So, this is rather a deep dive down the rabbit hole and kind of a random ass theory, but after watching two of the game’s brightest stars struggle to shoot free throws this year (LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo), I got to thinking as to why this is the case.
Now in all fairness, LeBron has never been a great free throw shooter and neither has Giannis. At their peak, they’ve both been hovering around league average.
After watching them at the line, thinking about their shots and releases, and free throw shooting in general, I’ve derived a conclusion that I believe holds some weight.
Both Giannis and LeBron came into the league as fantastic physically gifted players. While they are not necessarily comparable in skillset, I’ve found an interesting comparison in their free throw shooting.
Throughout LeBron’s first 11 seasons (last Miami year), he shot 74.7% from the line which was just below the average (75.58%).
Across Giannis’ first 5 seasons, he shot 74.6% from the line and league average was just above 76%.
Well, both players past this point have seen significant dips in their free throw shooting numbers. LeBron in the 6 seasons since has only shot 70.4% from the line and shot below 70% for a season twice, and Giannis has shot 68.6% from the line, notably only shooting 63.3% on the current year.
So what’s the comp?
Significant gain in muscle mass, specifically in the shoulders.
LeBron really started to bulk up towards the end of his time in Miami and once in his second stint with Cleveland, he continued that trend. As he’s gotten older his game has become much more oriented around strength and power rather than the quickness and speed he had when he was younger, a pretty natural progression. If you look at pictures of LeBron prior to leaving Miami, and how he’s evolved in his second Cleveland run through to LA, it is impossible not to recognize the difference in muscle mass; He seemingly morphs into Karl Malone.
Giannis, has evolved from all limbs his rookie year, into a dominant physical force. He most notably made a significant jump in terms of his sheer size and muscle around 2016/17 and really grew into his body the year prior to his MVP season. If you really go back and look, the biggest difference has been in his shoulders over the last year/year and a half.
Now, I’m not trying to incite that this is the root cause of all their issues in shooting. But, I think it is a definite impact on their shooting. Shoulder size, form, and muscle can greatly impact shoulder rotation as well as flexibilty and all-around motion.
Shoulder motion and rotation is key to shot release and form, so having a change over time in that motion would almost certainly impact the shot.
I think the mental aspect of shooting free throws has also been a certain issue, primarily with Giannis it seems recently. However, I would argue that the mental aspect has become an issue due to tweaking of shot form due to unintentional collateral from physical changes.
In Layman’s terms: Because there was a change in the physical ability of their shoulder’s/shooting form of free throws, and it negatively impacted their shooting percentage’s, it then has gone on to impact their confidence/mentality in terms of taking free throws.
This is all just a theory from someone who watches way too much basketball hahaha, but I think it’s a very real possibility. I plan on looking into other cases to bolster the support of this or maybe even prove it wrong. I’ll certainly update when I have more info.
Why do you think they’re struggling at the line? Do you agree/disagree? Why? Shoot me any feedback, comments, ideas, or thoughts!