Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and guard Chauncey Billups are at… (Photos by US Presswire and…)
Each time Chauncey Billups steps to the free-throw line he is "very confident," uncluttered by the fear of missing, secure in believing the routine he developed while a kid on the playground has prepared him for success.
Watch Billups closely to see how he is centered with the basket and a "dot" on the floor. He'll take his first dribble to ensure he starts his process correctly.
He'll take two more dribbles and look up to make sure he still is centered with the rim. He'll take one last dribble, look at the floor, look up and spin the basketball in his hands. He'll slightly bend his knees before he shoots, the ball spinning toward the rim, his follow-through always the same.
It's about repetition, Billups said, something the 15-year veteran says every free-throw shooter must follow.
"For one, you've got to be very confident," Billups said. "People say it's the easiest shot to shoot in the NBA playing basketball. But it's also a lot of pressure on that shot because at that time, whoever is in that gym, everybody is looking at you.
"So yeah, it should be an easy shot because nobody can defend you, nobody can get in front of you. It's just you and the rim. But that psychs a lot of people out. So I always take it seriously."
Billups has been one of the best free-throw shooters in the history of the NBA too.
He entered this season having made 89.4% of his free throws. He's shooting 89.1% this season.
What makes a good free-throw shooter?
What makes a bad free-throw shooter?
There appear to be no definitive answers.
TNT analyst Steve Kerr has his take.
Of course, he also was one of the best ever in the NBA at free-throw shooting, making 86.4% over a 15-year career.
"To start with, there's a certain level where there's the natural ability where you're going to fall," Kerr said. "If you're a lousy shooter, your ceiling is only so high. You can get better. But if you're a really good shooter, then your ceiling is more dependent upon your mental approach.
"I've seen great shooters shoot 75% from the line when they should shoot 85%, or even 90%. I think free throws are different because there is time to think. You can psych yourself out. I think you have to develop a routine in order to achieve that state of calm that you need to have to go ahead and make them.
"It's hard when you're vulnerable and you feel exposed at the line and you're not a good shooter already. It's not a fun place to be."
Even notoriously bad free-throw shooter Shaquille O'Neal has an opinion.
O'Neal, now an analyst on TNT's "Inside the NBA," maintained he made his free throws when they mattered the most.
Never mind that he was a 52.7% free-throw shooter over his 19-year career and that "Hack-a-Shaq" was invented for him because he was so poor at free throws.
"Percentages don't mean anything if you don't hit the ones you're supposed to hit," O'Neal contends. "How many guys that shoot 90%, they're down by one and they miss the one that they are supposed to make? So if you wasn't born with Steve Kerr's or Reggie Miller's or Kenny Smith's ability to shoot the ball, just because you're in the league doesn't mean you are going to develop.
"Most of the big guys -- except for these new 'soft' big guys that y'all [in the media] praise now -- weren't born shooters. I was never really born to shoot."
Ah yes, the big guys.
It can be painful to watch them, especially the Clippers' big men.
Blake Griffin steps to the free-throw line and receives the basketball from the referee.
He puts the ball in his left hand, then on his left hip. Griffin then spins the basketball before he puts it in his right shooting hand. He bends his knees and takes a deep breath, never dribbling the ball like so many of the great free-throw shooters do.
He shoots, his right hand extended after the shot, the ball spinning toward the basket. Half the time it's good and the other it's not, his 48.6% from the free-throw line this season telling the story. He made 64.2% of his free throws during his rookie year last season.
His buddy, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, is worse, at 47%. He entered this season as a 41.4% free-throw shooter over his first three years in the NBA.
And Reggie Evans is 41.4% this season. Over his first nine years in the league, Evans is a 52.1% free-throw shooter.
Conversely, Lakers 7-foot forward Pau Gasol is making 78.8% of his free throws.
But his teammate, 7-foot center Andrew Bynum, is making only 58.4% of his free throws.
"There's three levels of free-throw shooting," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said.
"There are great free-throw shooters, good free-throw shooters and guys who can't. That's the truth."
Why can't players become better at free-throw shooting?
"The first thing you have to look at is his form," said Barkley, who made 73.5% of his free throws over a 16-year career. "Then it's strictly confidence if he's got a good form and can't make them.
"You can get a little bit better, but you can't make yourself a great free-throw shooter. You can make yourself a good free-throw shooter."