I received the following question from a reader recently:

Jared, what’s up with Biedrens? Very limited production and playing time. Still injured? Not playing by Nelson’s choice?

I thought I’d answer the question here and share with everybody. Any thoughts you have on the situation are of interest to me, so post your diagnosis in the comments field.

I had planned to write this Sunday, but my procrastination allowed Biedrins to go out and play one of his best games of the season in the Warriors’ 108-104 win against the Hawks. Biedrins had 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal in 33 minutes. His offense wasn’t there (four points) but this team doesn’t need Biedrins to score a lot of points, just be enough of a threat on offense to keep opposing defenses honest. Expectations for a healthy and productive Biedrins is double-digit rebounds and a couple blocks each night. Any offense he provides is welcome, but not crucial to the Warriors’ chances of success.

So far this season, because of injuries and decreased production (in comparison to his career statistics) since his return, Biedrins has failed to meet those expectations.

Here are his average statistics from 2006-2009 (I’ll exclude his first two seasons because he played so few minutes): 28.8 minutes, 10.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.47 blocks, 1.37 assists, .601 FG% (7.6 attempts), .563 FT% (2.7 attempts).

Here are his average statistics this season with differential from the above numbers in parentheses: 24.0 minutes (-4.8), 5.3 points (-5.3), 8.0 rebounds (-2.1), 1.43 blocks (-0.04), 1.8 assists (+0.43), .619 FG% [4.2 attempts] (+.018%), .130 FT% [0.8 attempts] (-.433%)

Here are his average stats adjusted to 28.8 minutes (his playing time from 2006-2009): 6.4 points (-4.2), 9.6 rebounds (-0.5), 1.7 blocks (+0.23), 2.2 assists (+0.8).

Obviously, the issue is Biedrins’ offense. It’s a chain reaction (links to the chain are in bold), starting with Biedrins’ inability to hit free throws this season. Biedrins has never been a good free throw shooter, but he made enough of them in earlier seasons to keep the defense from intentionally sending him to the line. This season is a different story. Biedrins’ cumulative line at the line in 2009-10: 3 for 23.

Biedrin’s inability to hit free throws has messed with his head, to the point that Biedrins has lost his confidence and appears as if he’s scared to get involved in the offense. That’s one of the reasons Biedrins’ field goal and free throw attempts have taken such a dive this season. When you watch him on the court, it looks like he’s afraid the defender is going to foul him if he’s in a good position to score. Biedrins is so terrified of stepping to the line and wasting a possession with two missed free throws that he has removed himself from the offense.

The result of Biedrins’ losing confidence in his offense is that Don Nelson has lost confidence in Biedrins, and so he has been faster to take Biedrins out of the game this season when his tentativeness has gummed up the offense. That’s why you see the drop in Biedrins’ minutes. He’s playing only 24 this season, down from 30 last season.

The problem with Biedrins has nothing to do with his injury. He gets up and down the court fine and appears to be moving around fine when he’s in the game.

Biedrins is still rebounding the ball at virtually the same rate as he has throughout his career and his blocks and assists are up this season. His offense away from the free-throw line, when he’s not avoiding the ball, has also been on par with his career numbers; his field-goal percentage this season (62 percent) is actually an improvement. So, the problem is the free throw line. Biedrins can’t make a free throw this season, and that has made him timid on offense. Biedrins has never been and will probably never be a dominant offensive force, but he has to be willing to work within the flow of the offense, playing with the confidence that will make the defense respect him.

The solution seems simple (but it’s not): Biedrins has to start making his free throws.

So much of basketball is mental. Nobody knows what makes a player who has shot between 50 and 60 percent from the free throw line during his career stumble to a 3-for-23 start. I don’t have an answer for Biedrins. I’m sure he’s met with sports psychologists and I’m sure the Warriors are running him through varied drills to help him find his free throw stroke again. Beyond that, the frustrating answer might be time. I’m confident Biedrins will come out of this slump. I’m not confident it will happen this season. This might be the kind of thing that requires offseason rehabilitation.

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