Has NBA Free-Throw Shooting Accuracy Declined?

To say free-throw shooting is different in today's NBA is an understatement. Fans of the game, experts who've been around, former players -- they all bemoan the degradation of the art of free-throw shooting, having grown tired of watching clank after clank.

In the eyes of many, free-throw shooting is a lost art, a sacred part of the game that's become a gimmick at best. It can be frustrating for some to watch. Free throws just aren't being shot the way they're supposed to be shot. It's why several teams have hired shooting coaches and free-throw gurus. It's why instructional videos are cropping up left and right. It's why fans grimace when some players step to the free-throw line.

The statistics don't support the idea that free-throw shooting was better back in the day. The year Barry led the Warriors to its only championship, in the 1974-75 season, the NBA average from the free-throw line was 76.5 percent. A decade later, the NBA average was down just slightly to 76.4. There was a fairly significant drop in 1994-95, when the league average was 73.7 percent from the line. But 10 years later, the average was up to 75.6.

The NBA average last season was 75.2.

There has been improvement over the years among the best-of-the-best. In the 1966-67 season, the Los Angeles Lakers' Elgin Baylor finished 10th in free-throw percentage (81.3). Fast forward 10 years, and New York Nets forward Jan Van Breda Kolff held the league's 10th-best percentage at 85.5 percent.

Ricky Pierce, who ranks 13th in NBA history in career percentage (87.5), finished 10th in the league at 88 percent from the line for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1986-87. Ten years later, Charlotte Hornets forward Glen Rice shot 86.7 percent from the line, which was good for 10th best in the league. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Sam Cassell rounded out the top 10 last season with 87.9 percent.

Based on the numbers, the average percentage hasn't changed all that much, and the percentages of the best free-throw shooters are rising. Still, there seems to be a unanimous feeling among old-schoolers that the art of free-throw shooting has deteriorated.


John Citizen said...
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White said...
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