Through 24 games, OKC Thunder wing Andre Roberson is shooting 9 of 32 from the foul line. That makes for a 28.1 percent clip from the charity stripe, which would give him a dubious distinction in NBA history if it does not rise by season’s end.
Roberson’s 2016-17 free-throw shooting has been so bad that this Monday-morning point guard wonders whether the fourth-year player out of the University of Colorado has considered adopting the “granny shot.”
If he hasn’t, perhaps he should. The tactic — which hearkens back to basketball’s olden days when even many of the best players shot granny style — has proven remotely effective for NBA D-Leaguer Chinanu Onuaku, a rookie out of Louisville.
Onuaku has stunned onlookers with his commitment to and relative effectiveness with the granny-shot free throw. His free-throw percentages rose from 46.7 percent to 58.9 percent over a two-year college career, and through 13 D-League games this year he is shooting 21 of 30, for a 70 percent clip.
That’s far better results than NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain got from the granny shot, but either Chamberlain’s number or Onuaku’s would blow poor Andre Roberson’s 28.1 percent out of the water.
Worse than the worst
To understand just how painful Andre Roberson’s recent adventures at the foul line have been, consider that the worst career free-throw shooter in history — Ben Wallace (41.4 percent) — never shot below 30 percent in a single season. In fact, if you don’t count his rookie year when he attempted only 20 shots and made only six (30 percent), Big Ben’s worst season was his second-to-last, when he shot only 33.3 percent.
Roberson has never been a good foul shooter, but he shot 61.1 percent last season and 47.9 percent in 2014-15. He is on pace to shoot about twice as many free throws this year as he did in either of those seasons, and the results of his high-arching shot have been putrid. He is actually shooting better from three-point range — 20 of 66 (30.3 percent) — than he is from the foul line.
Does Andre Roberson have the yips?
Some of my closest friends have likely heard me joke that throwing horseshoes is “80 percent mental, at least.” While it refers to a different game than basketball, the intentionally silly adage could just as easily apply to free-throw shooting.
Another poor free-throw shooter, Dwight Howard, has noted the difference between his results in games and his results in practice, when the pressure is off and few people are watching.
In baseball, this sort of repetitive mental hiccup is known as the yips, an affliction that befell players like Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch and others in their careers. In short, men who have played baseball virtually their entire lives suddenly become unable to throw a ball accurately, even in short distances.
While a Google search would show that Thunder beat writers apparently have not begun asking whether Roberson has some version of foul-line yips, the guard’s body language and facial expressions while shooting free throws do not reveal a man filled with confidence.
And how could they?
In 2015, Roberson launched this airball that now circulates the internet as a painful Vine:
If that sort of form and its 2016-17 season results aren’t enough to make an NBA player consider the granny shot, I don’t know what will be; and I certainly don’t claim to know more about the sport than million-dollar athletes and coaches.
But I do know that Chinanu Onuaku is draining his free throws at a 70 percent clip by lessening the motion of his shot and tossing the ball gently at the rim.
Maybe Thunder fans will see Roberson give that a whirl soon, too. If they do, they should cheer the otherwise-talented Roberson for having the guts to break out the granny.
(Bonus video: NBA legend Rick Barry holds the fourth-highest career free-throw percentage of all time, and in this video, which features some really painful editing, he explains his shot.)