Saturday, July 7, 2012

Free throw percentage - the great overlooked statistic

Chace Stanback knocking in a free-throw near the end of UNLV's victory over #1 UNC
Notching either a shooting foul, or getting the opposing team into the bonus or even sweeter - double bonus, can do wonders for offensive production. After all, they don't call it the charity stripe for nothing. Provided the Rebels aren't dominating and destroying the competition night in and night out - there will be close games. In said close games, capitalization from the free throw line will be of paramount importance - otherwise points were essentially left on the table, and that could turn what otherwise would be a W into an L. These are my observations.

#1 - Recent history paints the Rebels as a below average free-throw shooting team. 

There are three important statistics, free throws attempted, free throws made, and free throw percentage - the aggregate of the two earlier stats. Why not just look at percentage? Because it ignores frequency at the line which is critical if the points are to mean anything. Here's how the Rebels have been doing from the line.

Free throws attempted: 734 in 2011-12. Comparing that to the rest of the MWC, we were 2nd in attempts. Nationally, we were 83rd in attempts. Being second in the conference is not too shabby, although first would be better - at least we weren't middle of the pack or worse. The per-game average (734 / 35) is nearly 21 attempts per game. 21 potential points is huge. Got to make those shots to be succcessful. 

Free throws made: 496 in 2011-12. Compared to the rest of the MWC, we were 4th in the league in makes - middle of the pack. Nationally, we were 100th in makes. Clearly, its not rocket science at this point to note that we did not maintain that 2nd in the conference or national statute when it came to actually making the attempts. The per-game average of makes computes to (496 / 35) about 14 points per game. So, while its hard to be perfect, the Rebels last season left about 6 high percentage points on the court last year, on the average per game. How many close games could have been wins? How could those wins have helped our seeding and changed our fate? Nobody knows - but room for improvment definitely

Free throw percentage: 67.6% from the free throw line in 2011-12. Within the MWC, we were ranked 7th in the conference in percentage. Nationally we were ranked 228th. This is simply bottom of the pack statistics, unacceptible from anyone's point of view. This is the number that justified why you, as a Runnin' Rebel fan always felt a little queesy last season when one of our players stepped up to the free throw line, and why you felt that way when an opponent was sent to the line. Room for improvement? No such thing as a stupid question? - that's a stupid question if there ever was one. 

Historically, have we always been this bad at free throws? Granted, Coach Rice and his assistants have only been at the helm for one season, but a lot of our players were on prior rosters. What does history say about this disturbing statistic...

So historically, we were better the prior couple of years, and weren't this bad since 2005-06. From looking at the charts, we do OK for 4 years and then hit a bump in the road. Clearly, shooting a high percentage from the free throw line has to be as important as anything Coach Rice has the team working on for this upcoming season.

#2 - Coach Rice @ BYU had his team on lockdown with FTs.

Anyone who has seen the BYU Cougars play, knows those guys hit their free throws. Throw out whatever stereotype you like, such as that unatheltic team has nothing better to do than to practice unopposed shots all day - but these shots matter, and last time I checked BYU was nearly always a threat in the MWC, even without Jimmer. Who happened to be an assistant coach at BYU..... Dave Rice - for the five years prior to his taking the reigns at UNLV.

Coach Rice's last season at BYU (2010-11) - FT Attempts - 865, Makes - 662, percentage 76.5% That's 10th in the nation that season, #1 in the MWC. Amazing numbers, winning numbers, envyable numbers. Along with his run and gun offense that he brought from Provo, why can't he bring the 10th in the nation free throw shooting mentality as well? Was 2010-11 an anomoly for BYU?

Ok, so Free throw shooting kind of sucked when Coach Rice got to BYU. But look what happened in a few years - #1 in the country in free throw percentage in 2009-10. That's perfection. Being optimistic, maybe a few years down the road UNLV has a similar turnaround.

#3 - Specific players, who needs work - who is already solid?

First of all - we're in a bit of trouble. Our top three free throw percentage leaders (Kendall Wallace, Oscar Bellfield, and Chace Stanback) have all graduated.

The next best is Mike Moser, who shot 78%. Following, we have Anthony Marshall who got to the line more than anyone (163 attempts) and made almost 72% of those. Justin Hawkins was at 62%, Carlos Lopez was at 61% and Quintrell Thomas was at 60%. Khem Birch, based on limited data from Pitt was at 54% Unless our returning players have a major improvement over the summer in FT percentage, or we recruited studs from the line - we are doomed to a similar fate as last season, maybe worse. Certainly, with the group assembled we'll have plenty of slashers and scorers - which will lead to league leading attempts - but we need to make those shots and we need our players focused on getting those "easy" points.

Simply put, everyone needs work - and hopefully everyone has been putting in that work on the regular.

# 4 - Was this pointed out by anyone during last season?

Yes, Ryan Greene, formally of the Las Vegas Sun but now of Vegas Seven's pointed it out several times. See these articles.UNLV needs more balance ; Free throw shooting stressed in wake of loss

Hopefully this issue has been on the front-burner even though it hasn't received much press in recent memory. I have faith in our guys, and they seem to understand that it takes a hell of a lot of work to achieve the ultimate goal - winning a championship. No attribute can be ignored in pursuit of that endeavor.

Stats - Credit to


  1. Does anyone know how well our new recruits/transfers shoot free-throws? I do know that Dantley Walker (2013 recruit who is currently serving an LDS mission) led the nation his senior year of HS hitting 90% of his free throws (262 out of 290). So if he gets significant mintues when he plays with the Rebels in the coming years that should help improve the team percentage.

  2. This brings up a point I favor. When I think about who shot the free throws last year... well, look at the article. Stanback, Wallace, and Bellfield were the best by percentage. Chace was 50 of 61. Bellfield was 30 of 38. Wallace was 8 of 9. Our 3 best had 108 attempts, and as a group, they shot 81%!!! The problem is that Marshall shot 150% more FT's than the best 3 FT shooters combined.

    Let's exacerbate the situation. JH, BM, CL, and QT attempted 79,89,86 and 71 FT's, making only 49, 49, 53, and 43 respectively.

    We were putting the wrong guys at the line! Our good FT shooters need to be more aggressive.

    Take BYU... Fredette had 282 FT attempts, and made 252! There ya' have it! They put the right guy at the line, time after time after time...

    So let's compare: JH, BM, CL, and QT were 194 for 325. Fredette was 252 for 282.