You might not guess it looking at his 35 percent free throw shooting or seeing him completely whiff on hitting the rim every now and then or seeing fallible tweets like this, but listen, Andre Drummond practices his free throws. So can we please end this ugly misconception that Drummond doesn't work on it?
When we see a professional athlete struggle at a particular aspect of their game, especially something as relatively simple as free throws, it's too easy to quickly jump on the train of thought that the athlete simply needs to practice more. This is often faulty reasoning. You can't look at Drummond's woeful free throw shooting and automatically assume that he needs to put in more work. Well, you can, but you're being extremely shortsighted and unfair.
Drummond put a lot of work into his free throws during the offseason. It's not very well documented but there's plenty of evidence from what people close to the situation have said and Drummond himself. After he went 6-10 to start the year in Atlanta, you could almost see the matted down hair on his shoulders from the giant rock of pressure that was lifted off them. Before he spoke, he exhaled relief and then talked about how much work he put into his free throws and how good it felt to hit 60 percent to validate it. I saw it on his face and heard it in the way he spoke; I truly believed him.
But after hitting 58 percent of his free throws in the first four games, all the hard work coming to fruition, the Pistons traveled West and somewhere along the way, Drummond lost his touch or his confidence, or both. By the end of the trip, Drum was back where he started in his career (37 percent) and he has sunk even lower since.
An NBA record 23 misses on Jan. 20 in Houston brought crazy national attention to Drummond's plight at the line (and intentional off-the-ball fouls -- have you heard about that?). Ironically, 13-36 (36 percent) was a better success rate than he had going into that game (35 percent) -- improvement! -- but that kind of scrutiny for anyone can weigh on a man's mind. If Drummond wasn't already overthinking it at the line (he probably was), then surely he would after seeing himself the butt of jokes all over the news.
Luckily, Drummond played the next night in New Orleans, so he didn't have much time to pay mind to all of the national pub. He hit 3-of-5 freebies that night and played for the most part like himself. After a day off, he then had his two worst overall games of the season while shooting 1-15 from the line. I won't jump to conclusions, but... okay, I won't jump.
Before those two games, Stan Van Gundy told the media that Drummond hits roughly 70 percent of his practice tries, sees progress in practice and then it is somehow getting worse in games. SVG then calls attention to it being a psychological issue:
"There's clearly a psychological component to it and something that he's got to continue to work through in terms of his mental practice and his routines to get to the point that it will translate into games."
And yet, as Drummond's missing 14 of his next 15 free throws during the next two games, I still stumble across way too many comments that Drummond just needs to practice his free throws more. Practice more! Get up more shots, man! Like Malcolm Gladwell's theory of 10,000 applies to sports (it doesn't) and Drummond is willfully ignoring the single worst part of his game that he hears the most shit about.
"Nobody knows what I do on a daily basis and how long in the gym each night I shoot free throws," Drummond said before the Jazz game (quote via that Detroit News link). "They see the outcome and I'm not shooting well right now so they feel like I don't take the time to do that. I probably take more time than people do on their jobs. For somebody to say that is a little disrespectful to me."
Then he shot a broke 1-10 that night.
But I suggest we stop pretending his woes at the stripe derive from a lack of practice, and really, it's probably not a mechanics thing either (see Joakim Noah's career 71-percent free throw shooting and try to make sense of that). There has to be something about Drummond's mental make up that's constraining him. Badgering him about needing to practice and suggesting he shoot underhand is probably trivializing a far more complicated issue. I'd say Drummond is likely more in need of a psychologist (or a Pistons fan hypnotist!) than another 10,000 shots in the dark or an underhand shooting style that'd bring about a different kind of clown show (imagine that added attention).
Whatever it is, it warrants attention and it's getting it. Van Gundy said the Pistons are exploring different things, including a SOLIDshot sleeve for feedback on his mechanics. Regardless of the practice or how Drummond will shoot his free throws, ultimately it will come down to Drummond getting out of his own head and getting into a good groove (the following quote via that Freep link):
"Do the same routine every time and trusting the shot," Drummond said. "I'm constantly thinking, and now it's to the point I got to find one good groove."
Here's to peace of mind and Dre finding that groove.