Andre Drummond, in his career, has been a hilariously bad free throw shooter. He’s not the first: Chris Dudley was such a disastrously terrible free throw shooter during his career that his name—a name that would not otherwise echo much in the minds of basketball fans—became a reference point for lousy free-throw shooting among my friends in high school. But Hack-a-Shaq eventually begat the Hack-a treatment that has generally made guys like Drummond and Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan unplayable in crunch time in the modern NBA. Recent rule changes have scaled that back a tad, but they can’t do much to change the fact that a player who can’t shoot free throws can be made into a severe liability down the stretch of a close basketball game.
But, hey, whoa, look at what Andre Drummond is doing from the line in 2017! Through yesterday’s home win over the Kings, Drummond is shooting a very healthy 75 percent (30 of 40) from the free throw line—not just better than his career average, and not just much better than his career average, but nearly twice as good as his career .389 performance. If his season-long performance stays anywhere close to where it is after 10 games, it will be as positive and unlikely a performance turnaround as anything we have ever seen.
That the improvement has coincided with a pretty significant change in form supports the idea that this isn’t just a fluky month. Drummond used to have a jerky, arrhythmic shooting motion that kinda looked okay at the very top, but led to some really atrocious results:
Drummond’s new approach involves a deep crouch, and one dribble well away from his body, followed by a shot form that keeps the ball a little further away from his face. It still looks kinda funny, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding:
The improvement at the line means Drummond is a more efficient dude, in general: his True Shooting is at 59.0, closing in on his career-high (59.9, set in his sophomore season, when he also shot a career-high 62.3 percent from the floor). He’s also near his career-high in minutes per game, owing in part to the fact that, when he’s making his free throws, he is more playable in clutch situations. After the Bucks game, Stan Van Gundy talked about the way teams defend the Pistons, and how Drummond’s performance at the line changes things:
“You’ve got a choice. You’re either gonna pull in and leave people open, and Reggie and Ish found people for open shots, or Andre is gonna be open down there. And obviously their idea is ‘we’re gonna let him catch the ball and then hammer him.’ I don’t think that strategy is gonna work this year. I don’t! I mean, a night like tonight, that’s not a fluke. You know, if you’re a 35 percent shooter in your career and you go 8-for-16, ah, you know, maybe he just had a good night. But 14-for-16, you saw them, they all looked good.”
Drummond talked about being on the court in crunch time as a sort of reward for all the effort he’s put in over the course of his career to address and fix his free throw struggles:
Drummond isn’t likely to continue to shoot above 70 percent from the line, but the opening to this season represents the best free-throw stretch of his career, and his improvement there, on a Pistons team that is looking like a real playoff contender, is one of the happy subplots of this NBA season. A big man who can threaten the defense by rolling hard to the rim, and also make some damn free throws, is an enormously valuable player in the modern NBA, and it’s what basketball fans have been waiting for Drummond to become his entire career.