How the Spurs Can Fix Their Free Throw Woes

Jakob Poeltl
Jakob Poeltl / Casey Sykes/GettyImages

The San Antonio Spurs are dead last in the league in a statistical category, which is almost never good. The fact that they are dead last in an important category is even worse, and it has cost them several games. 

A free throw is probably the one aspect of professional basketball that some average guy off the street could compare with an NBA player. The average NBA player makes just under 80% of their shots, The average NBA fan is roughly 37 years old, which is the youngest of the four major sports.

If you grabbed a random 37-year-old off the street and had them shoot 10 free throws, they would probably make five or six, and a large number could easily hit eight. In fact, it would not be unheard of for a random person to make ten in a row.

The average person could not shoot 45.7% in an NBA game as the average player does. They could not make 35% of their three-pointers with a defense closing in on them, and they could certainly not block any shots. But the free throw is the one thing that you or I could possibly do just as well as an average NBA player, which is usually an absolutely absurd claim to make.

The San Antonio Spurs are 26th in free throw percentage, sitting just under 75% as a team. They are also dead last in attempts per game, with only 19.

There are only five teams who currently get to the line fewer than 20 times a night, and the Spurs are the worst among them. Of the other four teams who get to the line between 19 and 20 times on a given night (Orlando, Denver, Oklahoma City, and the LA Clippers), none of them miss more free throws than the Spurs. The Spurs, on average, score 14 points from the line per night, which is the worst in the league.

If the Spurs were an average free throw team, they would score 17 points a night from the line, or an additional three points every game. With this increase in scoring, they would have won four additional games. Four games don’t sound like much, but with wins over the Lakers, Mavericks, Nets, and Pistons, they would currently be the ninth seed ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. 

How the Spurs Can Address Their Free Throw Issues

Simply making more free throws is a good place for the Spurs to start, and from professional basketball players, we should expect a free throw percentage of higher than 50% (Poeltl), and leading scorers Keldon Johnson and Dejounte Murray are both shooting only slightly over 75%, which could easily be improved.

It also doesn’t help that the Spurs don’t get to the line. They are dead last in attempts, which is not helped by their 22 shots per game from the paint, not in the restricted area (2nd in the league), and their 14 attempts from midrange (7th in the league).

These shots are often taken to avoid drawing contact, so if players like Murray, Lonnie Walker, Devin Vassell, and Johnson put their heads down and get to the hoop, they’d end up at the line more.

Jakob Poeltl takes plenty of floaters and hook shots, but I actually don’t object to that. Simply stated, he is horrible from the line and until he practices more, he should avoid contact at all costs, which is a sad reality for a paint-roaming big man. 

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The Spurs’ offense will stagnate until they can score points from the easiest spot on the court. They need to take shots and make shots. Currently, they struggle with both and might not be able to take the fabled next step unless they solve this major problem.