doesn't require being in the gym or even having a basketball. It is something that can be built into your every-day routine.

Bradley would walk down the sidewalk looking straight ahead. But as he was doing this, he would concentrate on seeing and identifying objects at the outer edges of his vision.

By doing this and honing his peripheral vision, Bradley became known for having a superior sense of where he was on the court in relation to the basket and the other players.

If you are walking with others, you can turn this drill into a game and figure out who has the better peripheral vision. In either case, sticking with this drill could help make you a seemingly smarter player.

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