Auburn Hills — Pistons center Andre Drummond is no Rick Barry at the free-throw line.
But the two may have something in common beginning next year.
Drummond, who had a horrific season at the line — making just 36 percent — potentially could be changing his style to underhand free throws next season.
There’s no guarantee, but Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said the unorthodox style popularized in the 1970s by Barry — who shot 89 percent from the line in his career, including 90 percent or higher in his last eight seasons — could be on the horizon for Drummond.
It was a topic of discussion this week in the Pistons’ players exit interviews with Van Gundy.
“As far as shooting underhand or anything else, it’s fair to say my discussion with Andre yesterday and the discussions Jeff and I have had and staff — everything is on the table,” Van Gundy said Thursday during the season wrap-up at The Palace.
“It won’t be a unilateral decision; we’ll do some research on some things and come up with what we think is a good approach, talk to Andre and see what he thinks and develop an approach going forward.
“We all know it’s an important thing — Andre more than any of us – he’s pretty open to anything. There’s a lot of ways to attack this problem and we’ll all have a hand in it.”
Late in the Pistons’ run toward the postseason and in their playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Drummond had to sit on the bench for the last few minutes of games to prevent teams from fouling him intentionally to put him on the free-throw line.
In the four-game sweep to the Cavs, Drummond shot 32 percent (11-of-34) from the line, including 4-of-16 in Game 2. Drummond famously set an NBA record for free-throw misses, going 13-of-36 against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 20 and was fouled early in the third quarter to help force Van Gundy to remove him from the game.
In the last few weeks, teams readily employed the “Hack-a-Drummond” strategy to get him off the floor and bringing backup Aron Baynes in.
“The one good thing about this season was it was the first time people used that strategy against him extensively,” Van Gundy said. “He’s very motivated and very open-minded in terms of approaches. It’s something he wants to get solved; he doesn’t like being on the bench for that reason.”
The Pistons brought in a shooting expert, Dave Hopla, to work with Drummond on his mechanics and to improve his free-throw stroke, but to no avail. Drummond’s numbers dropped from 39 percent before Hopla to 36 percent this year; Drummond switched during the season to working with assistant coach Malik Allen — and actually shot 13 points better (.364) after the All-Star break.
“There’s a lot more to Andre’s free-throw shooting than mechanics. Dave is a guy who focuses on free-throw mechanics,” Van Gundy said. “We have an issue which Andre’s really clear about: translating from the practice gym to the playing court — and that’s not a mechanical issue.
“We have to learn to deal with this a little bit differently. The mechanics will always be part of it, but we have to find some different approaches.”
It’s been a frustrating season for Drummond, who earned his first All-Star selection and led the league in rebounding, but after teams exploited his weakness, he was often relegated to the bench late in games.
While Van Gundy acknowledged that Drummond’s troubles are mostly mental — but still some mechanical — the path forward will not be the typical method of just going in the gym and taking thousands of free throws to try to get better.
“The one thing we do know is the traditional approach and nothing else, of simply trying to correct mechanics and go in the gym and shoot a lot of free throws has not worked,” Van Gundy said, “so we’ve got to (try something) else. We’ve got to be a little more creative in how we approach it.
“That’s all I can say right now.”
Van Gundy believes that some of the changes can take place with a summer concentrated on improving at the line, citing the Cavs’ Tristan Thompson going through a similar overhaul.
Although there is a possibility that the rule about intentional fouling could be changed — as commissioner Adam Silver has alluded that it will be reviewed in the offseason — Van Gundy isn’t counting on that to be the only elixir.
Drummond could sign a max contract in the offseason, but the concerns about his free-throw shooting likely aren’t a consideration in whether the Pistons will make that max offer, Van Gundy said.
“He’s a 22-year-old All-Star center and there aren’t very many guys in the league with the skills he has,” he said.