Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Easy Ones

I want to talk to you about free-throws. Specifically, I want to talk to you about how well the 2009-2010 UNC men's basketball team is shooting them. Last year, a large part of the success and efficiency of the UNC offense had to do with drawing fouls and turning those free throws into points. UNC was one of the very teams at getting to the line and was an excellent free throw shooting team. A lot of this had to do with Tyler Hansbrough, who basically made his living at the free throw line, but it was truly a team effort: Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington were also superb at getting to the line and even better at knocking down free throws. Danny Green shot 85%. As a team, UNC shot over 75%. Unfortunately, those who remained are significantly worse at shooting free throws. Deon, Ed Davis, and Larry Drew were all major liabilities on the line. Danny would often play power forward to finish games to prevent opponents from playing hack-a-Deon in close games.

Now that these three are the core of the team, what's the story? Well, it's a mixed one. Let's see the raw numbers:

Free throw shooting percentages
Travis Wear 87.5%
Deon Thomas 79.2%
Will Graves 75.0%
Tyler Zeller 70.8%
Larry Drew II 68.2%
Ed Davis 63.8%
Marcus Ginyard 57.9%
Dexter Strickland 44.4%
John Henson 41.7%
Justin Watts 40.0%
David Wear 25.0%
Leslie McDonald 16.7%

Team 64.2%

So, the bad news first: This is not a great free-throw shooting team. 64.2% overall is really bad. In particular, our guards and the freshmen are just shooting horribly. Aside from Travis Wear, who has only taken nine free throws so far, no one is shooting over 80%. There are five rotation players who are shooting under 50%. We can talk in greater depth about the bad stuff later, but let's touch on some sunshine first.

Here is the good news: Deon is shooting really well, as in nearly 80% well. I don't know what it is, but he's shooting way better than he did in his first three years where he shot 65% for two of those years and an abysmal 60% for his sophomore year. In fact, ignoring Travis Wear (, he's the best free throw shooter on the team. Would Deon shoot the technicals this year? The same clang-clang-groan-when-he-get's-fouled Deon? Yes. Wow. Great job, Deon.

Some more good news: Larry Drew and Ed Davis, while still not great, are both improving. Larry Drew shot an abysmal, Ben Wallace-like 41.2% last season and has now made an amazing improvement to 68.2%. Now, that's incredible, taken at face value, but a word of caution: Last year's number was based on 17 free throws and this year's number is based on 22. Due to the small sample size, Larry Drew's "actual skill level" could be anywhere in between (and really a good bit higher or lower). So, cautious optimism is the rule for Larry's free throw shooting. Ed Davis's progress looks a little less amazing, but is all the more important and is probably more concrete. Ed Davis shot 57.3% last year and is shooting 63.8% this year. This is nothing but good news. Ed Davis draws fouls at the highest rate of anyone on the team this year and his ability to shoot a higher percentage from the free throw line will turn his already insane scoring efficiency totally nuclear. This is good stuff.

Equally good, Tyler Zeller and Will Graves seem to be shooting pretty well, and this seems to be consistent with their past performance. Good job, guys.

Now, let's talk about the bad stuff: Marcus Ginyard is shooting 57.9%. This is bad, but fortunately, it's not typical. In his previous four years at Carolina, Marcus is a 73.6% free throw shooter. Hopefully, we can expect him to shoot closer to that as the season goes on. Justin Watts (admittedly, on only five shots) is shooting 40%. The bad news is that his first year at Carolina, he shot 42.9%, so don't expect the same upswing that we might expect for Marcus.

Now, Dexter Strickland, John Henson, David Wear, and Leslie McDonald: they need to practice some damn free throws. I get that they are freshmen playing on bigger stages that ever before, but jitters or not, they are all shooting worse than Shaq. Hell, some of them are shooting worse than Ben Wallace. Free throws are really easy to practice and not at all difficult to improve. I am willing to bet, however, that all of these guys usually do shoot a lot better than this, and as the season goes on, these numbers should all steadily climb towards reasonable and respectable values in the 60s-70s range. Likewise, sadly, we probably can't expect Travis Wear to shoot nearly 90% all season. But anyway, for now: Great job, Travis! Practice your free-throws, the rest of the freshmen class!

The message, overall, is a simple one: Yes, this is a bad free-throw shooting team, but so far, there has been improvement, and, fortunately, we can probably count on even more gains in the free-throw department.

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