Where has the free throw shooting gone?

Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images

Oklahoma City is shooting 71.2 percent on the season from the charity stripe

In year’s past, the Oklahoma City Thunder were one of the league’s best free throw shooting teams. Over the last two seasons, that’s really changed. It’s gotten so bad, the Thunder rank 29th in the NBA in free throw shooting.

What has caused the Thunder’s dramatic decrease in free throw shooting? Only two seasons ago, the Thunder were 10th in the league. It was a given they would get to the line and more than not, they would make those attempts. It’s a drastic change as the Thunder are in the middle of the conference in attempts, too.

First and foremost, we must address who’s left. Two seasons ago, the Thunder ran out Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Durant shot 89.8 percent in his final season with Oklahoma City; Serge Ibaka made 75 percent of attempts. Those two made up more than a third of Oklahoma City’s attempts at the time. Last season, the Thunder had Victor Oladipo. His 75.3 percent is lost, too. He’s now shooting a crisp 76.6 percent in Indiana.

It doesn’t help Russell Westbrook is shooting a poor percentage, only 71.4 percent, a career low. Before this season, the worst Westbrook shot was only 78 percent. While the MVP winner is improving, he’s shooting 78 percent over his last 13 games. It wasn’t always that way, shooting only 57.6 percent through the first half of the season.

“I used to shoot and walk back behind the 3, and I’m not allowed to do that because of this new rule,” Westbrook said earlier in the season. “I’ve been doing that since high school. Just gotta figure it out, figure out a different routine where I can take some time, take a deep breath, and figure it out.”

It’s not only on Westbrook. Raymond Felton, a career 78 percent free throw shooter is shooting below 69 percent. Carmelo Anthony, an 82 percent shooter is around 78 percent as well. Even Paul George, a career 85 percent free throw shooter is making 81 percent. Everyone is down across the board. The lone exception is Steven Adams. The Kiwi is making a career high 64.4 percent of his attempts.

The percentages are down and it’s costing Oklahoma City. The Thunder are making 71 percent of their attempts and that’s costing them in games. Two things are happening in wins: 1) They’re getting to the line significantly more, almost seven more times a contest. This is because Oklahoma City is typically more aggressive in wins and settling for less jump shots. 2) Oklahoma City is making more. They’re shooting 73 percent in victories compared to 68.8 percent in losses. In fact, Oklahoma City is making more free throws in wins than they attempt in losses.

Wins / Losses
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If the Thunder are going to right the ship, they’ll need to make free throws.  They’ll have to improve. It’s weird though, in the 10 games where the Thunder have shot 75 percent or better, the Thunder are only 4-6. It doesn’t help they’re only 2-7 when they make 67 percent or less of their free throws.

It starts with Westbrook and continues with the rest of the team. However, if they continue to do what they did last night, missing key free throws in the final 10 seconds of the game, they don’t deserve to win. They were bailed out on the Grizzlies being even worse last night.

To Thunder up is to make free throws. To miss those free throws could be to miss the playoffs.

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