LeBron James is not getting to the line in the playoffs. Like, at all. Neither is Kyrie Irving. What's going on?
The two stars pride themselves on their ability to get into the paint and draw contact, but it's not happening. So far, the two stars free throw rates are stunningly low given their past production.
LeBron James has shot 16 free throws in five games on 99 shot attempts. Kyrie Irving has taken 18 free throws on 105 shot attempts. Two of LeBron's 16 FTAs were due to intentional fouls, and six of Kyrie's have been. Even including the non-shooting fouls, LeBron is posting a measly free throw rate of .162, while Kyrie is just slightly "better" at .171.
LeBron James had one of his lowest FT rates ever this season, drawing .347 free throws per field goal attempt. That's much lower than his career rate of .422, but still very strong when compared to much of the league.
Kyrie Irving's free throw rate also took a dive this season, dropping from .296 last year to .217 this year.
Both of those numbers are perfectly explainable in the regular season. LeBron's not quite as fearsome of an athlete as he used to be, and his declining jumper allows defenders to sag off and be in much better position to not foul. Kyrie seemed to avoid the paint a bit more this season as he rehabbed from knee surgery.
These much lower numbers so far in the postseason are likely not explained by that.
Allow me a brief caveat: this is a five game sample. There's a hilarious margin for error in interpreting this sort of data, and four games from now, we might find that everything has returned to normal. I'm certainly not positing that the Cavaliers are the victim of some grand conspiracy. It's just odd that these guys aren't getting calls.
My first thought was to see whether LeBron was taking more jumpers than he should be, and avoiding shots at the rim.
That's a no go. LeBron is taking 45.5 percent of his shots within 0-3 feet of the rim, per Basketball Reference. That's nearly a 12 percent higher percentage than his career playoff average of 33.7.
The same doesn't entirely hold true for Kyrie Irving, who is taking only 22 percent of his shots from the immediate rim area, down from 24.3 in the regular season. He's been defended very physically on the perimeter, and he really hasn't been able to turn the corner and get to the rim and has instead done his damage with his jumper for the most part.
Still, James and Irving should be getting to the line at a much higher rate than this. Tyronn Lue needs to follow in the footsteps of his former coach, Phil Jackson, and work the media a bit if he has to. This drop-off is pretty unprecedented, and even though you can expect a less trigger-happy whistle in the postseason, it's getting a little crazy for the Cavaliers two best players.
EDITORS NOTE: The original story had a note that LeBron James was dead last in free throw rate among players who have played 50 minutes. I had an incorrect filter applied on basketball reference, and I was wrong. I am very sorry.