Tristan Thompson is shooting 20 percent better on free throws after changing shooting hands
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is currently undergoing a transformation that may be unprecedented in the history of the highest levels of basketball. As noted in mid-August, the third-year pro decided to switch shooting hands from his left to his right to improve his performance. Naturally ambidextrous and only 22 years old, Thompson has both the ability and youth to make this work. Still, it's just not something people usually do.
Somewhat surprisingly, Thompson appears to be seeing immediate returns on his switch. With Team Canada preparing for and now playing in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas, Thompson has had nine games to try out his stroke. As tweeted by Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet, he's doing quite well from the free-throw line (via PBT):
Update: Tristan Thompson is now 29/37 (78%) FTs right-handed over nine games. Was 58% career as a lefty.
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) September 1, 2013
Team Canada is 2-1 with a fourth game set to be played against Uruguay on Tuesday, so it's important to remember that this is a small sample size with especially few games played in what could be considered a particularly competitive environment. On the other hand, these are real games, which means the typical dip in free-throw form from practice to in-game action may not be relevant. Plus, free throws would seem to have less variability relative to sample size than other shots, if only because players can more easily approach each attempt in the same way.
That factor also suggests that Thompson's move may not have an across-the-board positive impact. While a 20 percent jump in free-throw shooting constitutes a meaningful improvement, he presumably made this switch for his entire arsenal of shots. If, say, Thompson doesn't develop a consistent stroke from 15 feet, then the move is significantly less major.
Nevertheless, Thompson is clearly doing something right, and he deserves credit for exploring every option to improve his game. The question, of course, is if a mid-career change such as this one can have a lasting effect. It's a story worth keeping an eye on throughout the coming months.