Paul Pierce shot a meager 4-11 from the field en route to 16 points against the Raptors on Sunday, but in the midst of performance that he put together a perfect 7-7 performance from the free throw line. In fact, Pierce's 84.5 percent average from the free throw line this season is a career-high (his previous high was his 84.3 percent average during the 2007-2008 championship season).
He shot 83 percent from the charity stripe last season, which certainly isn't anything to snuff at (I can think of a handful of NBA players who wish they could top 80 percent from the line...coughcoughRONDO!coughcough), but Pierce routinely looked uncomfortable at the line last year, as there seemed to be too much motion in his free throw form to ever make it consistent. Half the time he would actually shoot it with a flick of the wrist and half the time he would push it off his palm, which often resulted in the ball making its way towards the rim at an awkward trajectory.
So, like most professionals would, Pierce drastically changed his form over the offseason. Last year, if you recall, Pierce would take the ball from the ref, go through his dribble/spin ritual, bend his knees and literally rock back and forth for a one or two second count (with his elbow not totally bent), as if he was trying to conjure a makeshift rhythm out of virtually nothing, before eventually rising up (now bending his elbow completely) and shooting the actual free throw. There was a lot of wasted motion in Paul's shot and with that wasted motion came more opportunities for glitches to arise as he was preparing to shoot. He might have shot coming out of that rocking motion on one free throw, but not the next. He might not have raised his elbow enough as he rose straight up to shoot. The bending of his elbow might not have been synchronized with the bending of his knees, etc.
This season though, Paul has completely wiped out all of that wasted motion and the results are showing. Now, he takes the ball from the ref, goes through his dribble/spin ritual, brings his arms straight up with his elbow bent, and shoots as he bends his knees slightly. That's it. It's a barebone form, but it's actually slightly similar to Ray Allen's. It's still more fluid and slightly looser than Ray's, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Pierce came out and said he modeled his new form after Ray's picture-perfect design.
So far this season Pierce has played in 31 games, and in 12 of those games he's made every free throw he's attempted. In seven other games he's missed just one of the free throws he's attempted. To my knowledge he hasn't addressed his free throw shooting to anyone and no other media outlet has made a point to mention it, but it's a crucial part of his game seeing as he gets to the line as much as he does. This new form will also better serve him in the final minutes of games, a time where he usually has the ball in his hands. In years past rumors swirled that he wasn't clutch at the free throw line late in games. Perhaps with this new form in tow, he can continue to dispel those rumors.