Practice your free throws mid-game

Steve NashP.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty

The more they shoot in a row, the more NBA players' free throw percentages rise.

Steve Nash has a pretty weird little ritual. When he heads to the free throw line, before the referee gives him the ball, he takes a moment to mimic the shot he's about to take. Little warm-up free throws, shooting air. Like a golfer before a big putt.

Most NBA players do not do this, and it's not hard to wonder why: It does look a little goofy, and it's hard to imagine it could make a big difference.

But it's worth noting that Nash is essentially the best free throw shooter in NBA history.

And now there's a new kind of confirmation that a little last-second practice may be just the ticket: Players who have just shot a free throw shoot far better than those who just step to the line.

Alok Pattani of ESPN Stats and Information dug into this season's data from the NBA's StatsCube, and found that an average NBA player shooting two free throws makes the first one 73.9 percent of the time, and the second a notably better 78.2 percent of the time.

The picture becomes even clearer when you consider players fouled in the act of shooting a 3-pointer. Those guys tend to be shooters, so all their numbers are higher, but how about this: 79.4 percent of the first shots go in, then 86 percent of the second shots, and a whopping 88.3 percent of the third shots.

Players get nearly nine percent better from the first shot to the third.

Now, think about that golfer with his putter. He mimics the motion several times before touching the ball. It's not hard to imagine that all those little biological processes that have to fire properly -- the nervous system, the muscles, the blood flow, the oxygen -- might work more predictably after a rehearsal.

Whatever biological bizarreness causes the occasional misfire ... it's a cinch to believe you'd have fewer of those on the second or third run-through.

It's practice, in the purest sense.

It could be that, by practicing, Nash effectively makes his first free throw as good as his second would otherwise be.

Not a bad time to point out that among the other outliers who warms up with a practice stroke is Ray Allen, who is just slightly behind Nash on the list of the best free throw shooters in NBA history. Also, Kevin Martin had his highest free-throw percentage ever this season, since he started taking Nash-style practice strokes.

If the theory is right, and a player is quite a bit more likely to make a shot he has just practiced a few times, then how long will it be before a coach uses a late-game timeout to have his players practice shooting?