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On Free Throws and Defense

Seeing this is a very, very good thing.
Seeing this is a very, very good thing.

I've been doing some thinking.

Let's go on a thought-experiment together.

Imagine the NBA changed its rules about FT's. Let's say they were done with a totally new setup. First of all, a defender can try to disrupt the shot. He has to stay 3-feet away, and his hands cannot lean forward at all—just straight up. But the defender can wave his arms, talk, try to block the shooter's line of sight ... whatever. But that's not all. The ref holds the ball until everyone is set, then tosses it to the shooter. He has exactly 1 second to shoot the ball or else the free throw doesn't count.

So ... how much would free throw percentages drop with this new format?

More after the jump

The Jazz have had a certain way about them for the past 25-30 years. And one of the main mantras has always been this: don't give up the easy shot. Make them earn it at the line.

And it's a funny thing. Because nobody really earns them at the line. They're free. They're easy, unless you have no confidence or throw it to the basket like you're competing in the shot put (that would be you, Shaq).

And I think the original thought experiment shows what kind of effect you can have as a defender, just by being there. In the way. Disruptive. Not even blocking a shot or going for a steal. Just by being in the way as a player has to make a bunch of really quick decisions and moves to put up a shot (literally less than two seconds).

Even a layup (a pretty reliable shot), is suddenly a lot harder if somebody is simply there and in the way.

At some point, our team needs to realize that fouls are bad. That giving up a lot of free throws is bad. At the same time, drawing fouls is incredibly good. Getting free throws for your team is very good.

It's not a coincidence that a lot of the best players in NBA history drew fouls a lot. Even guys who defenders knew to keep off the line at all costs—they still got themselves FT's (Larry Bird is the best example: the dude shot over 90% from the line five of his twelve seasons. Did anyone think it was a great idea to foul him? Ever? Don't you think defenders would go out of their way to keep him off the line? And still he got 6 FT's per game).


It's also not a coincidence that there are two teams still in the playoffs who have been consistently great: San Antonio and OKC. This year San Antonio shot 200 more free throws than their opponents. The Thunder shot almost 250 more free throws than their opponents.

At least there's hope: Our Fantastic Four all averaged at least 4 FT's per 36 minutes. That's decent. It will go up as their usage also goes up. And Gordon Hayward in particular shows me there's hope for our defense. He was our best wing defender this year. He is good defensively because he follows five simple rules:

  1. Stay in front of your man
  2. Fight through screens
  3. Don't give up post position without a fight
  4. Be in the way and disruptive
  5. Don't foul

That's really all there is to it. If all five guys can follow these things the defense will be good. With or without blocked shots. With or without tons of steals. Just be there so that most of the shots are reasonably contested.


And if all our guys can draw fouls the way our four kids do, the offense will continue to get better.

And it's all about free throws. Get them for yourself. Don't give them up.