When one thinks of free throw shots, they think immediately of players standing at the line uncontested. Probably the easiest basket an NBA player could attempt outside of a wide open dunk.
Many people can scoff at the importance of free throw attempts but here is a small example of why free throws are so important to the individual player and their overall scoring prowess.
Let’s take the first example of Shaquille O’Neal with his infamous one hand technique.
Through the 2010 NBA Season as of this post, Shaquille O’Neal has attempted 11,252 free throws with a success rate of just 52.7%. On the floor, however, he has scored a field goal at an incredibly efficient 58.2%.
Let us argue that O’Neal averages 16 shots and 9 free throws in a single game. That would give him a total of 25 shots all scoring just 2 points.
At his current career success rate, O’Neal would score 18 points off field goals and 5 points off free throws for a pretty solid 23 points in that game. Most fans would be pretty happy with that total.
Now let’s pretend that O’Neal has improved his free throw percentage to 60%. That gives him the same ability to score 23 points with a likely bump of another free throw made for 24 points.
Let’s say that Shaq has radically improved and is suddenly making 73% of his free throws (similar to David Robinson for his career). Shaq suddenly scores 7 or 8 points on free throws alone, in addition to his 18 points on the floor. Now, his team has an additional “field goal” made just by Shaq increasing his free throw efficiency.
Shaquille O’Neal: Single Game Breakdown
Career Average [58.2% and 52.7%]: 18 Points + 4-5 Points = 22 to 23 Points
58.2% Field Goal and 60.0% Free T: 18 Points + 5-6 Points = 23 to 24 Points
58.2% Field Goal and 73.0% Free T: 18 Points + 6-7 Points = 24 to 25 Points
By improving his free throw shooting percentage to almost 75%, Shaquille O’Neal would have scored the equivalent of another field goal or even a 3 point shot.
Michael Jordan was an incredibly effective free throw shooter, scoring at an 83.5% rate. If you decided that Jordan started declining heavily and was approaching Allen Iverson‘s career rate of 78.0% instead, Jordan would have scored 485 fewer points in his career. Instead of making 7 points per game at the free throw line, Jordan would have scored only 6 points per game at the free throw line. Not an extreme example to a fan but maybe the Bulls wouldn’t win a game on a clinching Jordan jumper, instead merely tying the game and forcing overtime instead.
LeBron James is only shooting 74.4% for his career on his free throw attempts. He is averaging around 7 points game through his free throws alone. If James were more efficient and shooting around 85%, he would be scoring an additional 8 points a game. Add that up over the course of a season and suddenly the team he is playing for scores an additional point a game. James himself would add an additional 82 points to his end of year total.