First Jeopardy, now computer tackles basketball

First [a computer beat two Jeopardy champions](/bus-news/article.php/3925431/IBMs+Watson+Goes+from+Jeopardy+to+Medicine.htm), now results from another system claim to show the best way to shoot a basketball.

Engineering researchers at North Carolina State University said a [series of computer simulations]( led them to conclude that basketball players have a 20 percent better chance of scoring a basket using a bank shot (i.e. shooting it off the “square” of the backboard) than shooting the ball to fall directly in the basket. Though often referred to as a square, the area above the rim is actually a 24-inch by 18-inch rectangle.

basketball bankshot.jpg

The NC State researchers said they used a computer system to simulate a million shots from various angles to arrive at their conclusion. Specifically, they said the 20 percent advantage is effective from a distance of about 12 feet from the basket. Bank shots are also more effective from the “wing” areas between the three-point line and the free-throw lane. But they said straight-on shots taken around the free-throw line from further than 12 feet out are not as well suited for bank shots.

“Basketball players can’t take a slide rule out on the court, but our study suggests that a few intuitive assumptions about bank shots are true,” Dr. Larry Silverberg, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and the lead author of a paper said in a release describing the research. “They can be more effective than direct shots, especially from certain areas of the court — and we show which areas on the court and where the ball needs to hit the backboard.”

The researchers said they used a men’s basketball, which is slightly bigger and heavier than a women’s ball; launched the simulated shots from 6, 7, and 8 feet above the ground; and imparted 3 hertz of backspin (about three revolutions per second) on the shots which they said had been shown in previous research to be optimal for successfully converting a free throw.

The bank shot has become something of a lost art at the college and professional level so it will be interesting to see if this computer-aided study sparks any renewed interest. Although the best known shooters typically shoot straight for the basket and from longer distances than the study suggests the bank shot is best-suited, there have been some notable bank shots artists over the years.

San Antonio Spurs star center Tim Duncan’s bank from either wing is considered his trademark shot.

If the study does help revive the bank shot, it wouldn’t be the first time a computer has been used as a shooting aid. For example, the [Noah video/audio computer system]( has been used for years by amateur and professional players to improve their shooting.

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