Free-throw shooting has never quite been a strength of Lakers star LeBron James. He’s never been terrible from the stripe, making 73.5 percent of his foul shots in his career, but he’s never been great, either. He’s been below 70 percent on free throws in a season four times in his career (the league average is 77.1 percent), but two of those four times have been his two most recent seasons in Los Angeles.
At the All-Star break, James was shooting 68.7 percent from the free-throw line. But he’s made an adjustment, according to Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd that has boosted his shooting from the stripe since then.
“As you can see, his free throws right now, he’s gone back more closer to his high school free throw and he’s shooting over 80 percent since he’s done that,” Kidd told Sports Illustrated. “He’s always searching to get better and is there a way to fix something. And that was probably one of the things in his game that he needed to work on.”
LeBron James’ Free-Throw Improvement
In the Lakers’ first game after the break, James shot 11-for-12 from the line and scored 32 points in a win.
He was 12-for-15 against Milwaukee and 12-for-14 against the Clippers in the Lakers’ final weekend before the league’s season was suspended. He had a clunker from the line—1-for-5—in L.A.’s final game against Brooklyn.
Since the All-Star break, he is making 73.5 percent of his free throws. He has also been going to the line 7.6 times per game, up from 5.4 times per game before the break.
His slump earlier in the season is not new. He had extended periods of struggle from the free-throw line last season, including a stretch in which he shot 63.2 percent from the line in the month of December. It was then that he announced to reporters, “I’m garbage, I suck from the free-throw line right now.”
James said he would get his rhythm back and, to an extent, he did. But he struggled again in February after returning from his groin injury (he shot 60.4 percent) before finally being sidelined for the rest of the season in March.
Tinkering From the Foul Line Not New for James
James has a history of altering his free-throw approach. In fact, he did changed his form at the opening of the playoffs three years ago while he was with Cleveland.
At that time, James was shooting with his feet straight rather than staggered, as he shoots jump shots. According to The Athletic, teammate Kyle Korver pointed out the issue and suggested that James make a change.
“I never shoot [with my feet straight],” James said. “I’m always shooting off the hip. I like it. I’m sticking with it.”
Not that it helped. James shot 69.8 percent from the free-throw line that year.
James also did something similar in 2013 when he was with the Heat. He struggled with his free-throw shooting early in the year, including an 11-game stretch in which he shot 59.4 percent.
That prompted Heat reporter Brian Windhorst to write, “This is an unusual and unexpected development. As James has appeared to hit his prime over the past few seasons and his all-around game has been honed, all of his numbers and execution have only been on the rise. This is the first significant regression in a while and the opposition is already starting to notice.”
James eventually started falling forward a bit more on his free throws and the numbers righted themselves—he shot 75.3 percent from the free-throw line for the year. But he continued tinkering even in the playoffs that year.
Kidd may be right and James may need to keep working on free throws. But then, he’s always been working on them.