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The free throw is the simplest shot on the court behind only the dunk and layup — and even those can be pretty tough given the circumstance. Thanks in large part to Kevin Love’s bruising style underneath, the Timberwolves are fifth in the NBA in free throws attempted per game. But our Puppies are finding it difficult to bury their free points, making only 70-percent of their 30.3 attempts per game.
According to Hoopdata, the Wolves are third in the league in free throw rate, meaning they’re shooting nearly 45-percent of their shots from the free throw line. Dean Oliver, when creating the Four Factors, stood by free throw rate saying “the biggest aspect of ‘free throws’ is actually attempting them, not making them. Teams that get to the line more are more effective than teams that make a higher percentage of their free throws . . .,” (Harvard Sports Analysis). This is really interesting to me, mainly because it hasn’t pertained to the Wolves yet this season; they’re getting to the line at will, as told by the 45-percent rate, but they’re missing too many free throws causing these painful losses. Therefore Oliver’s hypothesis isn’t exactly true, but why?
The Wolves have been battling late in games for wins and have come out empty three straight times. You could check the standings and see that the lowly Wolves are back to their losing ways this season with three losses to start the season but that’s misleading. What no one sees until you dig deeper is that the Wolves have lost three games by a total of just nine points. That’s it, even against some of the NBA’s best in the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.
Nine points in three games isn’t a lot. It could easily be forgiven, you know what I’m gonna say, at the free throw line. Their proving effective at getting to the free throw line but aren’t cashing in the opportunities, especially in key moments, thus proving Oliver wrong in his theory.
The Wolves have missed big, big opportunities at the charity stripe down the stretch of big games. Last night we saw Anthony Tolliver make one of two, which would’ve actually given the Wolves a lead over the Heat, which may or may not have changed the outcome. The game before that we watched in awe at Love’s ability to get to the free throw line in the first quarter alone. He ended the game with 24 free throw attempts but only made 19 of them. As last season’s second-best free throw shooter on the squad, those five misses were huge, obviously because they only dropped the game by three to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The young Wolves are not only having trouble hitting their free strokes but they’re missing them in key, opportune moments in crunch time of important ball games. The Wolves haven’t won a game in 18 games, dating back to last season. That streak is obviously a little unfair to bring up given this current squad’s outlook but you can’t ignore the fact that they still have trouble with the fundamentals of the game. Free throws are a simple shot turned daunting task with the added pressure, but these young players need to learn to buckle down and hit the shot when the team needs it most. So perhaps free-throws-made-in-crunch-time ought to be changed in to the Four Factors in place of free throw rate because, in the Wolves case, it’s one of the reasons we’re not winning right now. And until they change that, they may not win for quite a few more teams just based off the upcoming schedule.