Elena Delle Donne recently wrapped up an MVP season during which she averaged 23.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2 blocks per game for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. Although she is a dynamic scorer and a lockdown defender, the most impressive part of her game might be her free-throw shooting.
Delle Donne finished the season with a marvelous 95 percent free throw percentage, knocking down 207 of 218 attempts. For comparison, the best free-throw shooter in the NBA—MVP Stephen Curry—knocked down 91.4 percent last season.
2015 was Delle Donne’s best pro season at the line, but she’s long been a free-throw master. She holds the national high school record with 80 consecutive made free throws, and she ended her college career at Delaware sporting a free-throw percentage of 91 percent.
So how did Delle Donne get so good at swishing shots from 15 feet? Luckily, she recently detailed her routine to The Wall Street Journal. Her free throw technique consists of seven basic steps.
1. Find the “Dot” in the Middle of the Free-Throw Line
Almost every free-throw line on a hardwood court has a dot placed perfectly in its center. This “dot” is typically a small hole or nail. Its purpose is to help the people who paint the court. They anchor a string to the dot to help them correctly mark the court’s dimensions.
For Delle Donne, the dot is where she begins her free-throw routine. She lines up the top of her right foot with the dot before she receives the ball from the referee. You can actually see her looking at the dot and adjusting her foot accordingly before the second free throw in this video.
2. Take Three Dribbles
After Delle Donne lines up on the dot, she looks up and receives the ball from the ref. Then she takes three dribbles in place with her right hand.
3. Place the Index Finger on the Pin-Hole
After Delle Donne takes three dribbles, she places her right index finger on the pin-hole—you know, where you insert the needle to pump air into the ball.
4. Bring the Front Elbow to 90 Degrees
Next, Delle Donne pulls the ball in front of her and forms a 90-degree angle with her right elbow.
5. Bend the Knees
Delle Donne then bends her knees slightly, keeping her upper body completely stationary.
6. Lift, Flick and Pop
After she bends her knees, Delle Donne straightens her legs, lifts her right elbow, flicks her right wrist and pops her ankles. This is the actual motion of elevating and releasing the ball. Delle Donne stresses not getting any hang time on your free-throw motion. “It’s a little bit of an ankle pop—no jumping,” Delle Donne told the Journal.
7. Tell Yourself It’s Going In
When the ball leaves Delle Donne’s hand, she practices positive visualization. “I actually just tell myself, ‘It’s going in,’” Delle Donne said. “Every single time.”
Delle Donne’s been using this routine for over a decade, logging thousands upon thousands of practice repetitions. Her muscle memory is so strong that no matter what the situation is, she can calmly step to the line and drain a pair. Technique is certainly important for free throw success, but nothing is more critical than practice.