Thursday, June 01, 2006


Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals went to the home team Pistons, which kept their season alive a little longer. There were a few aspects of the game that could be deemed "factors" in the outcome, including: increased intensity by the Pistons (nice of Ben Wallace to show up for a game), a big performance from Tayshaun Prince, 14 Miami turnovers, a pretty average game for D-Wade, and the typical "call a bunch of fouls in the first quarter so the home team can get into the bonus and shoot free throws" move that the officials have perfected this postseason. However, none of those factors come close to the only real factor in tonight's game. And that would be ...


That was Miami's shooting from the free throw line. From the free throw line.

Now, I have never taken a free throw in an NBA playoff game with 19,000 people screaming at me, but I have to believe I should shoot better than 30%. My buddy Josh Stump discussed this on his blog while calling out Hubie Brown for shedding tears on behalf of Ben "The Living, Breathing Missed Free Throw" Wallace. And he's got it exactly right. How do you miss more than half of your free throws? In this case, how do you miss more than two-thirds of them!

You would think with this kind of masonry going on, that the Hack-a-Shaq was in effect. Not really. Sure, Shaq was a grisly 1-for-5 from the line, but that still leaves a 5-for-15 work of art for the rest of the team to lay claim to. For the love of James Naismith, how did this happen?

Part of the problem is that Miami lacks great shooters. Everyone knows this, but because Wade is so sick and Shaq so powerful, Miami wins a lot of games even without reliable shooters. Plus, they have a couple of streaky players that can get hot and hit some threes in 'Toine, Posey, and Jason Williams. However, take a look at their roster and find me someone that could beat Jeff Morrow in a three-point shootout. Okay, 99% of you don't know who Jeff Morrow is, but think of your buddy with the sweet jumper and insert him into the argument. Face it, Miami has plenty of good players but not a whole lot of good shooters. Wade is probably the only guy I'd consider a good shooter and he's usually pretty solid from the line and from inside the three-point arc, but even he is more scorer than shooter. And when you aren't a shooter, you have nights where you lose the feel (Steve Kerr did a great job of discussing this the other night, while talking about Leandro Barbosa). And when the whole team is comprised of shaky shooters, you might just have a night where everybody loses the feel all at once. And then it is: "Goodness sakes alive, watch your face!" (Since I cited my man Stump's blog, I felt obligated to throw a Bill Walton quote in there. Because he loves him.)

Another problem for Miami is that different players kept getting fouled. To me, free throw shooting - really any kind of shooting - is kind of like hitting a baseball. The more attempts you get, the better off you are. I remember in the NCAA Tournament, the incredibly insane and grouchy Billy Packer got absolutely fixated on the low free throw shooting percentage of Florida's sharpshooting guard Lee Humphrey. He kept mentioning Humphrey's 44% shooting for the year and offering all kinds of crazy suggestions for improvement (including my favorite: moving back to 19 feet and shooting a jumper, which apparently was supposed to be some sort of cross between Nick Van Exel and a three-point shootout). What Packer failed to notice as that Humphrey had only taken 22 attempts all year. So here was Packer, rambling on and on about Humphrey's inability to shoot free throws, meanwhile the kid finally gets a few attempts in bulk and he goes like 8-for-9 in the national semis. To go back to the baseball analogy, it is like comparing an everyday player to a pinch hitter. In almost every case, the everyday guy will have the better batting average. Part of this is probably because the everyday guy is better to start with (that is why he's playing everyday), but the other part is that you need volume attempts to produce. It takes a special type of player to get off the bench to hit once every two games. I think this applies to shooting, particularly free throws. I know that I can knock down 10, 20, maybe 30 free throws in a row standing by myself in a gym. I also know that if I get 10 free throws in an actual game (we're talking college intramurals and city leagues here, of course), I am probably going to make eight or nine. However, if I get fouled just one time? If I'm being honest, I probably go 1-for-2. Maybe not, but the point is that if you can get one trip out of the way and get the feel, the rest is gravy. For Miami, the only guys to get more than three attempts were their centers, Shaq and Zo. Not good. Wade converted an "and one" but missed twice when he finally got to the line late in the game. Haslem had a rough trip where he missed two and then he shanked another one later in the game. Payton threw up a pair of bricks. I am 100% certain that if Wade got eight attempts, he would have made five or six. If Payton got another trip to the line, he probably would have made both of them. But when you only get to the line once the whole game, it is a crap shoot.

I could go on, but there is no point in beating a dead horse here. The simple fact is that Miami lost this game at the free throw line. They didn't get a lot of calls to begin with and when they did win a trip to the line, they just gave it away. Miami is never going to be a great free throw shooting team (as evidenced by their percentages in the first four games: 67%, 67%, 87%, 60%), but they can't expect to win if they shoot under 50% from the stripe.

Game Six may very well boil down to the most elementary play in basketball: making unguarded shots from 15 feet away.



Josh Stump said...

Good points all around, except for the Bill Walton quote. Bill Walton is the worst comentator in basketball and I will not let you forget it....and neither will he.

As you mentioned, I'm rather strongly in agreement with your point about free throws. But there is something else that troubles me, that you only barely touched on.

You mentioned that part of Miami's problems may be their lack of great shooters. No argument here. Antoine Walker, for all his attempts, is not a good shooter and certainly not a good three poitn shooter, but he can make 3s, he gets streaky and can even hit with a guy in his face (though he has never, I repeat never shot a jumpshot in his life, which I don't get. How do you spend your life playing hoops and not be able to even replicate the mechanics of a jumpshot?), but he is awful from the line. In Ben Wallace like fashion, he is obviously just tossing the ball at the rim with no idea whether it might go in.

Why? With Shaq and some of the big guys, there might be an issue with the size of their hands relative to the ball and the change in form that might be required when you are that tall or big, (not making excuses, just offering explaination), but with a guy like Walker? There is, of course, only one explaination. Selfishness.

Walker has other things to do than practice free throws or learn how to concentrate on what you are doing. I can't get over the fact that I am a mediocre rec-league hoops player at best and I know that I could walk into a gym right now, with no warm up, with my suit shirt and tie on and hit 7 out of 10. I know that's very very different than when the lights and pressure are on and your attempts are separated by long stretches of running around, but it's not soooo different than a pro ball player has any excuse.

As a historical note, Jeff Morrow taught me how to play basketball way back in the day and honed those famous shooting skills in my driveway in Beaverton, Oregon. Jeff is the prototypical "don't leave that guy open" guy in pick up hoops. Of course he also takes the Missouri approach to defense -- "You're going to have to show me you can hit that before I guard you...ok, you hit that one, but you are going to have to show me again...ok, good shot again, but now I'm going to leave you open just to mess with you....seriously, good shot again, now...oh screw it, I'm open, I'm open, get me the ball."

All of that to say, I bet Mike D'Antoni could make Jeff a 20ppg scorer in the NBA.

One more thing made more obvious than ever in last night's game. Prince is the only hope for Detroit. He has a constant mismatch and can score from anywhere and in the playoffs usually does when he is given the ball. I'm getting ready to take back all those nice things I said about Billups in the regular season. Get Prince the ball for crying out loud.

Josh Stump said...

So, I just read Adam's very interesting article on what he calls the "Iverson Factor" on WIS and felt the need to comment so I'll do it here for lack of a better space.

I just want to make a few brief points in response:

1. Iverson is overrated. I just had to get that off my chest to start with and will be happy to eplain exactly why some other time.

2. I agree that things like the good miss off penetration, the pass to the passer, the timeliness of a shot, are all things that can not be quantified, but matter as much as any stat. My hope is that people finally realize this and stop throwing around numbers in sports arguments as if they prove every point. Stats lie in every aspect of life and there is nowhere that they are less valuable than sports. John Hollinger's PER is a bad thing ver everyone. And this is coming from a stats nut who can't get enough of fantasy sports, but I've been watching the games enough to know, that while they may be fun, stats lie.

3. combining these two points with Adam's story, I have to make one other point here. Sometimes, as much as things like a good miss get overlooked because of our love of stats, a "good" stat sometimes gets too much credit. The ultimate example is "points scored" in basketball, but that's too easy and the rise in popularity of various shooting percentages has mitigated that some. But what about the assist? It drives me crazy when I hear people describe a player (such as Iverson) as unselfish because, "look at all his assists."

But there is a huge difference between when Kidd gets 10 assists and when Iverson or Kobe does it. The important thing is not passing the ball that leads to a made FG. The important thing is getting your teamates involved in the game and then putting them in a place where they can succeed.

If Iverson scraps the playbook, shoots 10 times in a row, but manages to finally find an open teammate out of the tripple-team and that guy makes the shot, AI gets the assist and maybe he does that on enough possessions to pad his stat sheet. Meanwhile, no one on his team has found a rhythm or knows when they might see the ball or how the offense is going to run, so in the 4th quarter, now AI and Kobe HAVE to shooe every time, because their teammates have never been brought into the game.

this does not make them unselfish, but rather the opposite. Assist stats lie. Making your teammates better (the definition of a great player), is not about assists, but about getting them involved. big assist numbers might make you a good passer, but it doesn't (alone) make you a good player.

Adam Hoff said...

- Walton is a genius.

- I wanted to get to Walker but the post was already running long so I let it go. Plus, amazingly, he didn't even shoot a free throw and wasn't part of the 6-for-20 debacle. But yes, he is probably the worst culprit of all.

- As for Iverson, he's one of those guys that I just love no matter what. The rationale part of my brain (which tells me that AI's style makes it hard for a team to win) shuts off and I just focus on how hard he plays and the way he throws that tiny body into the lane. I just love him. But I did realize the irony of using an "Iverson" play as the prime example for not trusting stats, because you are right that many other stats tend to work in his advantage. However, at least an inflated assist totals is offset by shooting percentages and turnovers and other stats that tend to correspond with the way Iverson plays. Something that simply can't be quantified like a good miss or a pass leading to a pass doesn't really have that counterpoint, so it really gets left out of the statistical equation. But I think we agree that stats are not to be trusted, at least not entirely.

Anonymous said...

Update: Jones was absent from a team meeting on Monday that took the place of a scheduled voluntary workout, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Recommendation: This is the latest in a series of controversial situations involving Jones and linebacker Lance Briggs. Both missed the voluntary workouts in April and were demoted to the second unit during mandatory minicamp last week.