Issue 90: How Quickly Can You Shoot a Basketball?

The NBA playoffs offer plenty of exciting moments. Even just last night, we saw Jrue Holiday save the Bucks’ season with a clutch layup and Joe Ingles make a shot by flinging it up off the top of the backboard and into the basket.

May 13, 2004 offered us another one of those memorable moments. And it answered the age-old question: Just how quickly can someone catch and shoot a basketball?

The San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers met in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. These two teams had dominated basketball over the past five years, with the Lakers winning three championships, and the Spurs winning the other two.

It’s no surprise, then, that May 13, 2004 was an intense, super close series. In fact, Game 5 was SO close that it was 72-71 with only a few seconds left in the game.

As an aside, several NBA teams have had record offensive efficiency numbers this year. Anytime I see a score in the 70s, it tickles me.

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, who is perhaps the most skilled player ever at making a jumper off the backboard, made an incredibly difficult shot with just 0.4 seconds left, giving the Spurs a one-point lead.

That shot did not go off the backboard, but it was insanely impressive. And I am not overstating the degree of difficulty here.

Duncan, who’s right-handed, was falling to his left and shooting over a 7’1″ defender in Shaquille O’Neal. Duncan tumbled to the ground like a scared puma, but the ball went through the net. For all intents and purposes, this game was over.

Tell that to Derek Fisher, who, despite having a shaved head for as long as anyone can remember, is actually sporting hair during this game. After a timeout, the Lakers had one last chance to win.

Going back to our question from the beginning of this email — if you’ve ever wondered how much time you need to catch a ball, turn around and shoot it at a basket, Fisher answered that question: it’s 0.4 seconds.

Of course, you or I could also probably catch a ball, turn around and throw it at a piece of infrastructure in that timespan. But our shots would fall clumsily short, or perhaps sail over the basket entirely and knock out a fan in the crowd.

Not only did Fisher get the shot off before the buzzer, it went straight through the hoop. Swish. Lakers 74, Spurs 73.

As one naturally does when making a ridiculous game-winning bucket, Fisher ran around the court while the rest of his team chased him.

It was one of those moments where fans of both teams were just standing around, mouths agape and hands holding onto their head in complete disbelief.

Let’s watch both of these shots below. They are just… 😚👌

Years later, the former FSN and ESPN show Sport Science ran scientific tests using notable UCLA stars Jordan Farmar and Jason Kapono to see if one could perhaps release a jump shot even more quickly.

In the tests, Kapono is wearing a glove on one hand (perhaps Michael Jackson did this while shooting hoops?) that could help track how quickly he was releasing the ball.

The show breaks down the whole process into the catch, the set, and the shot. The set, where Kapono repositions himself to face the basket, is the slowest part.

So, if Kapono were to reduce his set time, or even remove it entirely, could he be even quicker in getting rid of the ball?

As is Sport Science tradition, we see the replay of different shots about 6,457 times. It’s not nearly as fun as the SNL parody of the show, but still pretty cool.

Other Reads and Watches

Who are the most clutch WNBA shooters?

Marc Spears on the delightful bond the Morris twins have

Robert O’Connell on Joel Embiid dominating in a guard-centric league

How to get fined $150,000 for posting on social media

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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