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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Basketball players fail to cash in on free throws

Tonight the NCAA filled out their 65-team* bracket for their annual Division I basketball championship. The quality of basketball will no doubt be better than ever, at least since 1995 when Kevin Garnett broke barriers by jumping directly from high school to the Minnesota Timberwolves. That really provides no excuse though for what Larry Wright, and adjunct professor of statistics at Columbia, says is a “mind boggling” lack of improvement in the rate at which college players make free throws. In this article by the New York Times, John Branch reports that in 1965 NCAA teams shot 69 percent. This year they cashed in from the 15 foot charity stripe at a rate of only 68.8 percent.

Some athletic endeavors leap ahead due to an innovation in technique, such as the Fosbury Flop in high jumping or skating on cross country skis. I wonder why more players don’t throw up free throws underhanded like Rick Barry did as depicted by this NBA website on The Art of the Free Throw. His 90 percent rate set the NBA bar when he retired.

I saw an interesting shooting variation at the halftime of a Timberwolves game a few weeks ago. They gave a fan one shot from half court to win a million dollars. The contestant was an older fellow who seemingly had no chance throw a basketball that far. However, he succeeded on distance by flinging it backward over his head, an approach used by this more accurate fan who won a car by sinking the 47-foot shot shown here.

It would be interesting to experiment with an accomplished basketball player to see how their shooting percentage would vary facing forward versus backward from the free-throw line. Surely the success rate would fall precipitously.** Actually, that might make things a lot more interesting – even the seemingly static 69 percent rate is too boringly accurate.

*One aspect of this “March Madness” is that it commences with a “play-in” game that makes one team the absolute loser!

**An exception might be 41 percent free thrower Ben Wallace seen missing the iron completely in this video . He should do the same as the fans watching him at the line -- don't look.


  • At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    But you have to know - Ben Wallace isn't paid to shoot free throws well. He's paid to do this .


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