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He Shoots Free Throws by the Frea Throre?

I don't read Big Ten Wonk nearly often enough for my engineering heart - there's only so many hours in a day, and employers have the unreasonable demand of expecting work for their money. But I got the chance to catch up recently, and this post on free throw proficiency caught my eye.

Gasaway points out that the stat correlates incredibly poorly with points per possession, and what's worse, an offensive strategy that depends on succeeding in this metric makes for horrible basketball. The latter point I can agree with, as should be obvious just from who in the ACC did well last year:

                 FTM/FGA  PPP
Duke              0.343   1.12
N.C. State        0.335   1.11
Florida State     0.314   1.04
Maryland          0.314   0.96
Boston College    0.297   1.10
North Carolina    0.287   1.11
Wake Forest       0.259   1.05
Virginia          0.257   0.99
Georgia Tech      0.227   1.00
Clemson           0.223   0.99
Miami             0.220   1.08
Virginia Tech     0.194   1.02
The problem is that most of the tempo-free stats exist to add context to the standard basketball statistics. Thus the effective field goal percentage, adjust standard field goal percentages to account for the three-point shot, and the offensive rebound percentage decouples poor shooting from good rebounding. But free throw proficency both clarifies and muddies the context at the same time. It shows a free throw percentage's effect on the actual scoring - being perfect from the line doesn't matter if you only get there twice - it also throws two unrelated skills together, the propensity to get fouled and the ability to shoot free thows. Unlike with offensive rebounds, where poor shooting will directly result in increased rebounds, being fouled and making foul shots aren't complimentary skill sets.

Free throw proficency exists to explain scoring when the other three stats (effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, and turnover percentage) fails. It's literally the only remaining option if the ball doesn't end up in the basket, rebounded by the other team, or turned over - your guy's on the line.

So the stat does have its use, especially in showing the discrepancy when a three-point, nonphysical team like Duke racks up so many points from the line. But it's not one that should be focused on very often, just a useful tool to explain strange results.