Most Unusual Free Throw Techniques the NBA Has Ever Seen
Tuck in elbow. Line up ball. Set feet apart. Balance body. Spread fingers. Snap wrist. Follow through. Swish, rinse, repeat.
Really, kids, is there an easier shot to execute than the 15-foot free throw, the only unguarded shot in team sports?
Why, of course not. As pro basketball continues to gravitate toward entertainment at the expense of fundamentals and competition, the free throw circle has morphed into a grand stage to showcase creativity to put it in a kind way. Which is another way to say, the simple art of the free throw has morphed into a complicated mess in many cases.
For better or for worse, here’s the shortlist of the most unconventional, downright awful and strangely effective free throw styles in NBA history.
30. Michael Adams
Career: 11 seasons (1985-1996)
Teams: Sacramento Kings (1985-86), Washington Bullets (1986-87, 1991-94), Denver Nuggets (1987-91), Charlotte Hornets (1994-96)
Career free throw percentage: .849
Bottom Line: Michael Adams
Mighty Mike flipped out his right elbow like a chicken wing ever so briefly. No harm, no foul. He regrouped in time to take a push shot from the chin.
The career overachiever shot no worse than 82 percent in nine consecutive seasons.
29. Steve Nash
Career: 18 seasons (1996-2014)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1996-98, 2004-12), Dallas Mavericks (1998-2004), Los Angeles Lakers (2012-14)
Career free throw percentage: .904
Bottom Line: Steve Nash
Before the owner of the second best free throw percentage in NBA history was handed the ball, he toed the line and simulated his motion three times then licked his fingers.
But if this guy was so good, then how did he miss 324 free throws in 3,384 attempts?
28. Desmond Mason
Career: 10 seasons (2000-09)
Teams: Seattle SuperSonics (2000-03), Milwaukee Bucks (2004-05, 2007-08), New Orleans-Oklahoma City (2005-07), Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-09) Sacramento Kings (2009)
Career free throw percentage: .740
Bottom Line: Desmond Mason
It amazes us how an athlete can leap so effortlessly over a crouched teammate several feet from the basket, as D-Mase did in the 2001 Slam Dunk Contest, but he looks so out of place at the free throw line.
After he brought the ball waaaaay out in front of him, it looked like he had a boulder in his hands, so much did he struggle to deliver the ball to the bucket. Raise your hand if you believe dunks should be allowed on free throws . . .
27. Don Kojis
Career: 12 seasons (1963-75)
Teams: Baltimore Bullets (1963-64), Detroit Pistons (1964-66), Chicago Bulls (1966-67), San Diego Rockets (1967-70), Seattle SuperSonics (1970-72), Kansas City-Omaha Kings (1972-75)
Career free throw percentage: .720
Bottom Line: Don Kojis
The next three guys on the list were unique in that they all shot jumpers at the free throw line. In the case of this Marquette product, why not?
He was known as The Kangaroo Kid, you know.
26. Bob McAdoo
Career: 14 seasons (1972-86)
Teams: Buffalo Braves (1972-76), New York Knicks (1976-79), Detroit Pistons (1979-81), New Jersey Nets (1981), Los Angeles Lakers (1981-85), Philadelphia 76ers (1985-86)
Career free throw percentage: .754
Bottom Line: Bob McAdoo
Doo had one of the surest J’s of his era, so there was a method to his madness here.
He was at his best (78 percent) in his Braves days.
25. Hal Greer
Career: 15 seasons (1958-73)
Teams: Syracuse Nationals (1958-63),Philadelphia 76ers (1963-73),
Career free throw percentage: .801
Bottom Line: Hal Greer
His trademark pull-up jumper was money. So if you’re gonna take your best shot at the free throw line, then why not take your best shot?
Bulldog converted at least 77 percent of his freebies every season.
24. Reggie Miller
Career: 18 seasons (1987-2005)
Teams: Indiana Pacers (1987-2005)
Career free throw percentage: .888
Bottom Line: Reggie Miller
The Spike Lee-New York Knicks killer held the ball against his left hip, raised his right hand in a shooting motion, then dribbled three times. Fact is, the guy couldn’t miss if he tried.
In a 2002 game, his team down by two points in the final seconds, he attempted to brick a roof-raiser that could have brought down rain. Swish.
23. Karl Malone
Career: 19 seasons (1989-2004)
Teams: Utah Jazz (1989-2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-04)
Career free throw percentage: .742
Bottom Line: Karl Malone
For years, it was one of the greatest mysteries of the hoops world. What did The Mailman whisper while he stared downward with slight bobs before each free throw? (King Karl fun fact: According to two lip readers, the words were a message to his young son.)
All we know is, if the Mailman hadn’t bricked two freebies in the final ticks of the 1997 NBA Finals opener, he might own a championship ring right now.
22. Alonzo Mourning
Career: 15 seasons (1992-2008)
Teams: Charlotte Hornets (1992-95), Miami Heat (1995-2002, 2005-08), New Jersey Nets (2003-04).
Career free throw percentage: .692
Bottom Line: Alonzo Mourning
As free throw shooters went, ’Zo sure was a great defender. In tribute to his family, he kissed the wristband on his left hand then tapped his chin with it.
The longer his career wore on, though, the less effective he was at the line. He shot 59 percent in his final four seasons.
21. Wali (Wally) Jones
Career: 11 seasons (1965-1973, 1975-76)
Teams: Baltimore Bullets (1964-65), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-1971, 1976), Milwaukee Bucks (1971-1973), Detroit Pistons (1975).
Career free throw percentage: .802
Bottom Line: Wali (Wally) Jones
Some call basketball a religion. The sight of Wally Wonder at the free throw line made a few believers, no doubt. The right-hander moved his opposite foot back then lowered the knee to the floor as if to genuflect.
Then, it was all rise! The guy threw up prayers, one could say.
20. Jeff Hornacek
Career: 14 seasons (1986-2000)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1986-92), Philadelphia 76ers (1992-94), Utah Jazz (1994-2000)
Career free throw percentage: .877
Bottom Line: Jeff Hornacek
Horny wiped his face three times as a discreet hello to his three young children back home. “They were always asking me to wave to them. I couldn’t really do that, so this is what I came up with,” he explained.
Gosh, can you imagine if Calvin Murphy had done this for his 14 kids?
19. Gilbert Arenas
Career: 11 seasons (2001-12)
Teams: Golden State Warriors (2001-03), Washington Wizards (2003-10), Utah Jazz (2010-11), Memphis Grizzlies (2012)
Career free throw percentage: .803
Bottom Line: Gilbert Arenas
Agent Zero wanted to be different. So he rolled the ball around his waist three times, spun it in his hands once, dribbled twice, then eyed the bucket. “If you stay confident, make sure you are doing the same thing over and over, the free throws will fall,” he said.
Yeah, tell that to DeAndre Jordan, why don’t ya?
18. Chris Dudley
Career: 16 seasons (1987-2003)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (1987-90), New Jersey Nets (1990-93), Portland Trail Blazers (1993-97, 2001-03), New York Knicks (1997-2000), Phoenix Suns (2000-01),
Career free throw percentage: .458
Bottom Line: Chris Dudley
The next foursome are known as The Human Lane Violations. They paused at the top of their deliveries — or long enough to convince five or six players to bunny-hop into the lane and look really, really dumb while the ball was still in their hands.
They had another thing in common — horrible results. Connect the dots, ladies and gents . . .
17. Chuck Hayes
Career: 11 seasons (2005-15)
Teams: Houston Rockets (2005-11, 2015), Sacramento Kings (2011-13), Toronto Raptors (2013-15),
Career free throw percentage: .620
Bottom Line: Chuck Hayes
On Nov. 24, 2010, Chuck Wagon shocked the basketball world when he drained all eight of his free throw tries. Eight! Would we make this up?
OK, check it out on YouTube then.
16. Nate Thurmond
Career: 14 seasons (1963-77)
Teams: San Francisco-Golden State Warriors (1963-74), Chicago Bulls (1974-75), Cleveland Cavaliers (1975-77)
Career free throw percentage: .667
Bottom Line: Nate Thurmond
Midway through his career, Nate The Great shot 72 percent or better at the line in four consecutive seasons. (Gasp!)
OK, now you know how bad he was early and late in his career.
15. Ronnie Brewer
Career: 14 seasons (2006-14)
Teams: Utah Jazz (2006-10), Memphis Grizzlies (2010), Chicago Bulls (2010-12, 2014), New York Knicks (2012-13), Oklahoma City Thunder (2013), Houston Rockets (2013-14)
Career free throw percentage: .675
Bottom Line: Ronnie Brewer
This Arkansas product claimed that his oddball technique was the result of a broken bone that protruded through his right triceps, the result of a childhood water slide accident.
Us? We think one of his bricks destroyed a water slide, and the kid never got over it.
14. Markelle Fultz
Career: 4 seasons (2017-present)
Teams: Philadelphia 76ers (2017-19), Orlando Magic (2019-present)
Career free throw percentage: .695
Bottom Line: Markelle Fultz
The first pick of the 2017 draft is Ronnie Brewer, Chris Dudley, Chuck Hayes and Nate Thurmond rolled into one. Only worse.
Just when the kid is about to release the ball from slightly above his head on tippy toes, he inexplicably brings the rock down and loads up again. Double yoi.
13. Wilt Chamberlain
Career: 13 seasons (1959-73)
Teams: Philadelphia-San Francisco Warriors (1959-65), Philadelphia 76ers (1965-68), Los Angeles Lakers (1968-73)
Career free throw percentage: .511
Bottom Line: Wilt Chamberlain
As we know, Wilt bricked more free throws than any player in hoops history. But let’s give him some credit — at least he tried unlike so many others.There was the granny shot. The 15-foot flip shot. The 18-foot flip shot. The 20-foot flip shot. He even moved left of center on occasion.
Big Dipper fun fact: There are multiple accounts that the Overbrook High School (Pennsylvania) phenom could dunk from the free throw line. Alas, the NCAA rules-makers abolished the shot before his first college season, or else he might bethe best free throw shooter of all time.
12. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Career: 8 seasons (2012-20)
Teams: Charlotte Bobcats-Hornets (2012-20), Dallas Mavericks (2020)
Career free throw percentage: .715
Bottom Line: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
If points were awarded for degree of difficulty, this twisted wrister would rank among the all-time greats. The ball rested on his right hand that was contorted almost parallel to the rim — ouch! — while his left hand steadied it from above. Meanwhile, his right elbow was tucked close to his body.
Oh, to have been a fly inside the brain of Hornets part-owner Michael Jordan while he watched this abomination on television . . .
11. Jason Kidd
Career: 19 seasons (1994-2013)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks (1994-96, 2008-12), Phoenix Suns (1996-2001), New Jersey Nets (2001-08), New York Knicks (2012-13)
Career free throw percentage: .785
Bottom Line: Jason Kidd
The 10-time All-Star famously wiped the fingers of his right hand on his backside then blew a kiss with them at the rim in tribute to his wife/ex-wife Joumana and their three children.
J-Kidd fun fact: He shot 78 percent before she filed for divorce, 81 percent afterward. (Insert punchline here.)
10. Marcus Camby
Career: 16 seasons (1987-2004)
Teams: Toronto Raptors (1996-98), New York Knicks (1998-2002), Denver Nuggets (2002-08), Los Angeles Clippers (2008-10), Portland Trail Blazers (2010-12), Houston Rockets (2012), New York Knicks (2012-13)
Career free throw percentage: .670
Bottom Line: Marcus Camby
This is complicated, so bear with us . . . Marcus Can’t Be was right-handed but started his wind-up from way left of center. Then, he swung the ball around in circular motion up to his forehead before the release.
Uh, nice extended follow-through, though.
9. Shawn Marion
Career: 16 seasons (1999-2015)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1999-2008), Miami Heat (2008-09), Toronto Raptors (2009), Dallas Mavericks (2009-14), Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-15)
Career free throw percentage: .810
Bottom Line: Shawn Marion
If the NBA had a Pop-a-Shot Contest on All-Star Weekend, then we would bet on this itchy trigger finger. Big. No sooner did the ball reach his chest than it was out of his hands like a hot mess already.
Rarely has unorthodox been this successful — he shot 81 percent or better in eight seasons.
8. Dave Gambee
Career: 12 seasons (1958-70)
Teams: St. Louis Hawks (1958-60), Cincinnati Royals (2008-09), Syracuse Nationals (1960-63), Philadelphia 76ers (1963-67), San Diego Rockets (1967-68), Milwaukee Bucks (1968-69), Detroit Pistons (1969), San Francisco Warriors (1969-70)
Career free throw percentage: .822
Bottom Line: Dave Gambee
We’re not sure if Tchaikovsky could shoot free throws, but this toughie did a pretty fair impression of Swan Lake at the line. The line was his balance beam, where he steadied himself on his right foot then hoisted a granny shot toward the basket, left foot off the ground.
On the follow through, he resembled Igor Zalensky in sneakers. Nah, more like a flamingo with hemorrhoids. Darned if one of the most unique styles in hoops history didn’t work for him.
7. Mark Jackson
Career: 16 seasons (1987-2004)
Teams: New York Knicks (1987-2008), Miami Heat (2008-09), Toronto Raptors (2009), Dallas Mavericks (2009-14), Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-15), Utah Jazz
Career free throw percentage: .770
Bottom Line: Mark Jackson
What do you call two quick ball taps from hand to hand followed by a fully extended right arm with pinched fingers aimed at the basket, a two-second pause, three elongated dribbles, a three-second pause and a two-hand push shot?
A 10-second free throw violation, that’s what.
6. Jamaal Wilkes
Career: 12 seasons (1974-86)
Teams: San Francisco Warriors (1974–77), Los Angeles Lakers (1977-85), Low Angeles Clippers (1985-86)
Career free throw percentage: .759
Bottom Line: Jamaal Wilkes
One-time Lakers coach Paul Westhead once described this unique style as “snow falling off a bamboo leaf.” Uh, we’re not sure about that, but it was really weird the way that Wilkes put the ball with two hands behind his head, took three dribbles, slowly cocked the rock behind his right ear then launched a skyscraper toward the bucket not unlike a slingshot.
Not only that, but the ball had a weird sideways spin on its way to the rim. How the hell it ever went through the cylinder three out of four times remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of pro basketball.
5. Andris Biedrins
Career: 10 seasons (2004-14)
Teams: Golden State Warriors (2004-13), Utah Jazz 2013-14)
Career free throw percentage: .500
Bottom Line: Andris Biedrins
His freebies should have come with the command “Up periscope!” The Latvian took a deep breath, dribbled once or twice, slowly extended his left hand skyward above head level, flicked his wrist and . . . Dive! Dive!
He shot a pathetic 24 percent over his final five seasons. When frustrated Dubs head coach Don Nelson suggested the underhand method, the 6-foot-11 brick thrower had the nerve to say that he felt disrespected. C’mon, man, seriously?
4. Joakim Noah
Career: 14 seasons (2007-present)
Teams: Chicago Bulls (2007-16), New York Knicks (2016-18), Memphis Grizzlies (2018-19), Los Angeles Clippers (2019-present)
Career free throw percentage: .700
Bottom Line: Joakim Noah
His two-handed cyclone shot is so topsy-turvy, what with its goofy sideways spin, it comes with a warning . . . Please be seated and fasten your seat belts immediately. We are about to encounter some turbulence .
But don’t take our word for it. Check out the YouTube clip that shows his airball that was juuuust a little bit outside, quite possibly the most awful free throw attempt in the history of pro buckets . . .
3. Bill Cartwright
Career: 15 seasons (1979-95)
Teams: New York Knicks (1979-88), Chicago Bulls (1988-94), Seattle SuperSonics (1994-95)
Career free throw percentage: .771
Bottom Line: Bill Cartwright
Put him at the free throw, and he suddenly morphed into a 6-foot-11 crane operator who was paid by the hour. He dribbled 10 times, hunched over to a 90-degree angle, raised the ball ever . . . so . . . slowly with two hands, paused momentarily at the highest point then finally unloaded on the basket.
Time elapsed: a dozen seconds give or take a fraction. Kids, do not try this at home.
2. Don Nelson
Career: 14 seasons (1962-76)
Teams: Chicago Zephyrs (1962-63), Los Angeles Lakers (1963-65), Boston Celtics (1965-76)
Career free throw percentage: .765
Bottom Line: Don Nelson
We can’t recall a worse great technique as this one. The long-time reserve didn’t shoot free throws. No, he shot-putted them. After a deep breath, the righty slowly bent his knees, then ever so carefully one-handed the ball toward the rim.
For added oomph, both of his feet left the ground slightly upon release. Somehow, he was a consistent shot-maker in the regular season and even better (.817) in the playoffs.
1. Rick Barry
Career: 14 seasons (1965-80)
Teams: San Francisco-Golden State Warriors (1965-67, 1972-78), ABA Oakland Oaks (1968-69), ABA Washington Capitols (1969-70), ABA New York Nets (1970-72), Houston Rockets (1978-80)
Career free throw percentage: .900
Bottom Line: Rick Barry
The cool kids made fun of this high school junior with the granny shot. Bunch of chumps. Didn’t they know that the future Hall of Famer would become the greatest volume free throw shooter in hoops history? Decades later, the golden oldie still could drain at least eight out of 10. Blind-folded.
Mr. Perfect fun fact: Chinanu Onuaku is the only player to shoot from down under regularly in the last 35 years. The Houston Rockets bench-warmer had four career attempts in the 2016-17 season. Made them all, of course.