Deron Williams and the Art of the Free Throw

Deron Williams

After going eight-for-eight from the line vs. the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night, Deron Williams has now made 40 consecutive free throws, his longest streak as a Nets player.

Williams is a career 81% free throw shooter, so going on a streak of 40 straight without a miss is not inconceivable, however it is his longest streak as a Net and so far this season Williams is off to a career-best percentage from the line at 85%.

One thing I’ve noticed Williams doing more and more this season is practicing his free throw stroke without the ball prior to receiving the ball from the referee.

This idea of a pre-shot form rehearsal has been done before, most notably by Steve Nash, one of the greatest shooters of all time. It’s a routine championed by professional trainer and analyst David Thorpe, as Thorpe tweeted about this very idea last year:

Thorpe likens this idea to that of a golfer practicing his putting stroke before a putt. For a motion as dependent on muscle memory is shooting is, giving your body and mind a quick refresher course on the mechanics of your shot can’t hurt.

These quick reminders are also valuable to a shooter’s mindstate, moments before they prepare for a shot. As basketball wiseguy and Thorpe disciple Anthony Macri explains:

The value of doing the pre-motion (shooting without the ball) is that it serves as a reminder to do all the little things. We often teach guys shooting motion without the ball in regular game situations. This is because many players focus so much on the result that they don’t worry about their form or about grooving a repeatable shooting pattern. By doing the shot without the ball, the only thing to focus on is the form, which we then hope will translate into the shot when they take the free throw just a few seconds later.

Williams isn’t as habitual as Nash is with this technique (yet), but from a casual observance he does seem to be using it far more often than he did last season.

I can’t say for certain whether this extended run of successful shooting from the foul line has been a direct result of Williams’ pre-shot routine or his mindstate prior to the shot (realistically, it’s likely a combination of factors), but it can be noted that Williams is employing a smart and effective technique before he receives the ball and the results are beginning to show.

Here’s the no-ball free throw in action: