clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

LeBron James isn't getting to the free throw line

New, comments

Through nine games in the postseason, LeBron James is getting to the free throw line for just 4.6 attempts per game, the lowest FTA average in his 11-year playoff career.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Through nine games in the postseason, LeBron James is getting to the free throw line for just 4.6 attempts per game, the lowest FTA average in his 11-year playoff career. The statistic is particularly strange because his free throw shooting percentage is also at a playoff career low of 63.4% (Expected value would be 1.268). With the hacking strategy making appearances in almost every playoff series this year, it is could potentially be tried against James given his current low free throw shooting percentage. On Tuesday's Game 1 James was 11-of-12 at the rim, and only took one shot outside five feet from the basket. Fouling James and forcing him to make the throw free throws might not be a bad strategy for the Raptors, if he continues to execute that that rate.

But besides the hack-a-LeBron strategy, the statistic is also curious given his comments on flagrant fouls after Game 1 with ESPN's Dave McMenamin:

"I have no idea what it is. I know what it is when it happens to someone else, but I don't know when it involves me. I have no idea what a common foul and flagrant foul is."

Some of it has to do with the fact that he is taking fewer shots in the postseason, just over 18 a game compared to 20 for his career average in the playoffs. But even by that measure, he is getting to the line for less than a quarter of his field goal attempts (0.241 FTA/FGA), which is the lowest in his career. Another factor may be age. His second lowest FTA/FGA ratio was in 2015, 0.306. In his time in Miami, that rate was in the mid to low-40's, and in his first bought with Cleveland, it was as high as the 50s-60s. Either way, it doesn' fully explain why he is getting to the line so infrequent.

Using game log data from basketball-reference.com, I looked at the average number of attempts for free throws, three-pointers, and two-pointers across James's playoff career. (Note: This data doesn't include Thursday's Game 2)  The results are rather interesting. For one, look at how many shots he took in 2015 compared to 2016, it speaks to the role he had to fill when the team was so shorthanded without Irving and Love. For another, look at how ridiculously efficient he was in 2014. That was three years and 174 games ago, but it's remarkable to think that potential could still be there (somewhat) if he worked on his shooting form.

Note: A previous version of this article mentioned the expected value of free throws was 0.634. This was calculated for one free throw, however in hacking situations that would likely be two shots. This was corrected. The expected values in the graphs are calculated by multiplying the value of the shot (2 for FTs, 2 for 2PAs, 3 for 3PAs) by the shooting percentage.