On Sunday afternoon, I found myself watching game 7 of the Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz series. Nearing the end of the 4th quarter, the game was practically a formality with Utah leading by 10+ points at the Staples Center. However, with a couple of minutes left, DeAndre Jordan was fouled and went to the free throw line.
The burly center galumphed to the free throw line. He took a deep breath, bounced the ball a few times, leaned forward, palmed it, and shot. The Spalding curled through the air and clanked off the rim, fingertips away from not even reaching its intended destination.
As the ball dropped back to the court, Jordan stepped forward to clap his teammates’ hands as a show of support. The crowd was far less appreciative. You could hear a pin drop in the Staples Center.
Part of it was becoming their beloved Clippers were about to be eliminated from the NBA Playoffs in the very first round. The other part was because of what they’ve become accustomed to ever since Jordan arrived in Downtown L.A. in 2008.
For those who aren’t basketball fans, this isn’t intended to be a thorough look at shot mechanics or strategies of the game. Instead, it’s a way for me to vent out my thoughts on something that has been described in the basketball world as “embarrassing.” In a way, you’re therapist egging me on to continue with my story while I lay back on your office’s long chair.
For those who watch basketball on a more casual level or are indifferent to the statistics involved in the game, the average NBA free throw percentage (FT%) is 77.2%. Stephen Curry, arguably the league’s most popular player, averages a career 90.1% to get an idea of what an exquisite free throw shooter looks like.
DeAndre Jordan’s career FT% currently lies at 43.0%. Frankly, that’s abysmal. For four years of his NBA career, he’s averaged below 40%. Again, terrible.
So you guys don’t think I’m picking on DeAndre (I actually rate him as a great center in the NBA), I’ll also use Andre Drummond. Drummond is a 7-footer whose career average is an even more horrific 38.1%.
Knowing that both Jordan and Drummond are centers, you’re inclined to think that their struggles at the line deviate from their height and mass. That is entirely possible, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to get around this black hole-sized problem.
That’s Rick Barry in the above gif. Barry was a 6’7″ small forward who shot his free throws underhanded. It looks a bit ridiculous at first, admittedly, but Barry shot a career 89.3%. He led the NBA in FT% for six seasons.
Who cares if it looks odd when you’re putting points on the scoreboard for your team? There’s nothing more ridiculous in basketball than missing an easy shot, which is precisely what some of today’s NBA players are doing.
For those tempted to argue for whatever reason that underhanded free throws might be an anachronism or an anomaly that only Rick Barry handcrafted and perfected, Rick’s son Canyon shot 88.3% for the University of Florida this past year, a FT% that would put him in the top 15 free throw makers in the NBA.
Chinanu Onuaku, the first year Houston Rockets big man out of Louisville, also shoots his free throws underhanded. Onuaku began shooting his free throws a la Barry after a dire 46.7% in his first collegiate season. In his second season, he shot a better (although not yet passable) 58.9%. That’s still a 12.2 increase.
This season, Onuaku shot 100% from the line in the NBA (although from a minute sample size of 4 free throws since he’s mostly been in the D-League) and 73.2% in the D.-League. That’s a remarkable gradual improvement that would do a world of good for the likes of Jordan and Drummond.
Players need to look beyond their own personal image and instead focus their attention on the team’s needs. In the playoffs or even in the regular season for a struggling team, even a marginal FT% increase can make a difference.
Poor NBA free throw shooters, please change your shot and put us all out of our collective misery.