The Lost Art of Shooting Free Throws
In the highly anticipated Elite 8 matchup between Duke and Michigan State, it was expected the game would be close. Like most of the exciting recent NCAA tournament games, this contest came down to the final possession. And, on trend, the game was decided by free throws.
Terrible At The Line
RJ Barrett, widely expected to be a top 3 pick in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft, had the ball with the game on the line. Some might find this curious as he is the second best player on the team. The reason is fairly obvious: #1 option Zion Williamson shoots a paltry 64% from the charity stripe. So they gave the ball to Barrett, who is a 66.5% shooter from the line. Barrett took the ball to the rack, got fouled, and had to shoot two free throws to send the game into overtime.
The outcome, predictably, was a loss.
NBA Stars Lack Fundamentals
In a league where the NBA’s brightest star, LeBron James, shoots 66.5% from the free throw line (the EXACT same percentage as Barrett), it’s not shocking to see the next generation of NBA superstars are absolutely terrible free throw shooters. The #2 overall pick in 2017, the famous Lonzo Ball, shoots, get ready for this — 41.7% from the free throw line. As a basis of comparison, one of the most infamously inept free throw shooters in NBA history, Shaquille O’Neal, had a career FT% of 52.7%. Russell Westbrook, a perennial MVP candidate, has an FT% of 65.7% this season.
For anyone who bothers to follow the history of basketball, it’s easy to remember Michael Jordan calmly sinking free throws during crunch time to secure key victory after key victory. There’s a reason MJ has six championship rings without begging Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to team up with him. He also played DEFENSE, but that’s an article for another day. Jordan’s career FT% is 83.5% on 8.2 attempts per game.
What The Hell Happened?
It’s a curious thing. Why aren’t contemporary NBA stars better at shooting free throws? The dimensions of the court haven’t changed. The setup is identical, and those foam fingers in the background look relatively the same.
Personally, I think it’s about focus.
In an age where NBA stars are building brands before they even enter the league, playing in the world’s most famous basketball league feels more like a marketing conference than a sports competition. In an environment where NBA big men are now expected to shoot threes, it curiously also means that guards can no longer shoot free throws credibly. It would be interesting to see what the analytics say about sinking set shots with no defenders in your way?
But perhaps instead of writing about a lost skill that decides basketball games, I should be dreaming up Instagram content.
While RJ Barrett was sending the most hyped college basketball team of all time home with shooting ineptitude, he must have been thinking about how to spin this into more Twitter followers.
We call that: “pulling a LeBron.”
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