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How Rudy Gobert found his free-throw shooting groove

Gobert converts only 61.6% of his attempts from the line, but his average has risen by almost 20% since the first 15 games of the season

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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert shoots a free throw during game against the Detroit Pistons, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Detroit.

Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

Inside Rudy Gobert’s 11,000-square-foot Salt Lake City home, next to the main house and swimming pool, is an indoor half basketball court. The light hardwood shines in the room that’s surrounded by high windows. That space was not created just for show. It’s where the two-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year works late at night or on off days, and that work pays off.

One thing in particular that Gobert has been focused on over the last year is increasing his free-throw efficiency.

If you were to look up Gobert’s free-throw shooting percentage for this season, you would see that he’s shooting 61.6% from the charity stripe through 57 games played. That’s the lowest percentage for a season that Gobert has shot since the 2015-16 season, when he shot 56.9% from the free-throw line.

But that season average does not tell the whole story.

On Monday night Gobert went 4 for 5 from the line in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers, continuing an upward trend for him this season.

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the offseason and at home actually,” Gobert said after the game. “I’m more and more comfortable. The less I think, the easier it is.”

The Jazz’s 7-foot-1 center has never been a great free-throw shooter, but after a rookie season shooting 49.2% from the line he saw his numbers go up, reaching 68.2% in the 2017-18 season. But since then Gobert’s efficiency has steadily declined.

In an attempt to figure out the reason for the continued drop, Gobert and his trainers reached the decision that his mechanics weren’t the problem. Instead, it was a mental hurdle he’d have to get over.

“It’s weird because outside of a game situation I’m probably more than the 90% free-throw shooter,” Gobert said. “I was missing free throws and I was trying to figure out why. It was mostly because when you overthink it affects your motor program, and you shoot differently. The less I think, I just let it go and then it’s easy.”

Through the first 15 games of the 2020-21 season Gobert was shooting just 46.7% on 5.0 free-throw attempts per game. Since then he’s had a nearly 20% increase in his efficiency, shooting 66.1% on 5.8 attempts per game since Jan. 23.

With the 2020-21 season so compact, teams are unable to schedule shootarounds on game days and practices are more limited than ever, so Gobert’s work has been mostly on his own time in that home gym.

“I think it’s ongoing and it’s something he spends a lot of time on,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That shows the work that he’s put in and the confidence that he has himself on the line.”

Snyder then pointed out that as Gobert settles into a game, his efficiency increases, and he’s been getting better late in games as the season has progressed. And Snyder is right.

Rudy Gobert 2020-21 free throw % by quarter
Quarter First 15 games of the season Since Jan. 23
1st 35% 61.20%
2nd 50% 61.50%
3rd 50% 70.70%
4th 53.80% 67.70%

Through that 15-game stretch to start the season, Gobert was shooting 35% on 1.3 attempts in first quarters and 53.8% on less than one free-throw attempt per fourth quarter.

Since Jan. 23, Gobert is shooting better than 60% from the line throughout the game and is shooting 69.4% on 3.4 attempts in the second half of games.

“There’s been some games where he’s had some early misses and he’s managed to kind of work through that,” Snyder said. “One of the things that he consistently does — I don’t know the exact numbers — he makes them late and he makes them when they count.”

This season, Gobert is shooting 85.7% from the free-throw line when a game is separated by five points or less in the last five minutes (otherwise known as clutch minutes).

All of this bodes well for Gobert and the Jazz as the season winds down and they look toward the playoffs, where the game is more physical, more demanding, and the games are often closer, requiring some clutch performances.

And, to top it all off, if the Jazz needed just a little more incentive to keep the No. 1 seed and secure home-court advantage through the postseason, Gobert has been shooting upward of 70% from the line at Vivint Arena this year, and in the playoffs, any advantage is one worth having.