Whether someone is right-handed or left-handed is not in their control. It’s all part of the natural order of things. But do left handed basketball players have an advantage when on the court? In other words, does being left-handed or right-handed lead to marked differences in performance? We’ll take a look at some of the research on handedness and basketball skills, and see what the experts have to say.
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Is Being Left Handed an Advantage in Basketball?
Basketball is a game of instinct, and there are more right handed players than lefties. The only advantage big enough to make someone change from playing with their natural hand would be if it gave them some sort of competitive edge; but no one has ever been able to definitively prove anything like that. Changing the hand you shoot from or control the ball with doesn’t necessarily affect your success rate at all.
To succeed in this game, you need to be a well-rounded player. Whether you shoot right or left doesn’t matter; fundamentals such as regular practice and working hard will always take priority over whatever other skill set may help get that ball across the court quicker.
Having said that, a research paper published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) reveals that left-handed basketball players have an edge over righties. 3,647 professional basketball players were examined. From the period 1946 to 2009, these players took part in at least five games. Of all professional basketball players, left-handed ones comprised only 5.1% even though they represent a slightly higher percentage in the general population.
The results of the study showed that the averages for left-handed players, in terms of blocks, points, rebounds, and other aspects, were better than those of the right-handed players. On top of that, it also revealed that lefties had longer careers than their right-handed counterparts, even though there’s no significant correlation between handedness and life expectancy.
Let’s dig deeper into the discussion of shooting left-handed vs. right-handed:
Shooting Left Handed Vs. Right Handed
There exist 12% lefties around the globe but the proportion is lesser in the NBA. In the 2015 season, out of 492 players in the league, only 42 were left-handed, representing only 8.5%. That’s similar to the proportion of left-handed quarterbacks in the NFL. If you look back in NBA history, all of the top ten scorers of all time were right-handed, but this doesn’t mean left-handed shooters don’t perform well.
The 7”2 center, Artis Gilmore ranks first among all-time shooters. Starting from 1971, the player spent 18 years playing for the NBA, with an average of 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. Not only was he a Hall of Fame player, but he also won an ABA championship and was an MVP of the season and playoffs.
James Harden ranks second among left-handed players scoring an all-time high, and with 21,109 points, he is 41st overall. He continues to play in his prime today. At his current growth rate, he is all set to exceed the 30,000-point milestone, which will make him the first left-handed player in the top 10 in scoring. In fact, there’s a great chance that he’ll make it to the top 8.
Likewise, Bill Russell, another left-handed player who managed eleven championship rings was considered by many the greatest basketball player of all time. For your information, he wasn’t really a good shooter. The 6”10 player had an average of 15 points and 22 rebounds. In terms of shooting, he was an average post scorer who would rarely have an outside shot and normally played around the basket.
It was over 25 years ago in 1995 that a lefty named David Robinson won an MVP and there exist only 8 lefties in the top 100 career leaders in points in the NBA.
Based on the insights discussed above, you can’t tell whether the left or right hand is better than the other. You don’t have sufficient data to determine where left-handed players stand in comparison with the righties.
So do left-handed players have an advantage in shooting? According to certain studies, lefties possess somewhat better hand-eye coordination, but the difference is not as significant as something you’d want to switch your hands for. Research shows that righties use the left side of their brain, while left-handed people use the right side of the brain more. It’s important to note here that a lefty’s right side of the brain has more to do with perception, music, creativity, and art. This could be the reason why they pick up the shooting mechanics quicker than the righties.
One advantage that left-handed players may have over their right-handed counterparts is that during their learning phase, they typically develop both hands, so they end up using them equally well earlier. The reason is that many skills and drills are conducted on the court’s right side, providing them an opportunity to practice playing with their weaker hand, that is, right.
However, being a lefty has some drawbacks too. When guarding a right-handed player, for instance, they need to consider using their left hand to block the shot, so that they achieve the maximum extension to disrupt the shot. Using their right hand doesn’t offer as much reach and they fall a couple of inches short, thereby giving the shooter a better view of the basket and some extra room to shoot.
Interestingly, you may also have noticed that the majority of left-handed shooters shoot in a similar way or their form appears to be the same. Not only do they possess an accurate 45-degree angle about their elbow but they also manage to keep their shooting arm aligned with their body. While left-handed players aren’t all perfect at shooting, their shooting style looks almost identical. Maybe it’s this great form of left-hand players that allows them to hit more shots than right-handed players.
Not surprisingly, if you ask people whether they prefer to be left- or right-handed when shooting, the majority would opt for left-handedness. One reason is that left-handed players don’t get recognized quickly on the court. It’s only after they begin scoring do the opponents figure it out.
At the professional level, players often know which players in the opponent team are left-handed. Even if they aren’t aware of a player’s handedness at first, they’ll realize quicker and know precisely how to tackle them.
At a school or college level, however, most players tend to shoot right. It makes an easy basket when you expect a shooter to go right but they end up going left. In many cases, it’s often not until the second half that a team realizes that an opposing player shoots left. Most right-handed players also accept the notion that lefties do have an edge, so when they’re faced with a left-handed player, they aren’t prepared to defend them. This is similar in other sports like volleyball or baseball. Oftentimes, team members will forget that a player is left-handed, guard them incorrectly, and thus fail to defend.
Keep in mind that guarding a left-handed player doesn’t require you to alter your defense strategy. The fundamental guarding skills for defense need to stay the same. All you need to understand is that just as a right-handed player goes right on the layup, a lefty will go left. Also, a left handed player may not necessarily drive left, and a right-handed one may not necessarily drive right. In other words, it’s quite possible that a righty likes to drive left and shoots left because it may suit the layout of the court, or he or she prefers it.
How to Guard a Left Handed Basketball Player
When guarding a left-handed basketball player, or any basketball player for that matter, understanding the mechanics of defense is crucial. Since most players are right-handed, your focus is normally on the hand to your left, which puts you in a weaker position against a lefty. Because you aren’t sure which hand they’re going to finish with, they’re a little more challenging to guard.
However, left-handed players immediately lose their upper hand once they’ve been identified as left-handed. Once you’ve identified that a player is left-handed, follow these tips to guard them:
- Keep exerting pressure on the player.
- At all times, keep yourself lower than the opponent.
- Avoid lunging for the basketball.
- Maintain an arm’s length distance from the opponent.
- Keep an eye on the waist or chest of your opponent.
- Be sure to keep your hands active at all times.
Steal by swiping up at the basketball, which means keeping a hand lower than the basketball with the palm facing up.