Out on the court early before a game, his teammates buzzing around him and paying little mind, Andris Biedrins steps to the free-throw line.
This is where Biedrins has become something of a legend over the years — for all the wrong reasons. He hasn’t shot better than 32.3 percent from the line in any of the last five seasons.
Utah Jazz vs. Sacramento KingsAt EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff » Monday, 7 p.m.
TV » ROOT Sports
Radio » 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records » Jazz 15-29; Kings 15-27
About the Jazz » For the first time this season, Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter each played 30-plus minutes Saturday in a win over the Washington Wizards. … Utah shot 56 percent from 3-point range and notched season highs in points (122) and assists (35) last time against the Kings.
About the Kings » Forwards DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay are both day-to-day with an ankle and an Achilles injury, respectively.
But on the floor one evening, without thousands of eyes watching him, anticipating failure, Biedrins takes 15 shots. They are not the beautiful, arcing attempts; some are flat and catch the iron awkwardly. But in the end, 12 of them go in the hoop.
That’s why one of Biedrins’ former coaches doesn’t pay much mind to the struggling player’s mechanics.
"I don’t think its anything to do with form," said Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone, a former Golden State assistant. "I think it’s a confidence thing. He was not always such a poor free-throw shooter. But this game … so much of it is mental. The biggest part of it for Andris, not just from the foul line but from a whole basketball standpoint, is confidence. You go back 4-5 years ago, when he was playing with confidence, he was one of the best young big men in the NBA."
Early in his career, Biedrins was a player who went head to head with Tim Duncan and had 18 points, 15 rebounds and 6 blocks — including three straight on Duncan to help the Warriors to victory; who once pulled down 26 rebounds in a game; and who once scored 28 points and grabbed 20 boards against the Utah Jazz.
Right now, Biedrins is a 27-year-old who is in the final season of a six-year, $54 million contract; who is averaging career lows in minutes, points and rebounds; and who cannot get off the bench for a 15-win team.
Even the likable Latvian himself is unsure of what exactly has changed. But the most identifiable landmark remains the sports hernia that sidelined him in 2010. His numbers have been in decline ever since.
"I don’t know what changes," he said. "I guess it took away a little of my confidence not playing. Physically, when I came back I was feeling fine. It’s not like it was a big step back and I couldn’t run that fast or jump that high."
Biedrins’ free-throw shooting mirrored the decline. He shot 62 percent from the stripe in 2007-08 and 55 percent the following season.
In the five years since, he’s averaging just 21 percent.
By the end of last season, Biedrins said he was ready for a change. "At the end, I didn’t have any fun [in Golden State] anymore," he said. So when he was traded to the Jazz in July along with Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush, Biedrins hoped for a fresh start and a chance to rebuild his game.
It has yet to happen.
Jazz coach Ty Corbin has been pleased with Biedrins’ contributions: "Andris has been great, man. He comes into practice every day and works. He’s been a great teammate for these guys. He’s waiting and ready for an opportunity when he gets it."
But those haven’t come around very often. Biedrins has appeared in just six games this season, the last coming Dec. 16 in Miami.
Biedrins said he has discussed his role with Corbin and there are "not any problems." He said the Jazz locker room feels like "a family" and he’s enjoying helping young big men Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert develop.
But it hasn’t helped his own confidence, with his basketball future uncertain.
"Of course it’s hard to get confidence when you’re not playing," he said. "You can be as good as you want in practice, you can play well in practice, but it’s not the same. It’s hard to build confidence when you’re not playing. It’s as simple as that."
One of the center’s last extended opportunities to play came against Sacramento, a few days before his two-minute outing in Miami. Trailing early in the first quarter, Malone called for three intentional fouls on his former player.
"I kind of knew he was going to do that," said Biedrins, who will see Malone again Monday when the Kings come to EnergySolutions Arena. "I guess it’s part of the game. … It kind of throws you off. You just got into the game and you want to make something good and right away you have to go the free-throw line."
Biedrins took six attempts — his only free throws of the season — and hit only one.Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.