Andris Biedrins was benched after only nine minutes (0 points, 5 rebounds) in Tuesday’s 110-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, and was promptly blasted by coach Don Nelson after the game. “I didn’t see any life there. I’m tired of not seeing any life. I’m very disappointed. This isn’t the first time we haven’t seen a light on,” he said about his starting center.
Harsh words. This has me thinking about Biedrins and everything that must be going on in his head right now. It must be a mess up there. He has no confidence in himself, he knows his coach doesn’t trust him and is now criticizing him in public. I don’t know if Biedrins can be fixed this season. Even so, I’d like to go back to this subject one more time. Biedrins was once one of the best young centers in the game. He’s worth it. Read my first entry about Biedrins’ struggles here.
While I was reading today, I came across something that made me think of the Warriors’ big man and what can be done in practice to help him get his confidence back. I still think the main problem is his free throws and the effect it has had on his offense.
I got three basketball-related books as Christmas presents this year. I finished Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball a few days ago and have started Chris Ballard’s The Art of a Beautiful Game. After I finish that book, I’ll read Jackie MacMullan’s collaboration with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, When the Game was Ours. I was reading the second chapter of Ballard’s book this morning, about the “pure shooters” in the game (in which he references Warriors’ rookie Stephen Curry). He wrote about legendary marksman Steve Kerr during a time in his career when he was playing sporadically but still expected to come in cold off the bench and spread the floor with his outside shooting. He contacted an old friend, Chip Engelland, now the Spurs shooting coach, and asked him for help in preparing for such erratic opportunities. I’ll let Ballard tell the rest:
Engelland had a solution. He told Kerr to meet him on the bench at the practice gym. Once there, the two men sat and talked for five minutes. Then, suddenly, Engelland leaped up, ball in hand.
“Start running the wing,” he ordered Kerr. “Now!”
Startled, Kerr jumped up and followed. Engelland dribbled madly, leading a fast break. When he got to the top of the key, he fed Kerr on the wing for a three-pointer. Then the two promptly returned to the bench, where they sat and talked for five more minutes. Then they did it again, and again. “In 30 minutes, I’d only shoot six shots,” Kerr says. “Psychologically it was awesome because then the next game I was like, ‘Hey, I just did this.'” (“I remember we did it three days in a row,” says Engelland. “The first day he hit 3 of 9, the second day it was 5 of 9 and by the third day it was 7 of 9. He really got it quick.”)
How does this apply to Biedrins? He isn’t a pure shooter, obviously, but the concept of simulating game situations during practice is something that could help Biedrins. The long-term issue — fixing Biedrins’ form or changing the way he shoots — isn’t an option right now; that’s something you save for the offseason. But, Biedrins’ form as it is was once good enough to shoot between 50 and 60 percent during his career. If he could back to that number, that would certainly suffice for this season. So, to help him deal with the issue in practice, he should be working on free throw drills that most closely simulate game situations.
Disclaimer: I’m not a Warriors beat writer and so I don’t attend practice. For all I know, the Warriors are already doing this in practice and probably have drills far more advanced to address these issues than I could ever come up with. So, by sharing my thoughts on this topic I’m not saying the Warriors aren’t doing this or need to start doing this. I’m just sharing my thoughts.
Anyway, here are a couple ideas I had. During a game, when you’re shooting free throws, you’ve usually been sprinting back and forth, physically exerting yourself on both ends of the court. To simulate game fatigue, you could devise a free throw drill where you run a few sprints up and down the court and then step to the free throw line to shoot two — and only two — free throws. Repeat the process several times. The result could be like Kerr said, “Psychologically it was awesome, because then the next game I was like, ‘Hey, I just did this.'”
Another way to simulate the experience of shooting free throws during a game is to bring in some speakers and pump in loud crowd noise while you’re shooting, and to make it even more realistic, have teammates simulate the loudest, most obnoxious fans by having them stand under the basket and yell insults at you while you’re shooting (the teammates would probably enjoy this, too). It would simulate the pressure of making free throws on the road, with thousands of opposing fans taunting and screaming at you while you shoot.
These kind of drills could help Biedrins address the mental pressue of shooting free throws (the fatigue, the crowd noise, etc.) during practice. I’m sure there are many other great drills that simulate game experience. If you have any you know of, or any ideas of your own, post them in the comments field below.