Human beings are wired to operate in a world of routine. We are creatures of habit, and while some people are disorganized or “spontaneous,” many people have to live a life of consistency in order to live successfully. Habits and routines are no stranger to the world of sports, and many athletes thrive because of the consistencies that they have established in their lives.
Future NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant had one of the most well-known pregame routines throughout the league. He would arrive four hours early to a mostly empty arena and put up basically every type of shot he might need or want to take during a live game. During his routine, there would be close to absolute silence, and he would be finished up well before other players would arrive.
Most all NBA players have their own unique traditions, and while what they do may not seem like it is beneficial or necessary, it is the consistency that remains key. Some players’ routines are more practical, like the pregame shooting regimens of Golden State guard Steph Curry, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, and Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kyle Korver. Other players have a less traditional approach, like Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas, who plays a video game version of his next game, playing his team against his upcoming opponent.
Then there is the free throw routine. No matter who the player in the NBA is, if they want to better their free throw shooting ability, they establish some type of routine. The planned out method of the free throw is not a magical formula that helps the ball go through the hoop, exactly. A lot of times, it is nothing more than doing the same thing every single time so that no matter what the situation is–a first quarter free throw near the beginning of the game or a fourth quarter free throw in clutch time–the player can focus on watching the round orange ball go through the hoop.
For good free throw shooters, their free throw shooting routine is often as important as their actual shooting form. Some guys bounce the ball a certain number of times, some guys pace their feet a bit, and others have a slight hesitation in their shot. Some methods are a little stranger, like Gilbert Arenas who used to wrap the ball around his back three times before shooting, or Jason Kidd who blow a kiss in honor of his wife and kids. Disrupting a free throw routine can cause issues, and a lot of times, it means trouble for a shooter’s percentage.
Over the summer, the NBA changed the delay of game rules, making it to where a free throw shooter is no longer allowed to go beyond the 3-point line, or he will be assessed a delay of game violation. This change was made in an effort to speed up the flow of the game. For Russell Westbrook, a career 82.2% free throw shooter, that means he is no longer allowed to do what he has done as long as he has been shooting free throws and playing basketball. Through the first four games for the Thunder, Westbrook has shot 16/28 (57.1%), which is just atrocious for him. After last night’s game, he mentioned how the rule has changed what he has been doing since high school, and he said, “I just gotta figure it out…figure out a routine where I can take some time, take a deep breath.”
Last season, Westbrook was second in the NBA in free throws attempted and free throws made, and he made them at high rate of 84.5%. Because of his frequent trips to the charity stripe, his ability to knock down free throws was and is essential to the Thunder’s success. Change is a challenge, and breaking a consistent procedure is not easy, but for Russell Westbrook, the quicker he is able to establish a new free throw shooting routine, the quicker he will get back to knocking down free throws at a high rate, and the better off the Thunder will be.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.