Tag Archives: Shaquille O’Neal

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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Michael Olowokandi never attempted a three-pointer, which was weird

The three-point line has been a part of the NBA for 37 seasons. Since its introduction, 2,773 players and logged at least one minute in the NBA and 1,120 tallied at least 5,000 minutes.

Only seven of those players did not attempt a three-pointer, difficult to accomplish given that last-second heaves count as legit field goal attempts even if a miss flies several rows into the bleachers. Shaquille O’Neal went 1-for-22 from three over his career. The amazing Manute Bol attempted a few of them from 1986 to 1988 before going 20-for-91 in 1989. Bismack Biyombo, stone hands and all, hoisted one last season.

Michael Olowokandi played 13,129 minutes, technically the second-highest total among all players whose careers started after the 1978-79 season and finished without a single shot from beyond the arc. James Donaldson nearly doubles Olowokandi’s minute total at 26,222 without a three-point attempt, but his career lasted from 1981 to 1995, his last season when NBA teams finally surpassed 10 attempted threes per game in part because the league shortened the distance of the above the break three-point shots from 23 feet and nine inches to 22 feet. The league was slow in their transition to today’s pace-and-space era, but it was even slower to get teams comfortable with, like, shooting a three-pointer once in a while.

Below is a look at Donaldson, Olowokandi, the other five players with no attempted three in over 5,000 minutes, and a variety of stats to help get a feel for the typical skill set involved (click to enlarge):

donaldson

These players are typically low-usage players who score around the rim, possibly a good chunk of those opportunities from their own offensive rebounds given their above-average offensive rebounding (five percent is about average) and below-average assist percentages (12 percent is about average given AST/FGM/5). They also make up for their lack of spacing on offense with their rim protection on defense.

Nikola Pekovic is an exception, a career that is or nearly is done at this point, but at his best he was an absolute load to handle in the post and a wonderful compliment on offense to Kevin Love’s shooting. The tradeoff was his defense because of his flat feet and lumberjack body, but he made up for it somewhat by not fouling.

By multiple measures, Olowokandi was the worst player of the seven, the largest liability on offense by Offensive Box Plus/Minus (OBPM) and racking up not just the worst Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) of the bunch, but the worst VORP dating back to 1974. He was a very fitting center to play with prime Kevin Garnett , who I wrote about yesterday.

Going forward, both Joel Anthony and Pekovic won’t add on too much to their minute totals, if at all. Below is a look at other high minute totals from active players who have yet to an attempt a three, or heave:

boban

All of the players below Anthony and Pekovic seem to have multiple seasons ahead of them, allowing them to surpass those top two players. Boban Marjanovic, a backup center with over 6,000 minutes to go, probably won’t get there, though.

The player I would most watch out for is Hassan Whiteside, 27 years old and a lock for major minutes next season, but also a player obviously conscious of his statistics. Sure, that means he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get a defensive rebound in the final seconds of a quarter, but taking a slight hit to his field goal percentage to attempt a full-court heave doesn’t seem like something he would do.

An Andrew Bynum-like three is a different story, however:

For now, Olowokandi’s minute total without a casual three or half-court heave looks untouchable, and then there’s James Donaldson’s 26,000+ minutes. Whiteside would have to play five, maybe four full seasons to reach Olowokandi, but he would need over 10 to reach Donaldson. By that time, the NBA will have a four-pointer, probably.

This record might be unbreakable until a rule change allows for only tallying half-court heaves that are made.

All stats are from Basketball-Reference. I love you.

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