What Is a Trajectory in Basketball?

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In basketball, trajectory refers to the path a ball takes while in flight toward a basket after being shot or thrown by a player. If the ball is shot using proper mechanics, its trajectory follows an arcing path from the time it leaves the player’s hands until it reaches the basket. The ball’s trajectory is but one of the aspects of shooting a basketball.

Artistic and Scientific Process

At first glance, it may seem that shooting a basketball is a purely athletic skill. In actuality, writes Jerry Tarkanian, former head basketball coach at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, shooting a basketball is part art and part science. Shooting is artistic in that it requires precise hand-eye coordination. It is scientific in that it requires the interactivity of several mechanical processes, including depth perception, velocity, angle of release and trajectory. While there is not just one proper way to shoot a basketball, Tarkanian continues, there are several basic elements that must be developed to shoot a basketball effectively.


Practice is the most important ingredient in becoming an accurate shooter. Players who practice shooting for long hours on a consistent basis have a better chance at developing the artistic and scientific skills needed to become an effective shooter. An assortment of elements are involved in developing these skills, including balance, timing, grip, trajectory and style. As you learn to balance your weight properly, get the right grip and release the ball at the right time while shooting, you improve your ability to put the ball on the right trajectory to go through the hoop.


Each basketball player must develop an individual style when it comes to shooting. Finding your shooting style is important because it is the foundation upon which the basic elements of shooting are built. Find your style by experimenting on the court, shooting different types of shots, such as mid-range jump shots, long-range jump shots and turn-around jumpers from inside the key. Whether your shooting style is conventional or unconventional doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that your style, coupled with a lot of practice, puts the ball on a trajectory that scores your team points.


Another aspect of basketball that involves trajectory is rebounding. If a player shoots the ball at a trajectory that misses the mark, the ball is likely to careen off the rim, sending it on a smaller trajectory. This smaller trajectory gives players the opportunity to grab a rebound, giving their team another scoring opportunity or possession of the ball. Long- or full-court passes also involve a trajectory that requires players to be able to adjust their speed and angle to properly receive the pass.