The charity strike, or the free-throw line, is one of the most important facets in the game today. Allowing the opposition to shoot freely without any defender in their way can make or break a game.
Teams that want to be considered a legitimate threat to win the NBA Championship often have great free-throw shooters. Granted, they have great shooters in general, but that extra time makes all the difference. It’s no surprise that the best teams, in the regular season and playoffs, often have great free-throw shooters.
Let’s take a look at the defending NBA champion, Toronto Raptors. In the postseason, they were shooting 83.0% from the line. Their opponent, the Golden State Warriors, shot 81.3% from the line in the postseason.
During the regular season, the Raptors and Warriors were neighbors in free throw percentage. The Raptors shot 80.4% from the line, while the Warriors shot 80.1%.
In 2018, the Warriors won the NBA Championship and were third in the postseason in free-throw shooting percentage. The year prior, the Warriors shot 81.5% from the line. That season, the Warriors had the 5th most free-throw attempts per game.
Foul-trouble is also an important factor in the game. Down late, teams often foul the worst free-throw shooter on the court in an attempt to toss bricks. Thus, with missed shots, it allows the losing team to re-gain possession and set themselves up for a drive.
Free-throws can also be a critical moment for a player, or a team. If a player is hot, free shots at the line can allow the player to stay hot and drive up his point totals. Meanwhile, if a team or player is cold from field goal range, hitting a few free-throws could help him regain confidence.
On the flip side, if a player is cold and can’t even hit a free-throw, he could be in for a long night. He could also become the target for intentional fouls late in the game.
Take Shaquille O’Neal as an example. One of the biggest and most gifted bodies to ever play the game, O’Neal was dominant in the paint, but you would never want him to shoot a free-throw. Still, he was fouled mercilessly due to his size and spent loads of time at the line.
For half of his career, Shaq would attempt over 10 free-throws per game. In his Lakers’ days, Shaq would nail 6-to-7 Free-Throws per game. While he couldn’t shoot consistently well from the line, he was still a body you wanted every night.
With the game transitioning to a faster-pace, we don’t see guys like Shaq anymore. Players are expected to be conditioned enough to get back on defense and contribute every offensive rush on every play. That isn’t a knock on Shaq, either. But it’s hard to disagree that the game has progressed into a more-shooter friendly and quicker game. More importantly, all players on the court are required to be good shooters.
If you want to be mind-blown, look at the leaders of free-throw percentage. LeBron James was ranked 111th in the NBA last season, shooting 66.5%. Anything over 80% is considered a solid free-throw shooter.
James Harden and Joel Embiid shot the most from the line per game last season, nailing 87.9% and 80.4%. Both players are considered elite and are key factors for their team on any given night.
According to Betway, as of 1:00 P.M. on October 17th, the Los Angeles Clippers have the best odds to win the NBA Championship at +325. Last season, the Clippers shot 79.2% from the line. Their big addition this off-season was Kawhi Leonard. Leonard shot 85.4% from the line last season, which was good for 29th in the NBA.
With that being said, Leonard had the 5th most free-throw attempts per game throughout last season. Leonard was missing just one free-throw per game and his shooting from the line was a big reason the Raptors were a league leader in that category.
It’s no secret that the best teams in the NBA have the best free-throw numbers. Last season, only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves did not make the playoffs but were still a top free-throw team, at 79.2% and 78.7% respectively.
More and more coaches are adding free-throw drills at the end of practice, or implementing it into their routine. Free-throw shooting is one of the most important factors in the game, especially late in the fourth quarter.
So while teams like the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are the top choices to bring home a championship this upcoming season, teams need to dive into the analytics and importance of free-throw shooting. It could be the difference-maker in making the playoffs, missing out or even becoming an NBA champion.