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Free throw defense

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    Foul Play How a Slate scientist changed the NBA forever-or at least a week. By Daniel Engber Posted Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005, at 4:01 PM PT If you re a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2005
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      Foul Play
      How a Slate scientist changed the NBA forever-or at least a week.
      By Daniel Engber
      Posted Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005, at 4:01 PM PT

      If you're a scientist, you don't get many opportunities to work in
      professional basketball. I don't have any illusions about my chances of
      becoming a player, a head coach, or the Phoenix gorilla. But I have held out
      a tiny bit of hope that some day I'd be able to use my grad- school
      education to help some woebegone franchise shut down opposing free-throw
      shooters. Last week, my dream came true.

      In today's NBA, there's no subtlety to free-throw defense. Hometown crowds
      try to unnerve enemy shooters with rally towels, pompoms, clackers, rhythmic
      chants, balloons, and signs that say "BRICK." It doesn't take a scientist to
      see how poorly this stuff works. In the 2003-2004 NBA season, free-throw
      percentages at home and on the road were identical to within one-twentieth
      of 1 percent. One hundred ninety-four players shot free throws better at
      home; 192 did better on the road.

      Undeterred by the facts, NBA teams hand out special distracting equipment to
      fans behind the backboards. Some get foam "wiggle sticks," or "thunder
      sticks"-those long, skinny white balloons you wave in the air and smack
      together. Others get signs with particularly distracting words printed on
      them. These tools might be effective, but they don't come with instructions.
      That's where the staff neuroscientist comes in.

      Last week, I wrote to the NBA owner I deemed most likely to consider
      applying the scientific method to free-throw shooting, Mark Cuban of the
      Dallas Mavericks. I told Cuban that the assumption that waving balloons
      wildly will produce the biggest distraction is just plain wrong. Given how
      the brain perceives motion, randomly moving balloons aren't very
      off-putting. When you see a lot of little objects moving crazily back and
      forth, all the different motion signals that get sent to the brain cancel
      each other out. In the mind of a free-throw shooter, a crowd of people
      waving wiggle sticks looks like a snowy TV screen. This sort of white noise
      might make it harder to see the rim, but the stats show that isn't a big
      deal for the pros.

      Read the rest at http://slate.msn.com/id/2111939/
      --

      ed
      "I ain't the world's best writer, ain't the world's best speller
      But when I believe in something I'm the loudest yeller."
      - Woody Guthrie
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