TORONTO – After watching Andre Drummond drain his last two free throws in the waning seconds of Tuesday’s loss, Stan Van Gundy – perhaps only half-kiddingly – turned to his assistant coaches and said, “Shoot, he’s going to be shooting technicals for us.”
Drummond was a perfect 6 for 6 against Toronto in his second preseason game. He went 6 for 8 in the opener, so Tuesday’s perfecto raised his preseason foul shooting percentage to .857.
It’s a small sample size, granted, but there hasn’t been anything quite like it over Drummond’s first five NBA seasons. His best single-season mark, .418, came in his second season. His worst, .355, came in the 2015-16 season when the Pistons won 44 games and teams sent Drummond to the line intentionally with great frequency in virtually every close game. Drummond took 586 free throws that season, 223 more attempts than any other of his career.
Last season started promisingly after Drummond experimented with virtual technology over the off-season. But after shooting .439 before the All-Star break, he crashed to .266 over the final third of the season.
Over the summer, Drummond decided on a new mental approach and trained with a coach from his past. His form is noticeably different this season – cleaner, with less hesitation before release. He’s going to the line with an air of confidence about him that has never existed.
It looks like he steps to the line expecting the shot to go in.
“Absolutely,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “The summer was more of a mental summer for me. More than drilling myself on shooting, it was more just getting myself mentally prepared for this season, mentally prepared to walk up to that line and shoot the same shot over and over again, whether it’s a miss or a make.”
Feeling confident at the foul line could eventually have carryover effects beyond blunting opposition strategy to intentionally put Drummond there. If Drummond isn’t subconsciously dreading trips to the line, perhaps he’ll be more assertive at the rim rather than settling for jump hooks that leave little possibility of drawing a foul.
Once the regular season starts, Drummond will need to prove his preseason results are for real. But word travels fast in today’s NBA. If he’s draining foul shots at even a 60 percent clip in the first handful of games, it will be on scouting reports across the league. For now, it appears he’s made a remarkable transformation from historically bad foul shooter to a player who steps to the line expecting the shot to fall.
“In my head, I feel like it’s going to be a make every time,” he said. “Because I put in the time on it off and on the court, mentally and physically, to shoot the ball the way I’m shooting it now.”