Nylon Calculus: The most erratic free throw shooters of 2016-17

Oct 3, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

When given a pair of free throws, the average NBA player shoots four to five percent better on the second attempt compared to the first, something TrueHoop first looked at years ago. However, as I explored last season, not every player has the same improvement. Some players’ percentages nearly double while others are worse, much worse. This post looks at those who fit one of those extremes after 70-plus games.

Not surprisingly, the players featured were not frequent visitors to the stripe. With more attempts players achieve more consistency. Below are a few charts of differences in free throw percentage from the first to second attempt and total pairs of them, minimum being 25. (There’s no good reason behind that filter.) The left chart is season-by-season totals for players since 1997 while the right has career totals for anyone who has played since that season. Stats are as of Apr. 3 via NBA.com’s play-by-play data.

With over 1,000 career pairs of free throws, LaMarcus Aldridge is the only player of 130 who has shot worse on the second free throw compared to the first, at -0.1 percent. None of those 130 have an improvement over 10 percentage points. Sample size matters, and with 25 pairs of free throw attempts as the minimum amount, this season’s lists of players were quite random.

Let’s look at the largest upticks:

While these marks are unsustainable on significant volume, some of these players would have appeared multiple times if this post was done each of the last few seasons or so. This would have been Luc Mbah a Moute’s second straight appearance, averaging a 36 percentage point increase on a combined 58 pairs of free throws over the last two seasons before a 14 percentage point decrease in 2015. Besides Avery Bradley’s rookie season when he only attempted 12 shots from the stripe, the Celtics’ shooting guard has been five to 19 percentage points better on his second free throws before this season’s 35 percentage point jump. When looking at career totals with a minimum of 200 pairs, Bradley has the third highest improvement at 15 percentage points, behind Adam Keefe (15 percentage point increase) and Walt Williams (16.6 percentage points). Now you know.

There’s also Dewayne Dedmon, who has two seasons of surges over 20 percentage oints, but in between them was last season where he shot exactly 76 percent on both free throws. Trey Lyles’ rookie campaign showed a 13 percentage oint increase, tame in this post but worth noting when compared to the league average. We’ll see if Kris Dunn shows up multiple times over his career.

Seth Curry cracks the list by shooting 100 percent on the second free throw. When looking at both shots, he has the third-most attempts with perfect shooting, behind only Jose Calderon in 2009 (60-for-60 on first of two freebies), and Terrell Brandon in 2002 (34-for-34 on the second). Now. You. Know.

The largest decreases weren’t as extreme as the increases, but the players were definitely just as random. Below are a group of decent free throw shooters, but ones who opponents should be prepared to rebound against.

In the first post, Tristan Thompson was noted not only for his 13 percentage point decrease last season, but for shooting worse on his second free throw over multiple seasons. If you go back to the chart with pairs and difference in accuracy, Thompson is the lone circle with about 700 pairs on the left-half of the chart. This season, he’s shown a small increase on the second attempt, but a decline in overall percentage, from 62 to 50. Joe Ingles could take his place in unusual decreases. He’s not quite the foul-drawer like Thompson, but has an 18 percentage point decrease over his young career.

No other player in this season’s top 10 shows a downward trend consistently over multiple seasons. Patterson nearly ties Malik Rose’s 1998 season as the largest decrease in one season, though both typically have upticks.

With free throw splits, you can do a lot of both somewhat serious and goofy analysis. I’ll end with a question that could qualify for both. If you’re prioritizing efficiency and have to choose if a player always makes his first shot but always misses the second, or the other way around, which sequence would you choose?

Next: Revisiting offensive style charts for the 2016-17 NBA season

You can view free throw splits that look not only at pairs of free throws, but percentages on fouled threes, technical fouls, and more back to 1997 here.

Stats were derived from play-by-play data at NBA.com. Darryl Blackport for MVP.