In Detroit’s 105-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Drummond proved that his improbable transformation into a reliable free throw shooter may be more than an aberration. In 28 minutes, Drummond scored 24 points and topped it off with the usual 15 boards feastThen, for dessert, he saw 14 of his 16 free throws splash through the net.
Drummond’s 14 free throws made against Milwaukee tied a career-high. The difference is that this time, it took 20 fewer free throw attempts. Drummond’s free throw shooting has been an impediment to the Pistons and to him being regarded as one of the NBA’s precious young centers since he was drafted.
He’s absurdly long, graceful for a man of his size and uber-athletic. Unfortunately, his career free throw percentage of 38 percent at this season’s commencement ranked second-worst in NBA history. Drummond made Shaquille O’Neal, a career 52 percent free throw shooter, look like Steve Nash by comparison Hack-A-Drummond strategies deployed by opposing teams also made him untradable and unplayable in the fourth quarter of tight contests. However, during the preseason Drummond’s relatively pinpoint free throw shooting was a shocking development.
And then, it continued into the regular season. However, Stan Van Gundy has discussed the disparity between Drummond’s free throw accuracy in practices versus games. With such a small sample size, it was impossible to leap to conclusions about how he’d fare when the games mattered.
Historically though, 24-year-old big men who’ve been shooting a basketball their entire lives don’t just wake up and unlock the key to consistently hitting uncontested 15-foot stationary freebies. Virtual reality training had no effect, famed shooting coach Dave Hopla became frustrated with his inconstant commitment to improving through repetition and hi-tech shooting sleeves became nothing more than placebo fashion accessories.
A litany of factors are probably responsible for Drummond’s rebirth as a capable shooter, but one minor change can’t be discounted. This drastic shift may have as much to do with Drummond’s breathing as it does with him incorporating more fundamentals such as generating power from his legs before he releases.
In May, Drummond underwent surgery to repair a deviated septum in his left nostril he’d been playing with since his freshman season at UConn. Once breathing through his nose worsened last season, he decided to fix the septum and at the time, he spoke glowingly about his improved air flow.
“It was probably the best thing I did because right now I feel outstanding and I’m breathing great,” Drummond told MLive.com. “It’s going to be a great summer for me.”
The intangible benefits of Drummond’s nose surgery align with what a sports psychologist told ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh last summer, per CBS Sports:
There is a change, however, even before he starts his motion. Dr. Christian Marquardt, a German sports psychologist, told Haberstroh that poor free-throw shooters should work on “ramping down” by focusing on their breathing when at the line. Before Drummond bends his knees, he takes a deep breath and relaxes his shoulders.
And this is what Drummond told CBS Sports last month.
“For me, it’s a number of things that tied into the mental aspect of it,” Drummond said. “For me, it was just figuring out a way to calm myself down when I get up there. Slow my breath down.”
Before this season, Drummond shooting 50 percent at the line would have viewed as a quantum leap.
After the win over Milwaukee, Drummond is averaging nearly 80 percent shooting at the charity stripe. It’s just another reason why we have to may have begin accepting the Pistons grip on the East’s second-best record as more of a new reality than fluke.