Tag Archives: free throws

Notes on updates to free throw splits

One of several screenshots Matt Femrite takes of his own stats and captions in third-person and hangs on his fridge.

Over the years, I’ve published a collection of NBA stats to fiddle with in Tableau, but updating during the season is a hassle over several months. Free throw splits were an exception, sometimes. A few days ago, I made a few changes worth writing about here rather than tweet about it only to lose its relevance after 15 seconds.

1997 to 1999

The first change was adding data from 1997 to 1999. Typically, I never include 1997 in what I research because I don’t trust the shot data on NBA.com, and the three-point line was shortened that season anyway. It was a different era I’d have to address each time when writing, though getting one extra season from players like Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal is still appealing. Of course the era doesn’t really matter for free throw splits (and jump balls). There was no shortened free throw line, though now I want to devote 5,000 words to what would happen if that was a rule change.

Flagrant and Clear Path Free Throws

The bigger obstacle not just in 1997, but up to 1999 was how flagrant and clear free throws were recorded. I don’t even remember clear path fouls being a thing, but the sequence below frequently showed up and threw off how I separated free throws. On the far left is game number along with event number, type of event which labels shots, rebounds and stuff like that, and another column to specify what kind of event it was, though the clear path free throw was initially 17 instead of 11. That column is why it’s so easy to get free throw splits in R.

Below was another snag from NBA.com’s play-by-play feed where flagrant 2 of 2’s are actually just 1 of 1, though flagrant free throw 1 of 1’s are rare:

For these reasons, I excluded those years when publishing results last year, but now I grouped the clear path free throw with free throws 1 of 2, flagrant free throw 1 of 2 into free throws 2 of 2, and flagrant 2 of 2’s with free throws 1 of 1.

The flagrant free throws were eventually fixed and ordered properly on flagrant fouls, though clear path free throws were still a thing until 2006. This is something I don’t remember watching during my childhood and I don’t remember how I ordered these free throws last year, but my guess is they weren’t included.

After running everything in R and publishing results from back then, the total free throws were typically, slightly off. That’s not just because of clear path fouls, but because of a handful of missing games each season in data I was working with. Now, clear path free throws were grouped with free throws 1 of 1, and I must’ve received full play-by-play feeds a while back since the total free throws match those from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference. Darryl Blackport for MVP, as always.

And One

The last tweak I made was differentiating and ones from all free throws 1 of 1. There are several ways a player can attempt just one free throw outside of making a basket after being fouled, though they’re all rare. There’s the away from play foul, the inbound foul, the clear path foul explained above, and the loose ball foul on a made basket. 2014 Tyler Hansbrough drew the most of these fouls with seven. There are only 28 instances with more than three. Here’s a look at the most and-ones in a single season:

Screenshotting my own stats because of my massive ego.

One thing important to note about and-one totals, though. I doubt many totals pre-2006 will match Basketball-Reference’s that can be found in the Play-by-Play section of player pages. Basketball-Reference has an Event Finder tool that helps find a ton of stuff down to the exact time in a game when it happened, but for and-ones it’s hopeless. Before 2006, fouls in play-by-play data did not include who drew the foul.

As for post-2005, let’s compare my results with Basketball-Reference’s and have the player example be the and-one king, Shaquille O’Neal.

The Event Finder’s and-one opportunities differ from what’s on the Play-by-Play section, and the Event Finder differs from my findings because of these type of sequences in play-by-play data:

Hard to explain or adjust for it. Merging lane violations with the time of made baskets is possible, but I’d guess that it’ll attract more than and-one situations and be too time consuming. Play-by-play data and R make most research quick and easy, like these free throw splits, but the more I look at the more bizarre situations I find, also like these free throw splits. Eventually, problems are solved and so should this one, but it’s just not an immediate to-do. Obviously, I’d rather screenshot my own stats.

Again, you can find free throw splits here. Enjoy somewhat useful but mostly goofy stats.

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When good true shooting percentages look bad

True shooting percentage (TS%) is a statistic that takes into account both field goals and free throws, and only 36 players have recorded one over .600 for this season. DeAndre Jordan, Andrew Bogut, Ryan Hollins, and Greg Smith are four of those players, joining the company that includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kyle Korver.

But something is off when looking at the four centers who made a list featuring a few of the best shooters in the game: their TS% is lower than their field goal percentage. You probably don’t need a table to realize that’s because those guys are poor free throw shooters, but I included one anyway. Eight other players have had the same problem this season, minimum 100 minutes played and via Basketball-Reference. They’re sorted by the total minutes they’ve logged.

True Shooting Percentage < Field Goal Percentage 

If you explore the table, you’ll notice I included other stats like PER, usage, and defensive rating. The only players with a PER over the average of 15 are Jordan, Bogut, and Andre Drummond. Bogut’s already a destructive defensive force while Jordan and Drummond at times have done the same. They also have the lowest foul rates per 36 minutes among the 12-player group, which is kind of a big deal when just about every player on that list is more known for their defense than offense, save for alley-oops. (One exception is Jan Vesely, who’s probably still known more for his draft night kiss and more-fouls-than-points-chase last season.)

Overall, 150 players in NBA history have recorded a higher field goal percentage than TS% at least once, minimum 100 minutes and including this season. When making the minimum 1,000 minutes, the number of players shrinks to 37.

I’ll end this blog post with a table of the current “lower TS% than FG%” streaks, including those who had one going into this season:

Hack-A-Drummond could be wakeup call for Detroit

If there’s a great thing about being a basketball player in a small market, it’s that nobody knows your weaknesses. DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard play in two of the biggest markets, unlike Andre Drummond who resides in Motor City, which explains why the first two are widely known as terribly free throw shooters and intentionally fouled because of it while Drummond has gone unnoticed. 

Actually, that was a terrible attempt at sarcasm. Also, I have no idea why teams haven’t intentionally fouled Drummond yet. Sure, Howard and Jordan’s shooting woes from the line are discussed more frequently, but Drummond’s percentage has been far worse, down to 16 percent after last night’s loss to the Lakers. That percentage comes from a small sample size, however, since he’s only attempted 1.3 free throws per game.

But there lies what’s so surprising. Why haven’t teams intentionally fouled him? It’s not like Drummond’s an energy guy off the bench; he plays 35.1 minutes per game, right up there with Howard and Jordan. He also logs 7.4 minutes per fourth quarter, according to NBA.com, so the opportunity to put him on the line is there when opponents need to make up ground and quickly. This isn’t meant to rip on Drummond, who’s one of the most intriguing players in the league and uploads some of the best Vines,  among other things, but he has a glaring weakness in his game that teams haven’t taken advantage of. 

Maybe the intentional fouls are coming, but if they could actually be a blessing in disguise for Detroit. This is a reach, but hack-a-Drummond could signal Maurice Cheeks to further stagger the minutes of Detroit’s best three frontcourt players of Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Josh Smith, who play 20 minutes together per game according to NBA.com. They’ve bled points on defense and cramped the spacing on offense no matter who has started in the backcourt, though the CaldwellPope and Jennings pairing at the guard positions has yielded solid defensive numbers through two games. It’s also been at the expense of having even an average offense. 

That doesn’t mean Drummond’s free throw shooting makes him unplayable, but when teams are in the penalty and outside of two minutes, they can hack away and grind Detroit’s offense to a halt. It also doesn’t mean Drummonds at fault for the frontcourt’s failures. It would be unfortunate for its split to come at the hands of teams exposing his poor free throw shooting, but if that’s the calling card for Mo Cheeks to search for more efficient frontcourt combos, then it could be for the better. 

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