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DeAndre Jordan working on what he can control to make up for what he can’t

Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Next year’s Nets will be the best team DeAndre Jordan has played with since the failed Clippers championship team, or should I say, “Lob City.” With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving active and healthy next season, Jordan will finally be able to play for a team that can contend for a championship again. This time around, however, his impact will likely stand out even more and here is why ... he is a much better free throw shooter and passer. As the near seven-footer has slowed down, something that can’t be changed, DJ has compensated by improving in areas where he can change ... adapting to adjust.

Of the two, the improvement in free throw shooting is the more impressive. When you looked at Jordan’s free throw shooting, Jordan always had a great form at the line.

That made things even confusing for his teammates and fans when they watched Jordan struggle year after year. Back in 2018, his former Clippers teammate Paul Pierce said, “I saw him practice every single day, he made them ALL THE TIME.”

His free throw struggles were evident early in his career. Jordan’s shooting percentage was a shocking 38.5 percent in 2009-10, the worst of his career. When the 2012 Clipper “Big 3” was formed and Jordan began improving his overall game, even more eyes were on him when he stepped to the line. After breaking 50 percent for the first time in his career in 2011-12, his free throw percentage dipped back down to 38.5 percent, the third worse percentage of his career. His lack of success became more glaring not just to the league, but also the media.

What was the problem? His form was fine. He admitted it was in his head.

In 2016, Jordan told J.J Redick, one of the ten best free throw shooters of all time, that he’d get “frustrated and nervous” when he shot free throws. “I used to think, ‘Don’t f—king air ball. Anything but an air ball. I don’t want to be on Shaqtin’ a Fool.’”

Redick knew what DJ was talking about. Redick had said in an interview with Business Insider that “Free throws are all mental. It’s the only time in a basketball game where everything stops and everyone is looking at you.”

He even revealed, “I have actually over the years shortened my free throw routine so that I stop thinking so much.”

Then, things changed, some might say magically. Once Jordan (finally) arrived in Dallas in 2018, it was the beginning of something special. His free throw percentage spiraled up almost instantly, but how?

DeAndre Jordan began testing out new routines with Rick Carlisle and the staff, both mental and physical. This involved some random talking with teammates before shooting a free throw, shooting his free throws at a quicker pace, and a little bit of an adjustment on where his feet would be. When Jordan found his rhythm, he did not look back. He was able to improve to a dazzling 71%.

When DeAndre Jordan was asked about what he was doing differently at the free throw line his answer was simple, but yet hard to believe, “Nothing.”

Rick Carlisle was also asked about Jordan’s free throw shooting when he was leading the team in free percentage. He said, “We talked to him about a couple things that we thought could help and he put in the work. I’m real happy for him, this is a big thing.”

But there may have been something else. Jordan took up meditation. In the 2018 preseason while on the Mavericks, Jordan missed a game and the team was told that he was meditating with Tibetan Monks!

Meditation in fact became a big part of his life. Jordan even has his own meditation room and chair in his new home in Manhattan. Just last week, in an interview with his friend, Andy Puddicombe, co-founder and Voice of Headspace, spoke in general about how meditation had helped him “empty my mind.”

‘You start to really focus on yourself, and I think that it is a big thing about meditation.” he told Puddicombe. “Everyone has ups and downs in their life and for me my job is a very emotional job. the roller coasters are very high and low but we wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t emotional like that but I think the more times I can keep it here (moving his hand side to side), not only for me health-wise, but for my team.”

So no more worrying about air balls or Hack-a-Jordan or Shaqtin-a-Fool.

Year after year, Jordan has only become more and more comfortable shooting free throws. After being traded from the Mavs to the Knicks in 2019, it did not stop. His percentage climbed to 77%. As he continued improving, more people began chiming in to cheer DeAndre’s resurgence at the line. A relieved Paul Pierce said what he had once seen in practice was now the norm, “Now it has carried over to the game. I was tired of watching the hack-a- Jordan.” said Pierce.

Going into 2020, it is safe to say that the Nets big man is reliable at the line, shooting 68 percent so far this season. Whether it is Jordan randomly talking to his teammates before his free throw, speeding up his routine, just simply adjusting his positioning — or meditation, DeAndre Jordan has found his groove at the free throw line.

In fact, he’s become a case study for more than one shooting coach. Here’s Collin Castellaw of Shot Mechanics talking up DJ’s “revolution”...

It’s not just free throw shooting. Since DeAndre Jordan’s memorable Clipper days, he has become a better passer and it shows. Playing with the old “Big 3” of him, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DJ’s highest assist number for a season was 1.2, well … until CP3 was traded to the Rockets.

Since then, Jordan improved his averages to 2.0 assists on the Mavericks, 3.0 in limited time on the Knicks, and now 1.9 on the Nets in his short time here. Jordan has even found a new way to celebrate along the way. He’ll pick up an imaginary dime from the floor after dismantling a team’s defense with an assist.

Those numbers should pick up whenever the Nets get back on the court. After all, having two of one of the most prolific scorers to ever play the game will only give Jordan more of those imaginary dimes to pick up (no pun intended).

Jordan has always been a great rebounder, defender and efficient scorer, not to mention an effervescent personality that teammates and coaches enjoy. That is what he has been known for his whole career.

Jordan knows he’s aging (in basketball years anyway) but he has adjusted his game to adapt to new demands. Now with the 31-year-old DeAndre Jordan gaining more chemistry with his new teammates, becoming a better free shooter, and improving his IQ so that his passes can pick apart defenses, there’s little doubt his impact will stand out when Durant and Irving make their returns to the lineup next year.