We’re settling into the part of the NBA season where trends may be legitimate. Our fun Week 1 stats like Nik Stauskas’ 24-point eruption, Nikola Mirotic’s 70 percent shooting, and MVP Cedi Osman have proven to be myths.
But a few have persisted, none more bizarrely than DeAndre Jordan shooting 87 percent from the free-throw line.
Since 2008, when Jordan entered the league, we’ve watched him clank 1,714 free throws in 3,071 tries for a conversion rate of 44.2 percent. And we’re not just talking about shots that rimmed out, as Jordan is infamous for his many airballs and unconscionable bricks that led teams strategize to intentionally foul him on and put him on the foul line.
Until now, apparently. Jordan has attempted 30 free throw this year, and made 26 of them.
That isn’t just an improvement, it’s a meteoric rise. The league might need to check if someone is in a DeAndre Jordan costume on the line each night.
This newfound shooting display is no accident — Jordan didn’t just suddenly at 30 years old get more confident at the stripe. Instead, on a contract year, he’s changed his mechanics 10 years into his professional career.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Here’s one of the most vile free throws I’ve ever seen:
The end result isn’t the only barf-worthy element of this shot, because the wind-up isn’t pretty either. Pay close attention to Jordan’s feet, which are lined up right next to each other as if it’s a school picture day.
Not only are his feet too close together, but they’re so unnaturally aligned that he isn’t able to fully bend his knees without losing balance.
A number of Jordan’s shots were doomed long before the ball neared the rim — if they made it there at all.
But in his first season with the Mavs, Jordan has completely changed his stance. The lefty staggers his feet with the right a noticeable distance behind the left. That’s giving him better balance, and allowing his legs to bend easier. You can tell when he gets to the line how concentrated he is on getting his footing right.
There’s a tremendous difference:
Will Jordan continue to shoot over 80 percent from the free throw line? Probably not. But he’ll almost certainly finish with the best numbers he’s ever had.
Here are three other statistical trends we’re watching.
DeMar DeRozan is one of the league’s best passers now?
In his first year in San Antonio since being traded for Kawhi Leonard, DeRozan is putting up some of the best numbers of his career. He’s scoring 27 points per game, shooting 48 percent from the field and dishing eight assists per game. That’s three more than his next-best season distributing the ball.
His favorite targets are Bryn Forbes and Rudy Gay, who he’s connected with eight times each. He’s found LaMarcus Aldridge seven times throwing the ball down low.
His career average in assists is slightly above three per game, so this is a massive jump, and an unexpected one so late in his career. But with the Spurs down multiple point guards, he’s had to step up, and it’s working.
Zach LaVine is one of the league’s best scorers
LaVine has nearly doubled his scoring average from a year ago to 30 per game after averaging 17 last season. On a brand new four-year, $78 million contract, he’s pulling a lot of the scoring weight in Chicago.
LaVine is shooting 53 percent from the floor, including 40 percent from deep. He’s taking twice as many free throws as he did last season at nine per game, as he appears to have his explosiveness to the hoop back.
His defense is still erratic, and he’s really only earning his money scoring — but heck, he’s been scoring really well.
John Henson shoots threes now?
The Milwaukee Bucks’ new offense is lethal with a focus on taking more shots from deep and fewer from the mid-range. They’re 6-0 with best offensive rating in the league because of it.
New head coach Mike Budenholzer’s changed a whole lot, and in doing so has unleashed an even scarier form of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and ... John Henson?
The Bucks’ reserve big shot 13 threes in all seven of hIs first seasons in the league. He made one. Now, six games into the 2018-19 season he’s taken 12 and made five. That’s 42 percent shooting!
His shot looks fluent for a seven-footer shooting freely for the first time in his life, and this might continue. Henson’s taken at least one three in five of the team’s six games, even making more than one twice.