Bend. Release. Follow Through. Repeat.
The Free Throw.
In a game where scoring is mainly done amidst high-speed or high-flying action, you have the free throw, where all the scoring is completed in a timeless and action-less moment in the game. The clock stops. The players stop. Everything is “free”, as the name of the shot had suggested.
Math gives us an idea of how valuable free throws are.
For the past 3 years (which is as far back as we can go via the HumbleBola Stats database) the PBA has been shooting free throws at a 68.1% clip. I guess this number could be better (taking reference that the NBA has shot around 75% for the last two decades and the free throw being the only shot in the game which is not affected by the more “physical” nature of the league) but 68.1% is not that bad.
This means that an average 2-shot trip to the line in the PBA will produce around 1.36 points. That might not seem like much, but what if I told you that the beloved 3-point shot (in which the PBA has been shooting at 30.7% on average) produced 0.92 points per shot? Does that change your perspective towards free throw shooting a bit?
So now that we’ve figured how valuable a free throw is, let’s see how much it has (or hasn’t) affected teams and players in the PBA.
FREE THROWS vs. TEAM PERFORMANCE
I decided to use 3 criteria to capture the effect of free throw shooting on a PBA team. These are:
- FTP: Free Throw Points Percentage. This is simply the percentage of points that a team made from the free throw line. This was used to gauge how dependent a team is to getting points from the stripe.
- FTR: Free Throw Rate. A Four Factors advanced stat that estimates the rate at which a team gets to the free throw line (it’s actually the ratio between free throws made and field goals attempted).
- FT%: Free Throw Percentage. Everyone is pretty familiar with this. It’s just simply the rate of making free throws.
Then I chose 2 criteria to represent a team’s offensive performance:
- WIN%: Win Percentage. I singled out the performance to view each team in each conference as an individual. The WIN% is just a display of the team’s performance in that particular conference.
- ORTG: Offensive Rating. This is an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions and will be used to examine how free throws affect the team’s offense.
I plotted the criteria’s together going by the statistics per conference to look for a relation and here is what I found:
Good Teams don’t need to rely too much on Free Throws to score
Of the 45 teams that had an ORTG above the league average (99.1) over 3 years , only 16 teams (35.6%) had scored more than 20% of their points from the charity stripe.
To be an elite offensive team (or even an above average one), you do not need to rely completely on free throws offensively. You have to balance it out.
There is no significant need to rely your offensive game to getting free throws as a team. Of the teams that won at least 75% of their games in their conference, only 3 got more than 20% of their points from free throws.
Champions of the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, the Alaska Aces, won 78.5% of their games while recording a record high 25.5% Free Throw Point Percentage, most of which were anchored by Robert Dozier and Calvin Abueva.
In contrast, the Champions of the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup, Talk ‘N Text, beat their opponents 88.9% throughout the conference while scoring only 14.3% of their points from the Free Throw Line.
Getting free throws are nice, but you can find other ways to score the basket and win.
…but good teams still have to get to the line
Of the 45 teams with above average ORTG, 28 teams had a Free Throw Rate above the league average which accounts for 62.2%. Good teams don’t need to rely on getting a large portion of points from the free Throw Line, but they still have to get there at a good rate.
Getting to the line is a big part of the game and can be a game changer, so it’s not really a surprise to see that the better teams in the past 3 years have been better at doing that than the average team.
Of the 55 teams that won more than half of their games (50% Win Percentage), 32 teams went to the line at a higher rate than the league average (22 FTR) of the past 3 years. This accounts for 58.2%.
Among notable at the top 15 of the FTR rankings (and can be seen noted in the graph above) are:
2013 Commissioner’s Cup Champs, Alaska Aces (29.9)
2014 Philippine Cup Conference Play Leader, Barangay Ginebra (26.1)
2013 Philippine Cup Champs, Talk ‘N Text (25.1)
At the bottom of the FTR rankings, even though you have 2015 Commissioner’s Cup Champs, Talk ‘N Text, the bottom 15 includes:
BREAKING NEWS: Teams that make their Free Throws are BETTER than other teams.
I guess we didn’t really NEED stats to prove this out, but it’s always reassuring to see it proven.
Among the top 20 teams from the past 3 years in terms of Free Throw Shooting Percentage, there were 6 teams that finished with a record below .500.
Make your free throws!
FREE THROWS vs. PLAYER PERFORMANCE
To gauge the effects of free throws in this section, I selected 2 criteria as follows:
- FTM: Free Throws Made Per Game.
- FTA: Free Throw Attempts Per Game. Both of which are pretty self explanatory.
The performance of the players are measured by these 3 following criteria:
- PER: Player Efficiency Rating. PER is a widely accepted all-in-one number that is used to quantify a player’s performance. It has its flaws here and there, but in general, it does provide a pretty good picture.
- OWS: Offensive Win Share. As the name suggests, this is a number that estimates the amount of wins a player produces based on his offensive output. Perfect for this study.
- OFR: Offensive Rating: As explained above.
So let’s break it down!
Note: (All graphs are plotted after taking out players who averaged less that 10 minutes per game in each respective conference.)
Get to the Line and make it count!
Good players get to the line, whether it is because defenders can keep up with them or if it’s better than letting them get an open shot. Good players make free throws once they get to the line.
Free Throws Made
Free Throws Attempts
The trend is undeniable. It’s true that most of the heavy Free Throw Attempters (Is that a word? It is now.) and Free Throw Makers are imports, but even among locals who attempt many free throws are those who are high level players. Here’s a short list (each are noted in the graph above):
June Mar Fajardo (San Miguel Beermen, Governors’ Cup 2014): 11.1 FTA/G, 7.3 FTM/G, 26.6 PER, 39.1 MPG
June Mar Fajardo (Petron Blaze Boosters, Philippine Cup 2014): 9.5 FTA/G, 6.2 FTM/G, 23.0 PER, 34.1 MPG
Japeth Aguilar (Barangay Ginebra, Philippine Cup 2014): 9.3 FTA/G, 6.0 FTM/G, 25.3 PER, 36.7 MPG
Asi Taulava (Air 21 Express, Governors’ Cup 2014): 9.0 FTA/G, 4.8 FTM/G, 20.9 PER, 39.2 MPG
Asi Taulava (NLEX Road Warriors, Philippine Cup 2015): 8.8 FTA/G, 5.6 FTM/G, 24.8 PER, 31.6 MPG
Greg Slaughter (Barangay Ginebra, Philippine Cup 2015): 8.7 FTA/G, 6.2 FTM/G, 30.3 PER, 27.8 MPG
Calvin Abueva (Alaska Aces, Philippine Cup 2015): 8.4 FTA/G, 5.3 FTM/G, 29.5 PER, 28.4 MPG
Jeff Chan (Rain or Shine, Philippine Cup 2013): 7.9 FTA/G, 6.1 FTM/G, 21.4 PER, 29.9 MPG
It gets pretty hard to find that level of production among the less frequent free throw shooters of the PBA, even though there are some (Chico Lanete, KG Canaleta, and Aldrech Ramos, for example) that have topped the 20 PER mark in a significant amount of playing time while averaging barely 1 FTA per game.
Take and make your free throws!
So what did we get out of this (aside from some cool looking graphs and a whole lot of numbers)?
Free throws are an aspect of the game that can sometimes get lost amidst the glitz and glamour of the long-range three-point bombs, the graceful acrobatic lay-ups, or the emphatic slam dunk. This write-up is just a reminder of the importance of the charity stripe, whether on a team or player level. This is just a reminder that each time during practice when your coach tells you to focus on making your free throws, you should listen.
But if there’s someone who doesn’t need to be reminded how important free throws are, it’s the basketball fans of the Philippines right?
Pictures used in Graph Backgrounds are from Paul Ryan Tan (Sports5.PH), www.pinoyexchange.com, Paolo Papa (Sports5.PH), Paul Ryan Tan (Sports5.PH), and Paul Ryan Tan (Slam Magazine), respectively.
GIF is from Youtube User “Pinoy News Blogger”