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We watched 62 free throw misses to determine if Elfrid Payton's hair blocks his own shot

This is a very serious investigation.

I recently stumbled on this clip of Elfrid Payton’s hair partially blocking his free-throw attempt, and was immediately perplexed at what I saw:

This was one of five shots Payton clanked from the charity stripe in the Magic’s overtime loss against the Thunder on Wednesday. You can literally see his hair jiggle as he releases the ball!

Surely this was a fluke, right? There must be more to Payton’s abysmal shooting (he shoots 45 percent from the field, 29 percent from three, and 65 percent from the line for his career) than his oversized, bear claw-like hairdo.

But what if it wasn’t? With no definitive answers in sight, I took it upon myself to investigate this phenomenon.

The Hypothesis

After bricking a free throw in a February matchup against Atlanta, the legendary Dominique Wilkins and fellow Hawks announcer Bob Rathbun observed this apparent hair blockage firsthand:

In case you can’t listen for yourself, here’s a brief transcription:

Payton bricks free-throw attempt No. 1

‘Nique: “The reason why I think he missed the shot — when he took the shot, the ball hits his hair,” [laughter] “That would throw me off a little bit” [more laughter]

Rathbun: “You’re just jealous,” Rathbun says, poking fun at Wilkins’ rather unimaginative buzz cut as Payton prepares for his second attempt.

‘Nique: “I mean watch this,” [even more laughter] “He hits his hair!”

Rathbun, observing more closely, notices Payton’s hair really does get in the way

Rathbun: “It’s like he hits an awning that’s too low!” [they laugh some more]

Although the two instances may indicate a trend, its not enough evidence to answer the question.

Is Payton’s hair really the reason he’s such a poor shooter? I had to dig deeper.

The Research

I went back and watched all 62 free throws Payton missed this season, hoping to find some type of connection or pattern.

Payton’s form causes him to bring the ball very close his hair each time, but the varied angles make it difficult to tell whether his hair is actually blocking his shot. Still, there were several instances where you could see the telltale jiggle easily:

As I made my way through Payton’s plethora of misses, I noticed a pattern. It appeared that the majority of Payton’s free throw misses were clanking off the front of the rim:

If his hair is actually getting in the way of the ball’s path, you’d think most of his misses would come off the front or sides of the rim. So I kept track for myself.

The Results

Front of rim: 27
Sides of rim: 11
Back of rim: 24

The Analysis

There’s something here, but it’s hard to tell for sure. There are probably several factors I’m overlooking.

For example, there were times where Payton would miss long after he’d come up short on the previous attempt, which could indicate he was overcompensating. But this was not always the case.

It’s impossible to know if Payton’s hair actually blocks his shot every time, but we have enough footage to know that it’s happened more than once.

The Conclusion

This video demonstrates how NBA players alter their shooting forms depending on their hairstyle, which can have detrimental effects on the trajectory of their shot:

Considering all this evidence, it’s not far-fetched to think Payton’s hair might play a factor in his broken jumper. But it’s still unclear how much it actually hurts him.

With a sub-70 free-throw percentage this season, though, perhaps a haircut would be worth it. Outside of all that hair, what does Payton have to lose?