Thursday, October 29, 2015

Drummond's free throw shooting

Last season, Andre Drummond was the worst free throw shooter in the NBA. On 365 attempts, he shot a dismal 38.9%, edging out the only other shooter in his vicinity (DeAndre Jordan), who shot 39.7% on 471 attempts. Mason Plumlee was the third-worst free throw shooter last year, and he shot 10% better than Jordan. Hack-a-Drummond become a viable and frequently used tactic against the Pistons, forcing Stan Van Gundy to pull the team's best player off the floor during important stretches. Fast forward to today, and I will show you the power of Small Sample Size Theater.

Through two games this season, Drummond is shooting 14-21 from the free throw line. I do not purport that this is sustainable, but there is something different about Drummond's form that extends beyond the confidence or luck. If Drummond can maintain a 66% free throw percentage, that not only makes Hack-a-Drummond an obsolete strategy for opposing teams, but it also makes his ceaseless effort around the rim and on the offensive glass more of a threat. In an effort to see what has changed, I have put his form from last year and this season side-by-side to see what's different.

The first thing you'll see is his posture. Previously, Drummond would begin hunched over, which throws off his balance and follow through. Look too at his feet. Though they are relatively similar in their positioning form year-to-year, previously, Drummond would lean too far onto the balls of his toes, affecting his balance.

As Drummond would pull the ball up, his arms would extend outward, increasing the chances of mistakes in his form. This season, his form is more compact, keeping the ball inside of his frame, resulting in more consistency.

This is where, in previous years, his form really gets into trouble. Drummond would rise up on his toes and start leaning forward. His balance is completely broken here, which makes consistency impossible. Combine that with how far outside of his frame the ball is, and you can understand why his performance from the line has been so bad to date.

Now, as he begins his release, his arms are in a much more natural shooting position. His off elbow is bent and supporting the ball properly, allowing his shooting arm and follow through to do the majority of the work. His previous form was not dissimilar from Joakim Noah's two-armed heave, something that works for Noah and no one else. His stance is also much improved. In the past, Drummond was almost reaching for the basket. Here, he is actually shooting the ball.

Posture. Balance. Follow through. All improved this season. His wrist was always fluid on his follow through in the past, but without the fundamentals in place, his shot was erratic.

Pose. Announcers will cite his confidence as the reason his free throwing shooting has improved and this stance is why. Drummond went from a player praying the ball will go in to one that trusts his fundamentals to do the work for him.

This may be a short-lived increase in efficiency from the line, but I would guess that he shoots in the 55-60% range this season. If he shot 60% from the line last season, he would have notched 77 more points for the team, nearly increasing the overall points per game by an entire point. That's a big deal. Caveats to the sample size noted, these improvements to his stroke, if they can be maintained, will see his shooting percentage jump significantly. Worst-case scenario will likely have him shoot in the 45% range this season, but that seems unlikely given early returns.

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