By Adam Silverstein and Kyle Gilreath (OnlyGators.com Contributor)
Many basketball analysts will argue that free throw shooting percentage is an overrated statistic, one more often blamed for losses than praised for victories and something that often averages out over the course of the season.
But there is no denying that the Florida Gators have shown improvement at the charity stripe as of late, one of many reasons the team has been able to overcome halftime deficient in three-straight games.
And no single player has taken a more drastic and noticeable step forward with his free throw shooting than senior center Patric Young, a fourth-year leader whose average at the line declined sharply each of his first three seasons (from 70.3 percent in 2010-11 to 59.3 percent in 2011-12 to 48.9 percent in 2012-13).
Splitting the first 26 games of the 2013-14 regular season into quarters, Young is shooting nearly 20 percent better over the last six games (.714) than he did during the second set of seven (.519).
According to head coach Billy Donovan, Florida has spent more time practicing free throws in practice, often while placed in pressure situations by the staff. UF’s official website noted Thursday that the players have been shooting 100 free throws each over a span of at least 20 minutes at the end of practices.
While the old saying “practice makes perfect” likely fits here for most of the team, Young’s improvement goes far beyond taking more attempts in practice.
If that was the only difference between a good free throw shooter and bad one, there would be much fewer of the latter. Young himself has discussed on numerous occasions how much time he has spent trying to shoot a higher percentage from the line.
Young’s enhanced percentage over the last half-dozen games can be linked to refinements he has made in his form and shooting touch at the line. His stroke has evolved as the season has progressed.
In the two images below, Young has his arm at a negative angle and brings the ball back to the left of his nose – almost touching his forehead. This reduced the amount of arc he could put on the ball because it limited his ability to go up with his arms.
Fast forward to last month. Young took a step forward by moving the ball more to the right side of his body, which allows him more upward motion to inevitably put more arc on the ball. However, his form is still imperfect. As illustrated by the green lines, his right arm is not at the proper 90-degree angle that great free throw shooters practice with the forearm bent enough so it is closer to creating a “V” than an “L.” Furthermore, the red line is points out how Young is leaning away from the basket, which makes the shot less natural as he is using more muscle to get it to the hoop.
The final three images are of Young taking the first of his two free throws that spotted the Gators a late lead on Wednesday night. As you can see from the progression of the green lines, he keeps great form with a near-90-degree “L” and never breaks into a negative angle. As he goes up with the ball, he keeps the rock in front and it never comes remotely close to his forehead. Additionally, as the red line shows, his back never went past 180 degrees. He now makes three deliberate motions and releases his free throws from a vertical stance, which allows him to use less muscle and more touch.
Whether Young is able to keep up one of the best free throw shooting stretches of his career remains to be seen, but it is obvious that he doing what he can to use proper form and make the most of his latest chances at the charity stripe.
If Young can continue to be a consistent foul shooter for the remainder of the season, head coach Billy Donovan will feel confident in making fewer substitutions in the waning minutes of close games as Young may no longer be a liability for Florida at the line.
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