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Utah Jazz having trouble finishing games because of free throw woes

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Late games are less important if you do one simple thing during all game long: make your free throws

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are 7-3 in their last 10 games. For a team that projects to finish out of the playoffs and under .500 that's not bad. That said, the Utah Jazz coaches, players, and fans felt like some of the games they've dropped since the All-Star break are games that they should have won. In particular there was the three point loss at home to the Los Angeles Lakers, one point loss on the road to the Boston Celtics, and the most recent embarrassment of losing at home, in overtime, to a Minnesota Timberwolves squad playing only seven people -- by two points. Finish the game a little smarter could have made a huge difference for this team. Making the free throws means more than just altering the score, but it also changes how you finish the games. If you expand the data set even further back the Jazz lost on the road to the Dallas Mavericks by 5 points -- a few more free throws made makes the margin smaller in crunch time, leading to more diversity of attack. More recently, the Jazz lost at home to the Washington Wizards by four. I'm not even going to bother to tell you about how many free throws were missed in that game.

Instead of being satisfied with a 7-3 record in the last 10 games the Utah Jazz, really, could have been 19 and 1 in their last 20 games, the only legit loss being on the road visiting the Golden State Warriors (final margin was 15 points).

One of the three Ds is discipline. In that you have things like consistency from game to game, the ability to get up for every game (not just the big ones), on court behavior that is not detrimental to the team, managing turn overs, and free throws. The one that's the easiest to enumerate -- and honestly the easiest to fix -- is free throws. And the final margin of those last few losses (-5, -3, -1, -4, -15, -2) all (except the GSW loss) look much different if the team made their free throws.

So who has, and who hasn't?

Player G MIN MPG FGA/G FG% FTM FTA FT% FGM/G FTA/G FTA/FGA
1 Dante Exum 1 2 10 265.22 26.52 5.70 38.60% 2 2 100.00% 0.20 0.20 0.04
2 Trey Burke 1 10 259.55 25.96 11.90 31.93% 16 25 64.00% 1.60 2.50 0.21
3 Bryce Cotton 1 5 21.18 4.24 0.70 14.29% 2 2 100.00% 0.40 0.40 0.29
Player G MIN MPG FGA/G FG% FTM FTA FT% FGM/G FTA/G FTA/FGA
4 Gordon Hayward 3 2 8 267.93 33.49 13.75 45.45% 54 67 80.60% 6.75 8.38 0.61
5 Alec Burks 2 1 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
6 Rodney Hood 3 2 10 256.33 25.63 10.20 47.06% 8 12 66.67% 0.80 1.20 0.12
7 Joe Ingles 3 2 10 227.70 22.77 5.80 43.10% 3 3 100.00% 0.30 0.30 0.05
8 Elijah Millsap 2 3 10 183.97 18.40 4.30 34.88% 11 17 64.71% 1.10 1.70 0.40
Player G MIN MPG FGA/G FG% FTM FTA FT% FGM/G FTA/G FTA/FGA
9 Derrick Favors 4 5 10 341.67 34.17 14.10 50.35% 39 59 66.10% 3.90 5.90 0.42
10 Rudy Gobert 5 10 361.88 36.19 6.30 53.97% 28 48 58.33% 2.80 4.80 0.76
11 Trevor Booker 4 10 200.45 20.05 5.20 46.15% 8 17 47.06% 0.80 1.70 0.33
12 Jack Cooley 4 5 4 18.65 4.66 0.75 33.33% 2 2 100.00% 0.50 0.50 0.67
13 Jeremy Evans 4 5 17.75 3.55 0.10 100.00% 2 4 50.00% 0.20 0.40 4.00
14 Jerrelle Benimon 4 5 2 20.48 10.24 0.00 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
15 Grant Jerrett 4 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Last 10 Games 75.60 43.65% 175 258 67.83% 17.50 25.80 0.34

So quite a few are doing well, Dante, Cotton, Hayward, Ingles, and Cooley. But only two of them have actually attempted more than 2 FTs during the last 10 games, and one of them has attempted 3. Gordon is the only one taking a lot who is making a fair share.

Trey Burke is getting to the line a bit, but he's missing way more than he should be. But this is indicative of his entire season, and is the case from everywhere. He needs some sort of Disney movie off-season to re-find his shot.

But the biggest culprits seem to be the bigmen. They get fouled a lot. And traditionally bigmen are your worst free throw shooters. And if you put the two together, well, there are some hard times.

If you group this data by class (point guards, wings, and bigmen) you get this:

M A FT% FTM/G FTA/G
PG 20 29 68.97% 2.00 2.90
WING 76 99 76.77% 7.60 9.90
BIG 79 130 60.77% 7.90 13.00
Total 175 258 67.83% 17.50 25.80

Yeah. While the team has a whole isn't shooting well from the stripe over the last 10 games (or last entire season), the Bigs have left 51 points at the line over that period. IF they made half of that, 25 more points are on the Utah Jazz scoreboard. Is it likely that the bigs can shoot 80%? Not unless Enes Kanter comes back. But more seriously, no.

What's an acceptable FT% for young bigmen? I'd love to see the bigs approach close to 70% in a few seasons. But even that number is too high for our point guards this year.

It's not the fault of the guy who misses two free throws in the fourth anymore than it's the guy who misses three in the second quarter. And it's not the fault of the bigs over the guards. It's a team problem. And it's something the team has to work on.

The best teams are the best teams not just because they score when it's hard. They stay the best because they frequently score when it's easy. Right now the Jazz are making it harder on themselves for not taking advantage of the "free" throws.

If the team made a few more three throws they would have had a good chance to go 19-1. They didn't. And all the deep fried Mexican food in the world isn't going to rally them forward if they keep missing the freebies. This is one part of the Discipline D that needs work. And I hope that the team figures it out sooner rather than later. Or, you know, just run the offense through Jeremy Evans for a few games. At least then we'd have a lot of other crazy things to talk about.