Andrei Kirilenko has always been a solid player, as his career averages of 12.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game would indicate.
He's also a fine free-throw shooter: Kirilenko entered the season shooting over 76 percent from the line across his 11 years in the NBA. For context, LeBron James is a career 75 percent shooter from the charity stripe.
However, something odd has afflicted Kirilenko's free-throw shooting this season. He's shooting only 51 percent from the line this season, which ESPN.com indicates is good for 412th out of 474 players.
It seems he's caught basketball's version of the yips. Whereas some baseball players forget how to throw the ball across the diamond and some golfers suffer bizarre inabilities to putt, Kirilenko has run into a psychological blockade at the free-throw line.
The issue has only become prevalent in the last six weeks or so. Through February 7, Kirilenko was shooting 65 percent from the line—subpar for him, but far from catastrophic.
Since then, however, Kirilenko has made only 15 of his 45 free throws or a paltry 33.3 percent. He even looks a little bit befuddled at the line, awkwardly releasing shots that clang off the back iron.
Others have picked up on Kirilenko's struggles:
Kirilenko doesn't get to the line very often—only three times per game on average—which might explain his inability to find a rhythm. Guys like Kevin Durant, who take 10 free throws per game, can simply shoot their way through slumps thanks to such high volume.
Another indication that Kirilenko's problem is mental and not physical is that his field-goal percentage is an excellent 54 percent for the season. He can make baskets in the natural flow of the game, but is thrown off by the task of sinking an uncontested 14-footer.
Kirilenko's poor free-throw shooting has been costly to the Nets on at least one occasion already.
In a tight game against the Washington Wizards last Saturday, Kirilenko missed three out of four free throws late in the fourth quarter. Brooklyn would go on to lose, compromising its intentions to climb the Eastern Conference standings.
The bigger issue is the potential for teams to start fouling Kirilenko on purpose late in close games. If Kirilenko doesn't fix his current problem, opponents may start sending him to the line intentionally in an effort to save time or waste Brooklyn's offensive possessions.
There was Hack-a-Shaq, Hack-a-Howard and now there might be Hack-an-Andrei.
That would be troublesome for the Nets. Kirilenko is a good defender and Brooklyn would like to have him on the court in clutch situations. If he's a liability at the line, though, head coach Jason Kidd might have to keep him on the bench.
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com unless explicitly stated otherwise.
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