Over the years, NBA players have gone to great pains to fix their poor foul-shooting: extended dribbling routines, backing up off the line, shooting the ball under-handed and, now, switching hands.
Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft and a 2012 All-Rookie Second Team selection, has revealed plans to enter his third NBA season shooting his free throws and jump shots with his right hand, switching over from the lefty approach he used for the last two years.
SportsNet.CA reports Thompson's reasoning behind his unusual -- if not unprecedented -- switch.
“I think it’s the first time ever in NBA history,” Thompson said of the change, and he may be right.
He’s naturally almost perfectly “multi-handed” if not purely ambidextrous. He grew up shooting with his left-hand and driving the ball predominantly to his left, but he throws a baseball with his right hand. He writes left-handed but brushes his teeth with his right-hand. “I’m all messed up,” Thompson joked. “I’m still trying to figure myself out.”
“I was in Phoenix (last November) and I just started shooting right-handed and got a lot of compliments on it,” Thompson said this week while in training camp with the Canadian national team. “A week later when we got back to Cleveland and got one of the ball-boys to record me and I shot 100 jumpers with my left and 100 with my right and it was significantly better with my right-hand. There was just a better flow to it with my right, it looked smoother.”
Cavaliers GM Chris Grant said that his organization "support[s] him 100 percent" in making the switch from lefty to righty and Thompson has reportedly worked with Cleveland's shooting coach on a daily basis this summer.
Such a fundamental change sounds, at first blush, radical and almost insane. How did Thompson -- or one of his coaches -- not think of this in middle school or high school? That question might not ever be answered definitively, but there are a few situational factors to consider when processing Thompson's plan.
As the shot distribution chart below should make clear, Thompson is not a Chris Bosh/Dirk Nowitzki/LaMarcus Aldridge power forward. While he's mobile enough to roam to the high post, his mid-range game has been nonexistent. Nearly 80 percent of his shot attempts came in the basket area last year, and less than five percent combined came on long twos or straight-on mid-range jumpers. So while switching from lefty to righty seems like a massive shift, the number of plays such a change will impact, should his distribution remain the same, is minimal.
Furthermore, even a cursory review of Thompson tape reveals that he's not your prototypical "all left, all the time" southpaw. Check out the highlights from a 21-point night against the Celtics in January, and you can see Thompson tossing in a righty hook-style runner, a righty push shot from the key, a lefty push shot from the block and a banked-in righty leaner.
So, if Thompson doesn't take that many jump shots and if he was already using his right hand to shoot, should this switch qualify as anything more than an oddity or footnote? It absolutely should, because of the charity stripe.
In 2011-12, Thompson took 192 foul shots, fourth-most on the Cavaliers. He converted just 55.2 percent, the worst percentage among Cavaliers who attempted at least 42 free throws. In 2012-13, Thompson led the Cavaliers with 291 free-throw attempts, but connected on just 60.8 percent, the worst percentage among Cavaliers who attempted at least 42 free throws. For comparison, only Dwight Howard, Omer Asik and Josh Smith attempted as many free throws as Thompson and shot a worse percentage last season.
A best-case scenario from this switch would find Thompson more comfortable and confident away from the hoop, putting him in a position to connect at a reliable percentage on mid-range jumpers. But whether or not Thompson, who is still just 22, finds a way to extend his range as he develops, he is a sure bet to spend a meaningful amount of time on the free-throw line over the course of his career. He has good physical tools, he works hard on the glass and plays with high energy, and he attempts a lot of shots in the basket area. If nothing else, he'll need to be fouled once or twice a game to prevent a dunk or lay-up.
"Crisis" might be slightly too strong of a word to describe Thompson's performance at the foul line to date, but his poor free-throw shooting, which dates back to college, impacts how defenses play him and, possibly, how much playing time he receives. Thompson, therefore, should be applauded for seeking out any remedy that might help, even one that might sound crazy to those among us who aren't blessed and cursed with "multi-handedness."
And if it doesn't work? Well, he can always switch back.