Can the Kings depend on free throw dominance?
Much like the homeless, the Sacramento Kings have relied on charity to feed their offense this season.
The 9-5 Kings rank first in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (32.9) and second in free throw percentage (80.9). Meanwhile Sacramento sits 17th in field goal percentage (45.3) and dead last in 3-point makes (4.7).
Charity points are a big reason why the Kings field the ninth-highest scoring offense in the league (103.1). It’s a byproduct of Sacramento’s repeated willingness to attack the paint and absorb contact, which in turn forces opponents into the penalty and eases up their aggression on defense.
Nonetheless, from a philosophical standpoint, it’s a bit unsettling to rely on the opinion of a referee to score points, especially in a playoff game. On any given night, an official like Joey Crawford may feel like it’s time to “let the boys play it out,” or “let nothing slide.”
There is no correlation between drawing fouls and team success. The 3-11 Los Angeles Lakers rank third in the NBA in free throw attempts this season (28.8). The Denver Nuggets led the league in free throw attempts for three straight seasons (2007-09), yet escaped the first round of the playoffs once. The last time the Kings topped the NBA in free throw attempts was in the 2006-07 season, when they went 33-49 under Eric Musselman.
The Lakers, powered by a driven Shaquille O’Neal, won the championship while leading the league in free throw attempts per game during the 2003-04 season, so there is hope for the Kings. But we must then consider if Sacramento’s current success at the line is sustainable.
The league average free throw percentage since 2011 has been 75 percent, five points lower than where the Kings currently stand. Coincidentally, four of Sacramento’s top five free throw drawers this year are shooting way above career averages. In order are DeMarcus Cousins (7.9 free throw attempts per game), Rudy Gay (6.8), Darren Collison (6.1), Omri Casspi (2.9) and Carl Landry (2.6).
Cousins came into the season as a career 71.5 percent free throw shooter, and he’s making 80.2 percent in 2013-14.
Gay was 78.4 percent from the stripe for his career, and he’s hitting 87.5.
Collison joined the Kings as an 86.1 percent free throw shooter, and he’s slumping at 82.2 percent.
Landry and Casspi were career 78.5 and 66.7 percent shooters from charity, but they’ve made 86.5 and 85.4(!) of their attempts this year respectively.
All signs point to a regression in free throw makes. Making matters worse, when the Kings do start missing free throws more often, the decrease in total offense will make their eighth-ranked attack more run-of-the-mill. That’s assuming referees continue calling the fouls they do, because if they don’t, Sacramento looks to be in a difficult spot to produce points.
Again, the 2003-04 Lakers laid the blueprint, and their free throw accuracy was atrocious (69.3). The Los Angeles team couldn’t make 3’s either, but Shaq and company converted a high percentage of their field goals in comparison to opponents, something Sacramento hasn’t consistently done.
Simply put, if the Kings strive to be beggars and choosers, they’ll need other shots to start falling.