How costly are Andre Drummond’s free throw issues?

Feb 15, 2017; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) shakes hands with owner Tom Gores after the game against the Dallas Mavericks at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won 98-91. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2017; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) shakes hands with owner Tom Gores after the game against the Dallas Mavericks at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Pistons won 98-91. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Andre Drummond’s biggest failing has long been his free throw shooting. Just how costly is his inability to hit free throws to the Detroit Pistons?

Andre Drummond has always struggled with free throws. At the University of Connecticut, he hit just 29.5 percent from the free throw line. In his rookie season with the Detroit Pistons, he hit 37.1 percent from the free throw line. Last season, he bottomed out (we hope) at 35.5 percent, the lowest mark in NBA history.

Coming into this past summer Drummond and the Pistons’ organization seemed to be in lockstep that improving his free throw shooting was the top priority. Immediately after being eliminated from the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in April, Stan Van Gundy announced that “everything was on the table” regarding Drummond improving free throws.

Per Rod Beard of the Detroit News:

"“As far as shooting underhand or anything else, it’s fair to say my discussion with Andre yesterday and the discussions Jeff and I have had and staff — everything is on the table,” Van Gundy said Thursday during the season wrap-up at The Palace.“It won’t be a unilateral decision; we’ll do some research on some things and come up with what we think is a good approach, talk to Andre and see what he thinks and develop an approach going forward.“We all know it’s an important thing — Andre more than any of us – he’s pretty open to anything. There’s a lot of ways to attack this problem and we’ll all have a hand in it.”"

That philosophical change didn’t last too long into the offseason. In an interview last summer with the Hartford Courant, Drummond outlined what he’s been working on and whether the underhanded approach was still on the table.

"Drummond continues to work on free throws, along with his footwork, though he dismisses any suggestion he should try shooting them underhand.“I’m just really just continuing to work on back-to-the-basket stuff,” he said, “and working on getting better from the foul line. I’m going to stick with the formula I have now.”"

That settled that. Drummond eschewed expanding his bag of tricks at the free throw line in favor of focusing on his post game (he scored .726 points per possession in the post last season, he’s scoring .733 points per possession in the post this season) and essentially keeping the status quo from the charity stripe.

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Drummond and the Pistons organization utilized cutting-edge virtual reality technology to try and mitigate some of the mental barriers he has surrounding free throws, and he ostensibly had success with this over the summer.

He got off to a solid start over the course of the first nine games of the season, hitting 55.3 percent of his attempts over that span.

As many suspected, it was fool’s gold. Since those heady days, Drummond has hit just 39.5 percent of his free throw attempts and has hit just 37.9 percent of his free throws since December 23rd.

In essence, perhaps Drummond’s long run true free throw shooting percentage is not the dreadful 35.5 percent of last year, but it’s almost certainly in the neighborhood of his career rate of 38.6 percent.

Once upon a time the free throw issues were viewed as something Drummond could grow out of and perhaps a mere curiousity at worst. After all, you only get one point for hitting a free throw. How damaging could one player being bad at free throws possibly be?

The answer: Pretty damaging.

The Detroit Pistons are 27th in free throw percentage, hitting just 73.3 percent of their free throws. As noted in the tweet above, if all of Drummond’s free throw makes and attempts were removed, the Pistons’ team percentage would jump 8.6 percent and would be the best free throw shooting team in the NBA.

Furthermore, when Drummond is on the floor the Pistons as a team hit 66.7 percent of their free throws. When he’s off the floor, the Pistons hit 83.7 percent of their free throws. It’s no surprise that the Pistons score 2.8 more points per 100 possessions when Drummond is off the floor than when he’s on.

Andre Drummond is an enigma. He’s an unmatched force of nature on the boards. He’s why the Detroit Pistons are by far the best team in the NBA when it comes to second-chance points allowed.

He’s also the worst free throw shooter to ever play in the history of the NBA, and his most frequent usage on offense is the post up. His post game is actually less efficient than his free throw shooting, which is a big part of why teams don’t hack him as much as they did last season (another big part of that is Stan Van Gundy is very astute at removing him from games before teams can hack).

Next: A deeper look at the Pistons point guard conundrum

Drummond is young, he’s athletic, he may not have reached his ceiling, but it’s time to stop pretending his free throw shooting is going to get better. It’s also time to stop pretending that this is fine.