Why Do Basketball Players Miss Free Throws?

How come even the best NBA players miss their free throws?

Believe it or not, there is more than one reason why.

Basketball players usually miss their free throws due to pressure, fatigue, and insufficient practice. It could also be because a player isn’t primarily a shooter, and the free throw isn’t as easy as they say.

As you’ve read, there are many reasons players still miss free throws. Let’s look at each one. You’ll also find tips to improve your free throw at the end.

What are Free Throws?

In a basketball game, you’ll see many players take free throws now and then. They’re even called the easiest shot in basketball.

But what exactly are they?

Free throws are awarded as a penalty for a foul or violation. Depending on the foul, a player can take as little as one free throw and as many as three free throws.

A player who will shoot free throws must shoot behind the free throw line. Then, five players will line up beside the basket and compete for the rebound.

Why do Basketball Players Miss Free Throws?

If free throws are the most effortless shots in basketball, why do players still miss them?

Shouldn’t they make them all perfectly? Why does even the best shooter in the NBA only have a career average of 90.7%?

Well, it turns out there are so many factors involved. Let’s get to them one by one.

1. It’s hard to perfect

Contrary to what everyone says, free throws aren’t easy at all. Sure, they’re an unguarded shot meant to be a reward, but they’re still hard.

There’s been research done on why basketball players miss free throws, and they all boil down to four factors:

  • Release speed
  • Angle
  • Straightness of the shot
  • Amount of backspin

Other factors are involved in a free throw shot, but players need to master these to perfect their free throws.

So, one wrong calculation and you can easily mess up your shot. That’s precisely why players have different reasons why they miss free throws. It’s not the same story every time.

Ultimately, perfecting all your free throws would be practically impossible, especially for the reasons below.

2. The pressure is more tremendous in a game

Imagine you’re about to shoot the easiest shot in basketball in a crowd of thousands with the game on the line.

Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like an easy shot, right?

Although not all free throws are critical, they’re still hard to make because of in-game pressure. The pressure from your teammates, coaches, the enemy team, and the crows is enough for players to fold.

Shooting free throws in practice is one thing when there’s utter silence. But when there’s chaos around you, it will be impossible to focus constantly.

This is why even the best NBA players miss critical free throws when they should be the best players on the planet.

3. Fatigue

A game is only 48 minutes long, but players will constantly run, jump, shoot, and even dive for the ball.

Fatigue can then accumulate quickly, and when you’re shooting a free throw, it will only bring you down.

No matter how much you practiced free throws, as we said in reason #1, a slight miscalculation is all it takes to miss.

So, when you combine fatigue and pressure, you realize just how tough basketball players must be to shoot free throws consistently.

4. They’re not primarily shooters

Another critical reason many basketball players miss free throws is that they’re not shooters. This is the case with Shaquille O’Neal, who shot a free throw career average of 52.7%.

Most small guys can shoot, but bigger guys will have difficulty controlling the ball. Since Shaq was so big and strong, he couldn’t properly control the shot. You’ll get what we mean when you try shooting a small ball.

So, the next time you see a player misses a free throw, it might be because shooting isn’t his strong suit.

5. Not enough practice

Free throws are just a tiny part of the game. Scouts aren’t exactly looking for players who can chuck free throws perfectly.

Instead, they’re looking for players who are good at dribbling, passing, shooting, vision, and everything in between.

Free throws are just a tiny part of the game and can be practiced later. But once players get into the league, a lot of them don’t have the leeway to practice free throws a lot.

Why do Basketball Players Intentionally Miss Free Throws?

Missing free throws is one thing, but why do players do it intentionally? You’d think that they want to get easy points.

But missing free throws intentionally is a good strategy in certain situations. For instance, at the end of a close game with a few seconds left, the player can miss the free throw and get the rebound to get a new possession.

They can then score immediately if they’re behind on the score, or they can waste time if they’re leading.

But the only rule is that players must hit the rim for it to be legal. If they hit the backboard instead of the rim, then it’s a violation.

This makes this strategy a high-stakes gamble but effective if done right.

Tips to Get Better at Free Throws

Free throws may only be a small part of the game, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

Free throws decide a lot of matches!

So, although you might not be deciding a game through a free throw anytime soon, it doesn’t hurt to practice them altogether.

To help you with that, here are some tips:

  • Have a routine before shooting
  • Practice the correct form
  • Bend and point your elbows directly at the rim
  • Focus on the rim when shooting
  • Don’t forget to follow through
  • Lastly, practice every day!

Free throws are an individual play. No one can help you when you’re shooting it except yourself.

So, it should be practiced daily as much as you can.


Free throws may be considered one of the easiest shots in basketball, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, players miss them due to a combination of factors.

But thankfully, they can be improved with practice and the proper techniques.

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