LOS ANGELES – DeAndre Jordan has turned his most embarrassing weakness into a strength worth celebrating, yet getting him to talk about it is no easy task.
Why not? Because not talking about it means not thinking about it, and not thinking about it was the secret to fixing the problem.
The Dallas Mavericks center’s free throw shooting woes were so entrenched heading into this season that they were almost part of his charm, with a career mark of 45.0 percent spread over a decade.
This season has seen an extraordinary revolution in his productivity from the stripe, with the 6’11 former Los Angeles Clipper firing at a 82.4 percent clip heading into Friday’s home clash with the New York Knicks.
That kind of shift is way beyond a typical level of improvement and doesn’t come close to falling within your standard deviation based on a sample size that is still relatively small. It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if there isn’t an imposter wearing a Jordan mask suiting up for the Mavs each night, while still retaining all of the big man’s rebounding and defensive skills.
“I’m trying not to think about it as much (as before),” Jordan told USA TODAY Sports, when asked what he had changed. The whole “not thinking” thing might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Jordan, 30, used to think and think and overthink, his mind tortured by the expectation of failure and the potential for humiliation, and it would drive him to distraction.
Opposition crowds knew of his free throw troubles all too well and needed no encouragement to remind him of them, while the Hack-a-Jordan policy was routinely used by teams that figured fouling him was an easy way to get the ball back with minimal damage.
“I’ve just been working on it,” he asked. “That’s it. Getting a lot of reps up. I think it is just being comfortable up there too, focusing on my routine and what I’m working on.”
After eight games, Jordan had shot from the line 34 times and sunk 28 of those efforts. As of Thursday, it put him a very respectable 60th in the league among qualified players and ahead of the likes of James Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Love.
His stroke looks smooth, his feet are slightly staggered by design but he seems perfectly balanced, and more than anything, comes across as someone with the confidence and ability to knock the shot down instead of a startled deer who wishes he was anywhere else.
Perhaps it was as simple as a change in scenery. Jordan was with the Clippers for 10 years and nearly joined the Mavs three years ago, before a late change of mind when members of L.A.’s playing and coaching staff staged a dramatic intervention.
Since switching to Texas he has been given greater responsibility at both ends of the floor and is flourishing. Dallas is 2-6 but has shown signs of promise under head coach Rick Carlisle, with Slovenian youngster Luka Doncic already a leading rookie of the year contender. Jordan signed a one-year deal for around $24 million, and his enhanced free throw ability will do no harm to his chances of landing a longer term max deal at the end of the campaign.
He believes the mental contentment he feels in Dallas has had a tangible impact on his game.
“It was a great 10 years for me (in L.A.),” he added. “But this has been a chance for me to step outside the box. I am a person that doesn’t do well with change but this has been a great experience. The game is always going to change and the world is always going to change, we are going to change as people. I’m trying to focus on what is present and everything else will happen naturally.”
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