Jor­dan flips big­gest weak­ness into strength

Cen­ter is mak­ing his free throws

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Martin Rogers

De­An­dre Jor­dan has turned his most em­bar­rass­ing weak­ness into a strength worth cel­e­brat­ing, yet get­ting him to talk about it is no easy task.

Why not? Be­cause not talk­ing about it means not think­ing about it, and not think­ing about it was the se­cret to fixing the prob­lem.

The Mav­er­icks cen­ter’s free throw shoot­ing woes were so en­trenched head­ing into the sea­son that they were al­most part of his charm, with a ca­reer mark of 45.0 per­cent spread over a decade.

This sea­son has seen an ex­tra­or­di­nary rev­o­lu­tion in his pro­duc­tiv­ity from the stripe, with the 6-11 for­mer Clip­pers player firing at an 82.4 per­cent clip head­ing into Tues­day.

That kind of shift is way be­yond a typ­i­cal level of improve­ment and doesn’t come close to fall­ing within your stan­dard de­vi­a­tion based on a sam­ple size that is still rel­a­tively small. It’s the kind of thing that makes you won­der if there isn’t an im­pos­tor wear­ing a Jor­dan mask suit­ing up for the Mavs each night while still re­tain­ing all of the big man’s re­bound­ing and de­fen­sive skills.

“I’m try­ing not to think about it as much (as be­fore),” he told USA TO­DAY when asked what he had changed. The whole “not think­ing” thing might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Jor­dan, 30, used to think and think and over­think, his mind tor­tured by the ex­pec­ta­tion of fail­ure and the po­ten­tial for hu­mil­i­a­tion, and it would drive him to dis­trac­tion.

Op­po­si­tion crowds knew of his free throw trou­bles all too well and needed no en­cour­age­ment to re­mind him of them, while the Hack-a-Jor­dan pol­icy was rou­tinely used by teams that figured foul­ing him was an easy way to get the ball back with min­i­mal dam­age. No longer.

“I’ve just been work­ing on it,” he asked. “That’s it. Get­ting a lot of reps up. I think it is just be­ing com­fort­able up there too, fo­cus­ing on my rou­tine and what I’m work­ing on.”

Through nine games, Jor­dan had shot from the line 34 times and sunk 28 of those efforts. It put him a very re­spectable tied for 52nd in the league among qual­ified play­ers and ahead of the likes of James Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

Jor­dan’s stroke looks smooth, his feet are slightly stag­gered by de­sign but he seems per­fectly bal­anced and, more than any­thing, comes across as some­one with the confidence and abil­ity to knock the shot down in­stead of a star­tled deer who wishes he were any­where else.

Per­haps it was as sim­ple as a change in scenery. Jor­dan was with the Clip­pers for 10 years and nearly joined the Mavs three years ago, be­fore a late change of mind when mem­bers of Los An­ge­les’ play­ing and coach­ing staff staged a dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion.

Since switch­ing to Texas he has been given greater re­spon­si­bil­ity at both ends of the floor and is flour­ish­ing. Dal­las is 2-7 but has shown signs of prom­ise un­der head coach Rick Carlisle, with Slove­nian young­ster Luka Don­cic al­ready a lead­ing rookie of the year con­tender. Jor­dan signed a one-year deal for about $24 mil­lion, and his en­hanced free throw abil­ity will do no harm to his chances of land­ing a longer-term max deal at the end of the cam­paign.

He be­lieves the men­tal con­tent­ment he feels in Dal­las has had a tan­gi­ble im­pact on his game.

“It was a great 10 years for me (in Los An­ge­les),” he added. “But this has been a chance for me to step out­side the box. I am a per­son that doesn’t do well with change, but this has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence. The game is al­ways go­ing to change and the world is al­ways go­ing to change, we are go­ing to change as peo­ple. I’m try­ing to fo­cus on what is present and ev­ery­thing else will hap­pen nat­u­rally.”

MARK J. REBILAS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

De­An­dre Jor­dan was a ca­reer 45 per­cent shooter from the free throw line en­ter­ing the sea­son.

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