Back in May, Detroit Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy casually mentioned using "some virtual reality stuff" to improve Andre Drummond's free throw shooting in an interview with ESPN's Zach Lowe. It turns out that virtual reality has been a significant part of Drummond's offseason -- in an interview with Pistons.com's Keith Langlois, the All-Star center revealed that he has been using it consistently:
"I've been doing it three times every week. I have a system (at the team's Auburn Hills practice facility) and I have one at my house, too," Drummond said. "So every day after practice, I'll go home or watch it here."
Drummond puts on a headset and watches himself making free throws. He can choose a first-person view, where he hears the basketball hitting the court as he dribbles, then sees the ball go over his head, up and into the hoop. Or he can choose third-person perspectives and watch his technique from various angles.
"They're all makes, obviously, so it's constantly watching myself shoot the same shot, over and over again, and now while I'm out there it's second nature. I know I'm not going to be able to make every shot and that's one thing I really had to tell myself. But the more I shoot the same shot, the better chance of making it."
Drummond said that "it was hell for me" at first, but he eventually gave in and accepted that he needed to try something different. Last season, he made one-third of his free throws and was regularly benched at the end of close games, so it's not hard to figure out his motivation to work on this part of his game.
It's pretty weird to picture Drummond with a headset on, watching himself make free throws over and over again. Plenty of players have vouched for visualization techniques, though, and this seems like a logical extension of that. If you were in the Pistons' shoes and had just given him a five-year, $127 million maximum contract, then you'd want to try anything that could possibly make him step to the line feeling more relaxed and confident.
No one knows how this will translate during the season, but the good news is that Drummond said it is already paying off:
"I've found something that keeps me calm," he said. "Even if I do miss a shot, I found something to keep me calm and not get myself rattled. Once I missed one, I'd tense up and I'd miss the next one, too. So I found a peace within myself. Even if I do miss a shot, I'm going to be comfortable to get back up there and shoot the same shot again. Make or miss, I'm not going to be frustrated but move on to the next play."
In an interview with ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, the head of NASA's astronaut program, an ex-Navy SEAL named Chris Cassidy, recommended that poor free throws try wiggling their toes to relax when they go to the line. This technology from STRIVR, a virtual reality company that was started at Stanford, is surely a more expensive solution to the problem, but if it works, it will be worth it.