Thursday, February 9, 2017

KU’s Josh Jackson still searching for fix to free throw woes

Kansas freshman wing Josh Jackson hoists up a shot prior to Saturday's game against Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas freshman wing Josh Jackson hoists up a shot prior to Saturday's game against Oklahoma State at Allen Fieldhouse.


For all of the high-flying dunks, big time passes and huge point totals that have led to six double-doubles, Kansas freshman Josh Jackson still can’t get comfortable at the free throw line.

After making 8-of-11 from the free throw line in back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma in early January, Jackson has made just 26-of-62 free throws in the eight games since.

During that same period, Jackson found his stroke elsewhere and watched his 3-point percentage soar from .257 through 16 games to .355 through 24 games, meaning, that in the past eight games, Jackson has shot better from 3-point range (.481) than he has from the free throw line (.419).

That sub-50-percent shooting clip from the charity stripe has plenty of people, including Jackson, concerned about what is ailing him when he steps to the line for what should be easy points. But the preferred approach toward fixing it continues to be to let Jackson sort it out himself.

“That’s a more mental thing,” said KU assistant Kurtis Townsend while filling in for Bill Self on Tuesday night’s Hawk Talk radio show. “He doesn’t think about it when he shoots a 3 because it happens so quick. But when they hand him the ball (for a free throw) he’s got 10 seconds and who knows what’s going through his mind between the time they hand him the ball and he shoots it.”

For the season, Jackson is shooting just .543 from the free throw line (69-of-127), but his recent eight-game stretch has been by far his worst and brought his average from .662 through 16 games to its current mark.

Jackson went to the line almost as many times in those last eight games (62) as he did during KU’s first 16 games (65), which only emphasizes the importance of Jackson finding comfort and confidence at the free throw line.

While the third-ranked Jayhawks (21-3 overall, 9-2 Big 12) certainly would take a few more free points each game, there are reasons beyond the scoreboard that Jackson and the KU coaching staff would like to see his performance at the line improve in the coming weeks.

“We’re not gonna take him out to avoid him getting fouled,” Self said after Jackson’s 2-of-5 showing at Kansas State on Monday night. “He’s gonna have to make ’em because the ball’s gonna be in his hands in late-game situations.”

To that end, Townsend insists that free throw shooting is not something that Jackson or the rest of the team takes lightly. Not only do the Jayhawks shoot them at the end of every practice, but Townsend also said there is an unspoken expectation that the players shoot free throws on their own free time, as well, be it at the practice gym, inside Allen Fieldhouse or at the smaller gym at McCarthy Hall.

“You know, we’ve worked with him and he’ll make 90 percent in practice, I promise you,” Townsend said of Jackson. “And then he gets in the game and he says it’s a whole different kind of pressure. So that’s kind of mental for him, but it’s not because he’s not working at it or trying. That’s just something that he’s gotta figure out.”

The whole saga is not unlike one Kansas already went through once this season.

Remember back in November, when the Jayhawks opened the season by hitting just 12-of-52 3-point attempts (.231) in their first three games, leaving people everywhere wondering what was wrong with the Jayhawks’ outside shooting?

Each time the Jayhawks were asked, no matter who was being interviewed, the thought that rolled off their tongues sounded something like this: “We’ll be fine.”

It turns out, they were right. Kansas is currently shooting .417 from 3-point range as a team, a number that balloons to .438 since that rough three-game stretch to open the season.

Whether Jackson’s free-throw shooting takes a similar turn remains to be seen. But Townsend and the rest of the Jayhawks are betting on Jackson.

“He’s mentally tough enough to overcome something like that,” Townsend said. “I think he’ll be fine as we go along.”

Bragg's ankle OK

During his regular weekly meeting with the media on Thursday, Self said the injured left ankle that momentarily knocked Carlton Bragg Jr. from the Kansas State game on Monday night had not been a problem this week.

"He practiced (Wednesday)," Self said of Bragg, who continued to practice with the team during a recent three-game suspension that was lifted Monday night. "We shot (Wednesday), and then the guys that hadn't played a ton of minutes practiced. So hopefully we've got kind of a combination of having a workout in and keeping guys off their feet for the most part, as well."

Both Self and junior Devonte' Graham said the gap between games — Monday at KSU to Saturday at Texas Tech — had provided the Jayhawks with a good chance to get some rest.

"I think we definitely needed these two days," Graham said.

More on Mason's dive

Also on Thursday, Self was asked one final time for his thoughts on the hustle play by Frank Mason III that took the senior point guard over press row and into a table before he jumped back into the action to pick up a steal late in the KU victory.

"Best play that we've had here in a long time," Self said. "You know, Jamari (Traylor's) play last year (vs. Texas) was an unbelievable play. It ended up being a better play because we scored off of it. Of course, (with) Frank, it would have saved him a lot of fatigue if he would have just deflected it out of bounds. But to see the dive and to see him pop back over the table and then run back in and not know who's he's guarding and find the open man and then go steal the pass and dribble down and dribble it off his leg out of bounds, you know, kind of negated the hustle. But if he'd have finished that play, that would go down as the best hustle play in college basketball this year."


Suzi Marshall 3 years, 5 months ago

If Jackson does not improve his FT shooting considerably by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, I hope Self reconsiders giving Jackson the ball in late game situations.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 3 years, 5 months ago

Josh inbounding seems perfect with mason and graham able to ball handle. Who would you rather be out there? Curious, not calling you out or anything. When the ball can get down to the end Josh is a good scorer whether he draws a foul or not.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 5 months ago

Even if Jackson does not improve his FT shooting, I certainly hope Jackson he remains in the game. Jackson can convert back door and ally opp plays. I just don't want him handling the ball much under two minutes in a 1 or 2 possession game. Jackson getting fouled is like having a turnover.

Henry Joseph Hofmeister 3 years, 5 months ago

Hear that Mason? I think Bill is calling you out, next time you have to double down and finish. lol, just kidding, don't injure yourself. That was the highlight of the year so far though. hands down the epitome of finish it team leadership of a game.

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

When you shoot free throws, there should only be three things in the world. You. The ball. And an imaginary spot on the center of the back of the rim.

Searching for a fix to free throws includes practicing them.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 5 months ago

The best way to get a fix is practice....putting up lots of shots.

RJ King 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't quite understand what is your point (Joe and Susie). Self said they practice FT's all the time. ???

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

That may be the case. But Josh still needs more work. Approach the problem a different way and ask, "If Josh is ever going to get better at shooting them, what's it going to take?"

We talkin' bout practice.

Even if there are things inside his head, once a coach or shrink or whomever helps to de-bug Josh's brain, he's still going to have to practice to get in the habit of doing it the right way. Honestly, my guess is that his free throws are so poor, it'll probably only get ironed out in the pros.

Home Depot does not sell enough nails and plywood to fix what's wrong with Josh's FTs. It's gonna take practice. More of it.

Suzi Marshall 3 years, 5 months ago

Josh does have a great release going for him and that is by far the most important. His lower body mechanics seem to be where most of his work needs to be. Even with that, he can overcome through practice, practice and more practice, where one builds confidence.

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

Confidence, indeed! But also the "muscle memory" (which is really "nerve" memory, forging a path of synapses so that the muscle action resulting from nervous input is finely-tuned, regular, and predictable). This is the same reason why pianists, after learning a song, need little cognitive input with regard to where their fingers are placed during note or chord progressions. Repetition is key. Repetition in a sports scenario is called "practice".

Mike Riches 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm sure he shoots 90% in practice because he develops a rhythm. In a game, you can never really get into a rhythm at the line. I'm sure by now, he has a hundred things going through his mind every time he steps to the line: more arch, backspin on the ball, focus on one point, visualize it going through the net, bend your legs, muscle memory, follow through, etc., etc., etc. No wonder he's overthinking it...

Greg Ledom 3 years, 5 months ago

Rhythm isn't how many times you get to the line in a game, it's the rhythm that's developed before you ever get to the line in a game. Find what works for you and do it over and over and over again and you will get rhythm. Rock Chalk!

Adam Collins 3 years, 5 months ago

Maybe instead of going through the layup line in pre game Jackson should get up some free throws.

Ben Kane 3 years, 5 months ago

I'll trade the miss FTs for the made 3s. He's inbounding the ball in the final seconds of the game so i don't think it's as big of a deal as people are fearing.

Robert Brock 3 years, 5 months ago

Jackson's free throw shooting looks like someone throwing darts in a British pub (after several pints).

Barry Weiss 3 years, 5 months ago

with his leaping ability, I would prefer he potentially be the player to take an inbound pass up by the rim, but the FT struggles are real. "The line does not lie". Sidenote, I truly think Josh is the best player, college or pro, that I have ever seen put back his own missed shot. He is insane good at that.

Roger Ortega 3 years, 5 months ago

i don't know Barry! Wiggins was really good and really quick at that. But Josh is def up there.

Buck Bukaty 3 years, 5 months ago

IMO, nobody will be better than average at best without proper free throw shooting form and address. Standing up straight chukin’ the ball in the general direction of the rim with no touch isn’t gonna cut it. Visualize Wilt Chamberlain, the glaring weakness in his game. Likewise, numerous rituals before your address, i.e. spinning the ball in your hands before chuckin’ brings nothing to the party and most likely adds to your stress as opposed to what should be relaxed form and touch.

It’s probably too late in the season and counterproductive to be making drastic changes to one’s shooting form, but during the first KSucks game I literally got out of my chair and clapped when I saw their Dean Wade shoot a free throw. Near perfect form and touch. Knees flexed, bent forward at the waist, freeze, pause, and the soft touch of the shot is nothing more than minimal wrist action and release of the elbows at a consistent arc. Floating a butterfly to the rim. Easy to replicate even at the end of the game when one is tired. He obviously takes seriously having every edge over his opponent . Golfers would have it so down if their mechanics and “free” motion were so easy.

Just my two cents. Would have preferred not to comment on this subject matter, but The Syracuse Game still haunts me. Sorry for the intrusion.

Jerry Walker 3 years, 5 months ago

I agree with your description and the value of proper free throw a perfect world. Jackson's mechanics are so far out of whack that I don't think there's time left in the season to fix them.

Solution? Scrap all the emphasis on the mechanics of proper technique and think of the old Pop-a-Shot game that was once found in many pubs.You remember, no emphasis on body mechanics...just a simple arm motion repeated over and over. He's certainly strong enough to one-arm the free throw. Just freeze the body, quit worrying about all the mechanics and flick the ball into the basket.

Well, that's my 2 cents worth.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 5 months ago

Showing my age but I remember a great free throw shooter named Hal Greer for the Philly 76'rs who used to take a jump shot at the foul line. The foul shot is the only non-moving shot in basketball. Maybe it makes sense to do something more akin to how you are playing the game.

Granted you hardly ever see it shot like this any more but maybe this is what Josh needs to focus on the shot. Right now it seems to me that he just walks up to the line and with hardly any hesitation just flings it up there. Maybe take an extra beat pause before shooting.

i was a great foul shooter but, unfortunately a terrible basketball player so I saw a lot of games from the end of the bench. It's pretty hard to hit your foul shots from that spot!!

Edward Daub 3 years, 5 months ago

Tony, thanks for the memories! I think of Hal when I drive down Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington, West Virginia. Hal was born and raised there, stayed home to play for Marshall, before turning Pro. Outside of Jerry West, he is the greatest player ever from the State of WV!

Michael Sillman 3 years, 5 months ago

I know that Jackson absolutely needs to be on the floor at the end of games but he doesn't need to be a ball handler.

To me Jackson's best role at the end of games would be hitting the offensive glass.

I do think that coaches will be intentionally fouling him whenever he has the ball at the end of close games.

James Donnell 3 years, 5 months ago

I hope Josh can improve his FT's and soon. As good as he is, this weakness is likely to hurt us in some big games. What should be three point plays are often two point. Or if he misses the shot, it is 50/50 whether we get any points from the possession. While unorthodox in form, he occasionally has a decent stroke at the line and swishes them. The rest of the time, when he badly misses, he seems to be "shot putting" the ball toward the rim. So there is no doubt a mental part for him. It's too late to do an overhaul of his form and mechanics, but he needs to think "smooth stroke" when he goes to the line.

Dale Rogers 3 years, 5 months ago

Why not simulate the pressure on Jackson shooting free throws by putting him in a two-man contest shooting free throws at the end of practice. Make it so if he loses he has to do something he considers onerous. I don't know what that might be. Clean a toilet? Wash and fold the team's underwear? If he has enough pressure to hit the free throws maybe the pressue in the game won't seem so difficult.

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't know if that would work or not, but the idea of JJ folding the team's underwear is an hilarious image! Thanks for the smiles, Dale!

David Robinett 3 years, 5 months ago

Arc would help.

His FTs are totally flat,which requires perfect accuracy as opposed to a higher arching shot that makes the circle of the rim wider.

If he can't get that down, he should actually shoot jump shots. It takes some guts to be different like that but he would probably shoot a much higher percentage.

Joe Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

Maybe we should hire Rick Barry to come in and switch things up for JJ. LOL. His son helped to win a championship here so maybe he would.

Just kidding, of course. Waaaay too late in the game to make major changes like that. But on a serious note, the underhanded shot does confer a trajectory on a free throw attempt that does exactly what you're describing: give it more arc. I haven't paid enough attention to JJ's free throws to know if arc is the issue or not (admittedly I have to look away), but coaches typically say that if lack of trajectory is a problem, a shooter could help himself by "getting his knees into the shot" (bending his knees prior to the shot and straightening them out as the arms release the ball).

Edward Daub 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey Joe! Great Stuff! Yes, Rick Barry was the greatest underhand free throw shooter of all time! He tried to get his 4 sons, Scooter, etc. , to follow his lead but they declined. I was watching Florida play the other day and a young man named Canyon Barry was shooting his free throws underhand. Come to find out, Canyon is also the son of Rick Barry (with Rick's third wife). Arc and Touch are improved by shooting underhand, but the Crowd will call you Sissy!

David Robinett 3 years, 5 months ago

Which is bigger? The side of a quarter or the face of a quarter? That's what the ball is looking at so to speak.

Jeff Coffman 3 years, 5 months ago

Seeming that the University of Kansas is credited by one of our outstanding professors as a leader of the strengths perspective, we should leverage that.

If you recall Shaq was notorious for missing FTs, he practices those and than his rebounding and power dunks reduced. They fired the coach and brought in a new coach. The coach focused on his rebounding and dunks...low and behold his FT percentage was the highest it was that year.

Focus on your strengths, it improves your weaknesses.

Tommy Tripp 3 years, 5 months ago

Josh if you read this watch this video of Dirk Nowitzki shooting freethrows. He steadies his body (no extra movement). Uses just his arms and finished with his arm locked straight and his wrist bent down. He even buckles his knees a bit inward to help keep his base steady.

Bert White 3 years, 5 months ago

If he doesn't mind looking awkward underhand is the way to go. Next to no extra motions that can cause inconsistencies. But I remember reading/seeing someone that said they helped coach Wilt Chamberlain to something like 70-80% underhanded and when he asked him why he didn't do it in game his reply was something along the lines of "because I don't want to look like a b***h" heheh.

Mike Greer 3 years, 5 months ago

He needs to keep searching! Not being able to hit the front of a 1&1, Lucas and Jackson almost cost this one.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.