Improving Andre Drummond’s Free Throw

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about shooting and practicing shooting at a general level. Here I try to show how to implement those ideas into a real-life situation.

To make this concrete and familiar, let’s have a look at a much-publicized dilemma: an NBA player’s free throw shooting technique that is flawed and produces bad results. In other words, let’s look at Andre Drummond’s free throw shooting.

During the regular season 2015-16 he hit only 36% of his FT attempts. This led the opponents to use the Hack-a-Dre tactic, or to foul him on purpose.  Because of that, Pistons coach Stan van Gundy sometimes pulled Drummond off the floor in clutch time.

I’m not saying that my suggestions would help Drummond improve his FT percentage. Rather, I’m using his FT shooting as a case study about what might be done with a player who had similar problems.

Drummond misses FT’s long and short and left and right. It’s fairly easy to list the flaws in his FT technique. However, that’s not coaching. In coaching, we must rather come up solutions. The main guideline is this: “Fix as many problems as possible making as few changes as possible and keeping those changes as slight and implicit as possible.”

In other words, a coach must first suggest one single technical change that is easy to implement and hopefully fixes multiple problems. If you try to simultaneously implement more than one change. the player will start to consciously control his movement and the results will probably get worse.

Anytime you must change a player’s FT technique, you should first look at his starting position. That is because it is fairly easy to change, and you can make explicit changes without forcing the player to consciously control  his motions.

Here’s Drummond at the starting point of his FT shooting motion and an eye-blink later.

drummond startdrummond end









And the same thing from the side:

drummond side start

drummond side end

As you see, during the shooting motion Drummond is simultaneously moving the ball to towards his left-hand side and yanking it backwards. This makes it difficult to control both the horizontal direction and the length of the FT.

This is because it is beneficial to keep the ball moving along the same horizontal axis throughout shooting motion and the flight of the ball. In other words, the horizontal deviation should be minimized.

On the contrary, some good free throws shooters substantially move the ball backwards during the shooting motion. So, it’s not a bad thing per se. But in Drummond’s case the backwards movement is violent and it does seem to bother his control over the length of the FT.

So, the question becomes: How can we limit this unnecessary ball movement sideways and backwards without making Drummond consciously control his movement?

To me the most logical answer is to move the starting point a couple of inches towards Drummond’s left-hand side and a couple of inches towards his body. This should help eliminate the horizontal deviation of the ball during the shooting motion and cut down the amount of backwards yanking.

Often when I say something like this, other coaches are quick to point out that there are other flaws in the player’s shooting technique as well. For example, in Andre Drummond’s case you can definitely say that he has a flying elbow – shouldn’t we do something about that as well? And so on.

My answer is fourfold.

  1. As explained above, to me the starting point of the FT shooting motion seems to be the best place to start the intervention. It’s a logical choice but also a subjective one. The choice itself may be challenged but what’s more important is the principle of making only one technical change at a time – whatever that change may be.
  2. We always look to kill at least two birds with one stone. For example, here we hope that moving Drummond’s starting point will reduce his right elbow’s deviation to the side, as well as his core’s swing backwards.
  3. Right now, it is definitely worthwhile for Drummond to allot a lot of practice time on FT shooting. But once his FT percentage reaches about 60%, the compelling need for improvement is over, because the opponents will no longer use the Hack-a-Dre tactic extensively. Hence we want to get to the 60% level as quickly and easily as possible. Hence, we want to make as few technical changes as possible. Keep in mind, we are not looking for a perfect technique but rather for adequate results. If in the future Drummond’s right elbow is still flying but his FT percentage is up to 60%, maybe we just let the elbow keep flying.
  4. There is always tomorrow. Maybe changing the starting point is not enough to get the FT percentage to 60%. Or maybe it is, but we grow more ambitious and try to reach 70%. In any case, later on we may make more changes e.g. regarding the elbow position directly.

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