NBA coaches like to say that getting to the free throw line is essential to a team's success, but apparently they need to remind players that making the shots once they get there is even more important. Foul shooting has taken a significant plunge this season: It's down 2.0% from last season's 75.4% average. No team had shot less than 70% from the line since the Heat did so in 1989-90, but at week's end four clubs, the Warriors, the Clippers, the Magic and the Bulls, were under 70%.
Several top players are having a hard time at the line, including, through Sunday, Bulls Scottie Pippen (57.5%) and Horace Grant (49.4%), Hornet Larry Johnson (64.7%), Piston Isiah Thomas (68.5%), Sonic Gary Payton (54.3%) and Barkley of the Suns (65.0%). But collectively, Golden State is having the most difficulties at the line. The Warriors' 65.7% at week's end was the league's worst, and three starters—Chris Webber, Billy Owens and Victor Alexander—were shooting less than 60%.
Golden State's foul shooting has been so inaccurate that coach Don Nelson is trying a new approach, which he calls visual positive reinforcement. The Warriors are producing a personal videotape for each of the struggling players that shows him shooting a perfect free throw, over and over again, from a variety of angles and set to music. In addition to the regular free throw shooting Golden State does at practice—players like Owens shoot about 100 free throws—each Warrior who is shooting below 70% from the line is supposed to go to a secluded area for about 20 minutes a day to watch the tape. "We don't expect this to be a cure-all," Nelson says, "but this is a system that has worked in other sports as well as basketball. If you can get that perfect form locked into your mind, you can train your muscle mass and brain mass to work together to re-create it."
It's just a thought, but maybe some of the Warriors should be trying to re-create somebody else's free throw form.
There's hope for all those players around the league who are picking up splinters as the 10th or 11th men in a nine-man rotation. All they have to do is look at players like Bullet forward Don MacLean or 76er guard Dana Barros.
MacLean, a second-year forward, has made the most dramatic transformation. Washington's trade of forward Harvey Grant to the Blazers for center Kevin Duckworth gave an opening to MacLean, who averaged 6.6 points and less than 11 minutes per game last season, and he has taken advantage of it. At week's end he was the Bullets' second-leading scorer, with a 17.9 average, including a 30-point performance on Jan. 13 when Washington surprised the Rockets 120-102.
A trade also opened the way for Barros, a 5'11" point guard who was sent to Philadelphia during the off-season after four mostly inactive seasons in Seattle. The Sondes liked Barros but had no room for him in their crowded back-court. With his quickness and outside shooting he has forced the Sixers to make room: On Nov. 27, he displaced Johnny Dawkins as the starting point guard. His catch-and-shoot jumper with .5 of a second left, which beat Indiana 104-102 last Friday, was one of the memorable plays of the season.
Barros could have been speaking for MacLean as well as himself when he said, "I'm just thankful I'm getting the opportunity. It feels like it's been a long time coming."