Free Throws by Possession

Over his first two seasons, frequency of free throw attempts received a lot of attention as the chink in Derrick Rose‘s armor. He has pushed his FTA/36 to a career high 6.4 this season, an accomplishment for which he should be commended. Rose’s FTA/36 are at a career high, but so are his FGA/36, and his TO/36. In fact his Usage Rate has risen 5.3% since last season, to 32.5%, the second highest mark in the league. If a player is using more possessions during his time on the floor you would expect see more of all the various outputs of those possessions, including free throw attempts. Is there a way we can measure if Rose’s rate of free throw attempts has increased relative to his shot attempts and turnovers?

As a matter of fact there is. The first step is to look at a player’s free throw attempts relative to their field goal attempts. This stat, known as Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA), is used frequently at both the team and individual level. The second step is to incorporate turnovers. I adjusted my calculation slightly to represent trips to the free throw line as opposed to overall free throw attempts. I did this by multiplying free throw attempts by 0.4, which I believe is the generally accepted adjustment to account for two-shot shooting fouls as well as And1 situations. The formula I ended up using was (FTA*0.4)/(FGA+TO+(FTA*0.4).

Rose’s ratio worked out to 0.078 last season. This season he has upped it to 0.102. Converting those into percentages, roughly 7.8% of his possessions resulted in a trip to the line last season, compared to 10.2% this season. That’s an increase to be sure, but by this measure Rose’s increase doesn’t look quite as rosy. He’s 23rd in the league in FTA/36, but just 75th in the league by this ratio.

I was curious about how this ratio would change the evaluation of other players, so I ran the same calculations for the top 100 in FTA/36. The entire spreadsheet can be viewed here. The table below shows some of the results for the players at the top. The first third of the graph shows the top 20 by FTA/36. The middle section shows the top 20 by FTA/FGA, including their rank by FTA/36. The final third shows the top 20 by free throw trips by possession, with their FTA/36 rank.

There is quite a bit of movement between the first piece of the table, and the second and third sections. The only constants among all three are Dwight Howard, Danilo Gallinari, Chauncey Billups, Tiago Splitter and Kevin Martin. These would be players who use a significant portion of their possessions getting to the free throw line and who also have a high enough Usage Rate to show up in per minute statistics.

Rose is not the only player to drop significantly when we reorder the list by per possession trips to the line. Carmelo Anthony drops from 5th to 44th. Amare Stoudemire drops from 11th to 53rd. Kobe Bryant drops from 13th to 68th. Monta Ellis drops from 57th to 97th.

Note to Bulls fans – Please understand that this is not in any way a comment on Rose’s legitimacy as an MVP candidate. If you feel Rose is being disrespected in that regard I would have you direct you vitriol to ESPN’s John Hollinger. This post is to remind myself, my 3.2 regular readers, an anyone else who happens upon this post that the value of every statistic is only as great as your understanding of the context surrounding it.



Filed under Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Statistical Analysis

3 responses to “Free Throws by Possession

  1. Great stuff! I look forward to each new post!

  2. Chicago Tim

    Howard and Asik and probably some of the other players are up there because they take high-percentage shots at the rim and are bad at free throws, therefore it is often smarter to foul them hard than to let them dunk or shoot from the paint. Rose, on the other hand, has somehow become significantly better at shooting free throws not just since last season, but during the course of this season. Therefore teams try very hard not to foul him.

    Also, when high-flying perimeter players drive to the basket and get fouled, to me it seems much more dangerous and wearing than the kind of fouls absorbed by big men in the paint. While the stats might tell you that Rose or Kobe should draw more fouls, at some point they will pay for it physically.

    I’ve made peace with the Rose for MVP issue. It is, in large part, a team award. Rose is not the best player in the league, but based on traditional standards he is worthy of the MVP award.

    • You’ve definitely got some good points there Tim. I also don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with some of his supporters who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard. I find it extremely grating that people still don’t grasp that there is no set criteria or definitive answer in handing out this award, this season or any other. People have every right to be frustrated to be with that fact, but it seems to me that’s a separate argument from whether Rose or any other player merits MVP consideration.

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