NBA Teams
Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer 16d

The secret to Andre Drummond's dramatic free throw improvement

NBA, Detroit Pistons

DETROIT -- Andre Drummond has been waiting on this moment for a long time. The Detroit Pistons All-Star center always knew he could knock down his free throws, but for a variety of reasons the work he put into that part of his professional craft never translated during games. Drummond came into this season shooting 38.1 percent from the free throw line for his career, the lowest percentage among active players with at least 20 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But Drummond has transformed his ability from the foul line. He comes into Wednesday night's game against the Indiana Pacers shooting 30-for-40 (75 percent) from the line this season.

"It's like night and day," Drummond told ESPN.com. "It's been an exciting process for me to see the progress that I've put in over the years, the time that I've spent, countless hours in the gym shooting free throws. Working on mechanics, working on the mental aspect, so to see the work that I've put in come out to light is exciting that it's finally here."

How did Drummond get to a point where his biggest basketball flaw has become a strength?

The journey started when the 24 year-old reconnected with trainer Idan Ravin, a man who helped him prepare for the 2012 NBA draft.

"I called him up after the season," Drummond said. "I told him that I think it's time to go back to the basics, go back to what got me to where I'm at. We really put a lot of work in. I worked out with him for the first half of the summer. Really on the conditioning part of game -- the free throws, obviously, and just the whole mental aspect of the game."

Over the years, the Pistons tried several approaches to help Drummond get out of his free throw rut, but nothing seemed to work. At one point, the team even tried virtual reality and had Drummond wear some headgear so that he could visualize being at the line, but that didn't work either. After getting the call from Drummond, Ravin, who has worked with many NBA players during his career, speaks with pride not only of the work the pair has done together, but also of Drummond's decision to search for a different answer to his issues.

"I'm very proud of Dre for doing this," Ravin said during a recent telephone conversation. "Which is [saying] 'All this stuff I've been doing in the past, it's just not working for me. It might work for others, it might be great for some people, but it's not working for me. So let me take a moment ... let me try to find a good solution.' "

Ravin's message to Drummond was multifaceted, and the trust that both men established over the years was important.

"We have to scrap all the stuff that you've been told," Ravin told Drummond. "All the stuff that you've been doing. And that's a lot because it's like asking someone to change their handwriting, their signature. Even if they have a messy signature, it's just something that they've done for a very, very long time."

The pair started working together again during the first week of June in Los Angeles and stayed in the game consistently for about seven weeks. And Ravin made it clear he wasn't focused on simply fixing Drummond's poor free throw shooting.

"The focus wasn't [let's] make you a better free throw shooter," Ravin said. "The focus was let's make you a better player. The free throw shooting was just a byproduct of everything else. We didn't spend 400 hours working on free throws. We spent thousands of hours on working on becoming a better player. We weren't doing Five Star basketball 1985 form shooting."

As part of the process of long days in the gym, Drummond shed about 30 pounds over the summer, according to Ravin. One thing they didn't do was sit in front of a television screen and watch tape of Drummond's old form. The training focused on the "physical first, then mental," according to the trainer.

"I find that to be an incredibly archaic way of working with an athlete," Ravin said.

Instead, Drummond focused on getting his body in better condition. The only people Ravin allowed into the gym were Drummond's mother and one of Drummond's childhood friends. Drummond says he believes he has become even stronger because of all the misses through the years.

"It takes a long time," Ravin said of seeing the improvements. "Because for a long while, it's awkward, it's weird, it doesn't make sense. It's tough. It's tons and tons and tons of misses. But then all of a sudden there's a breakthrough. It's like 'I know I missed but that felt good.' "

When the time came to find a better rhythm with his free throw routine, Drummond revealed that one of the ways he relaxed his mind was by taking a deep breath before he started taking his shots.

"I went back to just kind of meditating," Drummond said. "And getting myself back to a good mental psyche to feel good at the line."

In years past, one of the things Drummond did as part of his pre-free throw routine was walk toward center court to try to collect his thoughts before he got to the line. Now, Drummond takes a deep breath as he stares toward the rim.

"It's just something I do before I shoot the shot," Drummond said. "It's just this brief yoga breath that I do before I shoot the shot. It relaxes my whole body and I feel great."

The other major visible change in Drummond's routine is the 6-foot-11 center is bending his knees more at the line than he ever has. Whatever the key is, his teammates and coaches are ecstatic about the results.

"Just a consistent approach," Pistons guard Reggie Jackson said. "Really just the way he goes up and he approaches the line each and every time. Whether it goes in or doesn't, he's just been consistent. He's been confident with his approach to the line, but he has a consistent basis. He's just sound, he looks more sound through his routine. So as long as he continues to stay with the same routine, I'm rolling with him. I believe they're going to go in."

Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy noted after Drummond's 14-for-16 performance from the line in last Friday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks that teams would no longer be able to use the "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy.

"The fact that he gets a lift from it lifts everybody else," Pistons veteran Anthony Tolliver said. "Because he plays with more energy, he plays with more grit. He wants to go harder. On offense when he gets the ball, he's not avoiding anything. He's going straight at it. He's being more aggressive, which only makes it better for our team so it's just a great thing. It's a great thing. It's going to completely change the dynamic of our team if he continues this up. So far it's been great."

The reason Van Gundy & Co. seem so upbeat about the future is because they've seen the results pour in for a while now. Drummond has been knocking down his free throws since before training camp, so as the rest of the league comes to grips with his new weapon, the Pistons are left to consider how many new options will become available. Van Gundy used to have to take Drummond out of games to keep other teams from sending him to the line. Now, he believes he can go to him at any point.

"First of all, he's not afraid at all to go to the line anymore," Tolliver said. "I feel like in the past he would kind of avoid contact and maybe try to finish plays without getting fouled -- for good reason because he wasn't doing too well from the free throw line. Now it's different -- he's going straight through the contact. He wants to go to the line. That's the biggest difference in his approach. And also, just the way he's changed his form to decrease error. He keeps the ball out in front of him and just follows through. As of right now it's working, no reason to change anything up now."

Drummond, who is averaging 14 points and 14.7 rebounds on the season, also praised the skill work he did with trainer Stanley Remy during the second half of the summer in Miami as a reason for his nice start. The young big man has been open about feeling more mature than earlier in his career. He's also smart enough to understand there is a lot of interest in his free throw turnaround because of how rare it is for a player to have such a huge discrepancy in percentage from one season to the next.

"I think for me it's just the mental aspect," Drummond said. "I took the time to really find what keeps me at peace while I'm at the line. When I found it I kind of stuck with it. Even if I miss a shot I think back to the same things that kept me positive and I shoot it again, and more times than not it's been going in. It's just been a focus thing and really just sticking to my routine."

Ravin said he is also confident that their work won't unravel if Drummond regresses again and has an off night in the future.

"He literally looked at everyone who said he couldn't do it, that it was lost," Ravin said. "Even his team was saying, 'We give up, we're going to have you shoot underhand free throws.' Now he's really good. And I've seen him make 90 percent of his free throws. I've seen him make 90 percent of his 3s. I've seen brilliant, brilliant stuff from him this offseason."

Aside from the mechanical differences in his approach, Drummond appears to have found the one thing he was lacking most when he stepped to the line -- the belief that when he put up his shot, it would go in.

"Confidence is something that he has," Ravin said. "But it took him time to get it. And it was his devotion, his commitment, his resilience, his open-mindedness that helped him get there."

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