Why Is Mason Plumlee Left-Handed Now?

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When Mason Plumlee was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2009, when he won an NCAA Tournament at Duke in 2010, when he became a first round draft pick in 2013, when he won a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup, he did so while shooting with his right hand. And this makes sense—he’s a right-handed guy! In fact, it was was dexterity and fluency with the ball that made all of those achievements possible—his main asset as a player is that he’s an uncommonly good passer and ball-handler for a 6’11 center, which is the reason he’s such an insatiable triple-double fiend. And yet, with his ninth NBA season coming to a close, he’s shooting free throws lefty. What gives? 

Although Plumlee has never been an especially good free-throw shooter, he’s usually been good enough to not have to consider switching hands. This year, though, he’s been the worst free-throw shooter in the NBA, hitting a paltry 38.2 percent of his attempts from the line. Since he switched hands on March 11th, though, he’s made nearly 60 percent of his free throws.

“It’s not like I had anything to lose,” Plumlee said to the Charlotte Observer, “based on how I was shooting from the free-throw line.”

By making such a drastic change, Plumlee joins a long line of big men who have tried to troubleshoot their troubled shots. Famously, Wilt Chamberlain briefly experimented with shooting underhanded, while Tristan Thompson converted to right-handedness in 2013. 

. At the most basic level, free throw shooting is probably the easiest thing that happens on an NBA court; I, a blogger, can make them and you, a blog reader, can make them too! Accordingly, free throw shooting is more of a mental action than a physical one. As such, all the facile arguments about Ben Simmons or Russell Westbrook shooting with the “wrong hand” miss the point. Russell Westbrook’s free throw shooting is borked by the fact that he’s had to change his routine to comply with new NBA rules; Ben Simmons is bad at free throws because he was broken by the weight of Philly’s collective insanity. In this sense, Plumlee’s switch is ultimately more of a placebo than a panacea. By shooting with his left hand, he didn’t magically morph into Steph Curry as much as he returned to being Mason Plumlee. But Plumlee’s new lefty-hood is more than just a backup center doing something pleasantly weird; it’s a testament to the fragility of free-throw shooting. 

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