Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has been one of the first free throw shooters in the NBA from the moment he entered the league in 2008. Over his career, Jordan has attempted 838 free throws and made only 357, or 42.6 percent. He's been under 40 percent in three seasons, including this one, and topped 50 percent only once, in 2011-12. It's enough to make you wonder exactly why he struggles so much, and if it's a problem that can be solved.
As usual, most observers have claimed that Jordan just needs to work harder on his free throws. But that's an argument he's tired of hearing. From Broderick Turner for the Los Angeles Times (via PBT):
But those missed free throws make him an easy target.
"Yeah, I'm aware of it, but I also work on it," Jordan said. "I could understand it if I just didn't work on my free-throw shooting and I'm just going out there and saying, 'I just hope they go in.' That's what people don't understand.
"They're like, 'You should work on your free-throw shooting.' What the [heck] you think I'm doing? That's why I think some people are idiots. … Do they think we really go out there — me or Dwight Howard or whoever — do you think we go out there and just try to miss them?"
There's a prevailing belief among basketball fans that free throws should be the one thing NBA players don't screw up, if only because any random person can practice enough to become a solid free-throw shooter. It's not a skill in the same category as blocking shots or finishing alley-oops, because those abilities require athleticism that largely depends on genetic luck.
Yet it's also possible that we're looking at free-throw shooting incorrectly. In March, a photo surfaced of the Los Angeles Lakers' free-throw percentages in practice, and it showed that Dwight Howard actually hits more than 80 percent of his attempts when fans aren't watching. It follows that practice might not be a particularly good answer for woes, because a player can be perfectly acceptable there and still have problems in the throes of competition. Plus, every single player on the Lakers shot a better percentage in practice than in games, so it's not as if Howard is an isolated case — he's just the most extreme example.
To be clear, this evidence doesn't suggests that there's no way to improve free-throw shooting. What it does show is that the most common reasoning might not be particularly relevant in this case, and that we should look for other reasons that players like Jordan can't hit free throws in games. Perhaps he has some sort of mental block and needs counseling, or shooting after a foul (as opposed to in a drill) affects a player's motion.
There could be many reasons, and it's up to team officials and coaches to figure out what they could be. For now, though, we should consider that the effort excuse could be a simplistic and unfair reaction to a complicated problem.