While you won’t see an answer to what is an air ball in basketball rules or any official document, air balls are pretty commonplace in the game. What’s even more astonishing is that almost 2.2% of shots in the NBA from 2013-2016 were air balls.
So, what is an air ball in basketball, and how can players avoid shooting them?
What is an Air Ball in Basketball?
A shot is categorized as an air ball when it misses its mark so badly that it doesn’t even hit the rim or the backboard. This can happen either because the shot was too weak, too strong, or was too far to the right or left of the basket.
It’s more common to see air balls in basketball games for kids. But, if you’re a grown-up and you shoot an air ball, you better be ready for opponents and even your own teammates to make fun of you for it.
And, if you’re an NBA player who misses on an air ball, it’s even worse because everyone will be talking about it for days. In fact, some players are so notorious for missing shots that they even have their own nicknames, like Russell “Westbrick.”
Why Do Air Balls Happen in Basketball?
Just because you shot an air ball doesn’t automatically mean you’re a bad player. Kobe Bryant, for example, once led the league in air balls, and yet he’s inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. However, air balls are still something that you’d want to avoid.
So, why do they happen?
No one sets out to shoot air balls as they provide no advantage for the team, unlike missed shots that can sometimes be beneficial to the shooter’s team, especially during close games. So, it’s probably safe to assume that all air balls are accidents.
These types of misses typically have a flat trajectory, but some players can air ball a shot by putting too much arc on it and not enough distance. And both of these can happen whenever you take a shot in basketball, whether it’s a layup, jump shot, or sometimes, even dunk.
Defensive pressure: Heavily contested shots often end up being air balls or bricks because the defender throws them off course. If you’ve ever taken a shot and had it blocked or altered by another player, you’ll probably understand why this happens.
Poor shooting form/stance: Off-balanced shots are also some of basketball’s most often air-balled shots. They may not lack the power, but because a player was not properly aligned to the basket, his shot might be too far to the right or left of the basket.
Too nervous or not warmed up yet: Open jumpers can also end up as air balls. If a player is nervous or not warmed up, his shot will likely be off target. Even if the player has practiced his jump shot a million times, nerves can get the best of him when it comes time to shoot, especially in front of a packed stadium.
Fatigue and injury: When a player is too tired, it can significantly affect his shots’ power and concentration. Injuries, no matter how minor, have a similar effect.
Out of range: Perhaps one of the more acceptable types of air balls is when a basketball player chucks up a shot from beyond his normal range to beat the shot clock or the game clock.
How Do Air Balls Affect Gameplay and Strategy?
Unlike missed shots that hit the rim, there is no possible way that an air ball can give the offense any tactical advantage in a game. As such, you won’t find anyone trying to master the art of air balls during practice. This is because air balls get recorded as either one of three things: a missed shot, a turnover due to a 24-second shot clock violation, or a defensive rebound.
It could also end up in the hands of the shooter’s teammate near the basket in a good scoring opportunity. This raises the question: Does an airball count as an assist? Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive no. In these situations, it will be recorded as an offensive rebound.
Air balls often happen when players try to beat either the shot clock or the game clock. Players are often pressured to take difficult shots before these buzzers sound.
However, between an air ball and a turnover, most teams would prefer the chance of shooting an air ball to giving the other team free possession. So, it’s easier for a coach to give a pass to a player who just shot an air ball than one who let the clock expire.
The psychological impact of an air ball is more important than the actual result on the scoreboard. Air balls can be demoralizing for shooters, potentially affecting their overall performance for the rest of the game.
3 Techniques to Avoid Shooting Air Balls in Basketball
With the wealth of reasons why air balls happen, there isn’t one simple solution to avoid them. However, you can try a few things to reduce the chances of you shooting an air ball.
1. Practice moving without the ball
Defensive pressure is often the primary factor why players shoot air balls. By practicing how to weave through the defense and finding an open spot, you can line up your shots with less defensive pressure.
2. Improve your leg strength and control
The lift of the ball during a jump shot is often the direct result of a player’s leg strength. However, do make sure to check with a strength and conditioning coach for the best results.
3. Balance and footwork
Footwork has much to do with a player’s shot making ability. It affects the direction and the power of a player’s shot, whether it’s a jump shot, layup, or dunk. Finding your balance quickly, especially from different angles, can drastically affect your ability to shoot under pressure.
3 Funniest Air Ball Moments in the NBA
Every player in the NBA dreads getting an air ball. It’s one of the most ridiculed misses in basketball, and it can happen to anyone. But some air ball moments are more memorable than others. These three are just some of them:
1. Vince Carter’s Finger Roll Fail
While Vince Carter is one of the flashiest players to ever play in the NBA, he’s not immune to air balls. This one’s especially funny because of the potential beauty of what could have been. Unfortunately, a hilarious air ball is all that it’s cracked up to be.
2. Rookie Kobe Bryant’s Infamous Air Balls
Kobe’s a clutch player. But his rookie year was rough, to say the least. He shot a lot of air balls, and he definitely took some heat for it as he was branded as a ball hog who’d rather shoot bad shots than pass the ball.
3. Mike Breen’s Reaction to Eric Gordon’s Air Ball
Sometimes, the commentator’s reactions to the air ball make air balls even more hilarious. That’s exactly what happened here when Breen gave his infamous “Bang!” reaction to an air ball by Eric Gordon.
Wrapping Things Up: What is an Air Ball in Basketball
Fans often see an air ball as either a lack of skill or confidence on the basketball court. However, even the best professionals from the most prestigious leagues in the world tend to shoot an air ball every once in a while.
It could be because of the pressure, fatigue, or injury that makes them shoot so hilariously off the mark. But sometimes, it might just be out of sheer unluckiness that made them miss the basket completely.
What’s important is that you can reduce your air ball chances through practicing how to move without the ball, improving leg strength, and enhancing your footwork and balance.