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Utah Jazz free throw shooting isn't free, accoring to alarmists this season

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Taking a look at the last decade of Jazz free throws, and what we see so far today

"Practice makes . . .  uh, what did Karl say again?"
"Practice makes . . . uh, what did Karl say again?"
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz, in my mind, are known for playing physical defense, and have a paint oriented attack. As a Jazz fan of over 20 years this means I've seen a lot of players (ours and theirs) taking free throws over my life. I've probably seen way more free throw makes than three point attempts, if we're keeping score. But let's talk about our shot distribution another day. Today we're going to investigate what is "normal" for a modern era Jazz team, and what's happening so far this pre-season. My modern era I'm just talking about from the 2004-2005 season till now. That gives us a data set of ten years + the pre-season. And instead of looking at the team as a whole, I'm looking at a better, smarter application. Specifically, the top five players from each season in terms of free throw attempts (FTA). It's not attempts per game either, because I don't want to make this all about Alec Burks.

Anyway, to start off with let's look at the Top 5 players on the team this pre-season in FTA.

2014-15
Player M A FT%
1 Derrick Favors 10 17 58.8%
2 Alec Burks 10 15 66.7%
3 Rudy Gobert 4 7 57.1%
4 Jeremy Evans 1 5 20.0%
5 Trey Burke 2 4 50.0%
Total 27 48 56.3%

There were a number of other guys with 4 FTA, but Trey Burke gets the mention here because he's our leading scorer. Also, please note that this is after three pre-season games. So the sample size is very, very small. And as a result, this is why alarmists are only really worried about this right now. If we don't get better after a month then I'll be right there with you too. But this is too soon for me. All that said, these guys are getting to the line, and leaving a bunch of points there. I can't condone 56.3 FT% from our group of top FTA guys. I doubt Head coach Quin Snyder will either.

So how bad is it compared to the control group of the previous 10 seasons? Let's see:

2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT%
1 Mehmet Okur 329 387 85.0% 1 Andrei Kirilenko 346 495 69.9% 1 Mehmet Okur 296 387 76.5% 1 Deron Williams 330 411 80.3% 1 Deron Williams 326 384 84.9%
2 Matt Harpring 245 315 77.8% 2 Mehmet Okur 354 454 78.0% 2 Carlos Boozer 255 372 68.5% 2 Carlos Boozer 290 393 73.8% 2 Ronnie Brewer 247 352 70.2%
3 Carlos Boozer 187 268 69.8% 3 Matt Harpring 227 313 72.5% 3 Matt Harpring 237 309 76.7% 3 Andrei Kirilenko 198 257 77.0% 3 Mehmet Okur 273 334 81.7%
4 Andrei Kirilenko 203 259 78.4% 4 Jarron Collins 157 219 71.7% 4 Derek Fisher 262 307 85.3% 4 Ronnie Brewer 195 257 75.9% 4 Paul Millsap 228 326 69.9%
5 Raja Bell 112 150 74.7% 5 Devin Brown 158 212 74.5% 5 Deron Williams 227 296 76.7% 5 Mehmet Okur 185 230 80.4% 5 Andrei Kirilenko 244 311 78.5%
Total 1076 1379 78.0% Total 1242 1693 73.4% Total 1277 1671 76.4% Total 1198 1548 77.4% Total 1318 1707 77.2%
2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT% Player M A FT%
1 Deron Williams 355 418 84.9% 1 Deron Williams 302 354 85.3% 1 Paul Millsap 202 255 79.2% 1 Paul Millsap 264 356 74.2% 1 Gordon Hayward 311 381 81.6%
2 Carlos Boozer 285 384 74.2% 2 Paul Millsap 256 338 75.7% 2 Gordon Hayward 193 232 83.2% 2 Gordon Hayward 243 294 82.7% 2 Alec Burks 279 373 74.8%
3 Paul Millsap 183 264 69.3% 3 Al Jefferson 220 289 76.1% 3 Devin Harris 156 209 74.6% 3 Derrick Favors 179 260 68.8% 3 Derrick Favors 190 284 66.9%
4 Mehmet Okur 196 239 82.0% 4 Andrei Kirilenko 208 270 77.0% 4 Derrick Favors 126 194 64.9% 4 Al Jefferson 167 217 77.0% 4 Enes Kanter 149 204 73.0%
5 Andrei Kirilenko 174 234 74.4% 5 C.J. Miles 159 196 81.1% 5 Al Jefferson 137 177 77.4% 5 Randy Foye 118 144 81.9% 5 Richard Jefferson 120 162 74.1%
Total 1193 1539 77.5% Total 1145 1447 79.1% Total 814 1067 76.3% Total 971 1271 76.4% Total 1049 1404 74.7%

I know, lengthy data set is lengthy. Forget it, let's just use this simplified one instead:

Season M A FT%
1 2004-05 1076 1379 78.0%
2 2005-06 1242 1693 73.4%
3 2006-07 1277 1641 77.8%
4 2007-08 1198 1548 77.4%
5 2008-09 1318 1707 77.2%
6 2009-10 1193 1539 77.5%
7 2010-11 1145 1447 79.1%
8 2011-12 814 1067 76.3%
9 2012-13 971 1271 76.4%
10 2013-14 1049 1404 74.7%
x 2014-15 27 48 56.3%
Total 11310 14744 76.7%

Okay, well, this doesn't look to hot. So after 3 preseason games it looks bad. But it's early, and this data set is almost meaningless. Of course, the other trends are the micro-trends. Specifically you may have noticed that Derrick Favors is on this list for 2014-15, and for the previous three seasons as well. His FT% has followed as suck: 64.9%, 68.8%, 66.9%, and so far this preseason 58.8%. I'm not going to expect a 23 year old kid to shoot as well as a 36 year old Karl Malone from the line. (Karl shot 59.8% from the FT line at the age of 23, by the way) So there is lot of time for him to improve. I am certain he will as well. For me the larger worry is always going to be Alec Burks.

I have always been enamored with his ability to get to the line, even as a rookie he got the respect of NBA refs. (This is something Paul Millsap didn't get until the playoffs last year) He has a very high rate of getting there, and features to be one of the top FTA guys for our franchise every year he suits up in a Jazz uniform. The issue is that he fails one of my own baseline qualities to justify being a starting NBA shooting guard. He is a sub 80% free throw shooter. He needs to get it to 80% or higher this year -- for the sake of our team, our gameplan, and for his own career. It's not out of sight, he's gone 73%, 71%, and 75% (74.8%) in his first three seasons in the NBA. He's also 23 years old. IF he can get to that low 80ies value he is a deadly weapon. If he can be 85% or higher, he will be able to straight up decapitate teams by himself.

So yes, right now we have a free throw issue that needs to be resolved. It's early, both in the season (it's October), and in personnel (our "best" guys are all under 24 and will improve). So I'm not worried.

But this is a good thing to keep track of. After all, making your free throws indicates good focus and discipline. And discipline is one of the three unfulfilled D's from last season.