If you follow enough Raptors fans on twitter or surround yourself with enough Raptors fans, one thing you’ve probably read and heard enough of is complaints that the Raptors don’t go to the free throw line as much as they should.
Whether it’s due to a lack of aggression on offence or a lack of respect from the officials, here’s what we do know: In seven games, the Raptors have only had an advantage over their opponents in free throw attempts twice, and on average, they are being out-chanced at the line 27-19.
In comparison to other teams, the Raptors currently sit 27th in free throw attempts per game, with 19.1, heading into Game No. 8 tonight in Philadelphia. They also sit 24th in the league in free throws made per game, with 15.
Making their free throws once they’re at the line doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, as the Raps currently rank seventh in free throw percentage. Sure, they can definitely improve their 78.4 per cent success rate, but right now, their percentage isn’t the issue.
The problem is that it doesn’t matter how well the team shoots free throws if they don’t get to the line enough to compete with the other team on the floor.
But all of this sounded too simplistic to me, and raised a very important question. What if the Raptors’ low free throw attempts are simply the result of a slower offensive pace this season and less field goal attempts in general?
Toronto currently sits 29th, second-last in the NBA, with just 74 field goal attempts per game. In addition, the Raps are 26th in the NBA in “Pace Factor,” as the team has only used an average of 91.2 possessions per game during their 3-4 start.
So I decided to crunch the numbers, and look at each team’s average free throw attempts per 100 possessions. Looking at things this way was interesting (and ranked the Raptors 26th with about 21 free throw attempts per 100 possessions), but the problem is that it doesn’t take into account things like turnovers, which negate a chance at free throws without being a direct result of how aggressive the team is or how favourable the officiating is.
I figured the best advanced statistic to look at was free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, and as expected, the numbers weren’t too kind to the Raptors. Based on my calculations as of this morning, the best teams in the NBA at getting to the free throw line are the Knicks, Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers and Hawks, with those five teams averaging about 35-37 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.
At the very bottom of the spectrum are teams like the Rockets, Bobcats, Pistons, Bucks and Suns, who average as low as 17.7 free throw attempts in Houston’s case, and about 22-23 attempts in the other fours teams’ cases.
As for those Raptors, they currently sit 23rd in the NBA with 25.88 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts, which means whether you’re just making an observation from watching a game, whether you’re looking at basic stats like free throw attempts per game, or whether you’re digging deeper into advanced stats, you’re right when you say that the Raptors need to get to the line more.
Think about it this way. The average team, or middle of the pack team when it comes to getting to the line, gets 29-30 attempts per 100 field goal attempts. If the Raptors got to the free throw line even at just an average rate, for their 74 field goal attempts per game, they would get to the free throw line 21-22 times, instead of their current average of 19 trips to the line per game.
While two to three extra free throws per game doesn’t sound like much (and at the end of the day, maybe it’s just one more per game from each of Bargnani and DeRozan), a free chance at an extra couple of points per game could be huge for a defensive-minded team that should keep most games close and that’s current plus/minus margin is just -1.2.
One last interesting note from my findings. For all of you out there that believe the officiating is usually slanted against the Raptors, there’s this: While the average NBA team gets to the free throw line about 29-30 times per 100 field goal attempts, Raptors opponents have gone to the line 34.4 times per 100 field goal attempts through seven games. That rate would be sixth-highest in the NBA if one team actually averaged it, and looks even more inflated when you realize that opponents go to the line about nine extra times per 100 field goal attempts than Toronto does during the same game.
I probably won’t have a Six Thoughts on the Game post after tonight’s matchup with the 76ers, but the Raptors are in action six times in the next eight days, so I’m sure we’ll be in frequent contact.
Enjoy your weekend.