The Celtics Beagle working hard top keep up!Clang, Clang, Clang went the rims...

I've mentioned this topic in various reviews, messageboard posts, and one on one conversations over the years, but this needs a good, old-fashioned Beagle Rant.  I'm talking about Free Throws, the easiest shot in the entire NBA.  I am well and truly tired of hearing everyone making excuses for the monumentally crappy free throw shooting percentages throughout the NBA.  It didn't happen overnight, it took the last 15 years or so for the  NBA players to get this bad.

Historically, there have been a few people noted for scraping the rim
(or missing the rim entirely) come free throw time, and for anyone over 30 years of age, Wilt Chamberlain's name is at the top of the list.  Wilt was an extraordinary player, with numerous records to his credit.  His one weakness--apart from Bill Russell--was he was a rotten free throw shooter.  You'd think that the only guy who scored 100 points in an NBA game might be better, but this was not so.  Long before "Hack-a-Shaq", teams routinely fouled Chamerlain, knowing it was a high-percentage play. 

In more recent times,  the aforementioned Shaquille O'Neal has blundered his way to the line to such an extent that the single most dominating Center since the days of Chamberlain and Russell was pulled out of close games for fear his woes at the line would cost his team the win.  It was a near-mortal lock he would blow at least one, if not both, attempts every time at the line.

But today (Novembger 27, 2006), as I read, part of their NBA coverage touched on this subject.  I was totally shocked to learn the following fact.

Shaquille O'Neal is NOT the worst free throw shooter in the NBA today.

Here's a sampling that was in the article, which focused on the Eastern Conference, eight players on six different teams:

Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor - .476 (36-74)
Washington Wizards - Etan Thomas - .467 (14-30)
Orlando Magic - Darko Milicic - .452 (14-31)
Chicago Bulls - Ben Wallace - .450 (18-40)
Miami Heat - Shaquille O'Neal - .444 (8-18)
Washington Wizards - Brendan Haywood - .375 (12-32)
Miami Heat - Antoine Walker - .345 (10-29)
Boston Celtics - Kendrick Perkins - .294 (5-17) 

Consider that there are three players mentioned in the article that have worse percentages at the line than Shaq.

The article did mention three Western Conference players:

Dallas Mavericks - Erick Dampier - .452 (14-31)
Los Angeles Lakers - Kwame Brown - .368 (7-19)
New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - Tyson Chandler - .345 (10-29)

Some people feel I harp on this too much,  so I looked up the Celtics free throw stats for this season to date starting with the best:

Delonte West - .917 (11-12)
Wally Szczerbiak - .912 (62-68)
Sebastian Telfair - .862 (25-29)
Gerald Green - .818 (9-11)
Paul Pierce - .752 (103-137)
Tony Allen - .750 (21-28)
Theo Ratliff - .750 (3-4)
Ryan Gomes - .724 (21-29)
Al Jefferson - .667 (10-15)
Rajon Rondo - .600 (18-30)
Leon Powe - .579 (11-19)
Allan Ray - .500 (1-2)
Kendrick Perkins - .316 (6-19) (The Celtics played after the ESPN article was written)
Michael Olowokandi - .000 (0-0)
Brian Scalabrine - .000 (0-0)

I remind you again, that in this same time period--the regular season to today--that Shaq's free throw percentage was
.444 (8-18).  If he had that record with the Celtics, there would be three guys below him.  And we make fun of Shaq? And don't give me grief about Kandi and Scal not being at the line.  Pierce's numbers more than make up the difference, and that's giving them credit by assuming they shoot as well as Pierce when they finally do get there.

To this point of the season, the Celtics have, as a team, made 301 free throws out of 403 attempts.  That is 102 points we gave away by not making free throws over the first 13 games of the season.  Presuming that statistic remains essentially consistent,  it works out to approximately 640 points 82 games.  Eight Celtics players shoot less than 75% at the line.

I then went to and looked up the shooting stats for Free Throws in the NBA.  I did not include anyone who has not attempted any free throws as of today.
Eastern Conference                                  Western Conference
FT %        # of players                              FT%      # of players
7 (none with more than 9 attempts

1.000 13 (12 with 7 or less attempts)

.900-.999 8
41 (4 with less than 10 attempts)

43 (7 with 10 or less attempts)
32 (7 with less than 10 attempts)

29 (7 with 10 or less attempts)

13 (2 with less than 10 attempts)
22 (1 with 10 or less attempts)
15 (6 with less than 10 attempts)
14 (4 with 10 or less attempts)
21 (7 with less than 10 attempts)
20 (11 with 10 or less attempts)
8 (2 with less than 10 attempts)
3 (1 with less than 10 attempts)
3 (1 with 10 or less attempts)
2 (none with more than 7 attempts)

3 (2 with 4 or less attempts)
1 (7 attempts)

3 (only counted those making attempts)

1 (only counted those making attempts)
I then looked up where the C's stacked up against the rest of the NBA.  Keeep in mind, there's 385 NBA players, only 345 of whom have attempted any free throws as of this date.  If you look at the rankings below--keeping in mind there's a lot of ties--there's 29 guys shooting better than our best player at the line, Delonte West.  We only have three players in the top 100.  We have 5 players  from 100-200, 3 from 200-300, and 2 from 300-345.

Celtic Player                      EC NBA
Delonte West - .917 (11-12) 14
Wally Szczerbiak - .912 (62-68) 16
Sebastian Telfair - .862 (25-29) 38
Gerald Green - .818 (9-11) 52
Paul Pierce - .752 (103-137) 82
Tony Allen - .750 (21-28) 83
Theo Ratliff - .750 (3-4) 83
Ryan Gomes - .724 (21-29) 100
Al Jefferson - .667 (10-15) 116
Rajon Rondo - .600 (18-30) 133
Leon Powe - .579 (11-19) 140
Allan Ray - .500 (1-2) 150
Kendrick Perkins - .316 (6-19) 170

A free throw is an uncontested shot.  Nobody can block you.  Nobody can foul you.  You line up at the same place, every single time, and have plenty of time to make your attempt.  You can't even blame the compost ball, because there's 20 players who are perfect at the line so far, and another 21 shooting over 90% at the line.  That's 84 players shooting between 80-90%.

Far too many times, both this season and last, the Celtics lost games because of--among other things--poor free throw shooting.  These players are supposed to be among the best in the world.  There's no earthly reason that every team in the NBA shouldn't be averaging at least 80% from the line.  But the Celtics have only 7 players at 75% or better, and 2 of those are one miss from dropping below that!   If you raise the bar to 80%--8 out of every 10 free throws made--only 125 players make the cut.  Conversely, there are 27 players shooting less than 50% at the line, with 10 of those under 30%.  Shaq, shooting at .411, comes in at 326 of the 345 players making attempts.

Even if you get generous and call 75% or better "proficient",  there's  186 out of 345 players doing that.  Just over half the players who actually made any attempts.  The Celtics' numbers correspond pretty closely to the NBA numbers.

The point behind all this is that the free throw--one of the very first shot a basketball player should be learning, and the only one that is shot the exact same way every time--has been ignored so long, it's become a joke.  The worst guy on the team should be shooting at 80%.  Your best guys, like Pierce,  should all be over 90%.  Every time someone steps to the line in the NBA, it should be nearly a "gimme", not a cliffhanger.

For years, I faulted Shaq for his rotten performance at the line, and I still do.  But I don't point him out nearly as much when the Good Guys are blowing free throws all over the court.  Let's put an end to this embarrassment, and encourage every NBA player--most definitely including the Celtics--to make the most of their chances at the line every game.

And that's the view from the doghouse.