Free throws: Impact players, mirages
Field goal and free throw percentages are the trickiest stats to get a handle on in fantasy hoops. That's because they are weighted. When you look at your roto standings and you see that you're 20 steals behind the next owner, you can safely assume that if you trade a guy who averages 0.5 spg for a guy who averages 2.5 spg, you should catch up to the other owner in about 10 games. A steal is a steal.
The same doesn't go for percentages, though. That's because you have to factor in the percentage a player hits with the number of attempts he takes. I have no idea why a 6-foot-1 guard like Rajon Rondo has hit less than 63 percent of his career free throws or less than 59 percent of his attempts this season. I do understand why the free throw percentage of a giant like Dwight Howard is below 60 percent for his career and 59 percent this season. But while their percentages are similar, their effect on your fantasy teams is not even close to the same. That's because Rondo is averaging three attempts per game and Howard is averaging 10.
Another side effect of these weighted stats is that it can take far longer for your team to rise through the roto rankings after making trades, especially if you are way behind. In fact, since we are just about at the midway point of the season, you'll need to make moves now if you want to have any chance of making a big change in your percentages.
With all of that in mind, let's take a deeper look at the best and worst of free throw shooters.
Studs due to high FTA
Along with those three and Howard, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh round out the top seven in FTA this season. But while James, Wade and Bosh all average at least nine attempts in each contest, none of the three average even 79 percent. They do post respectable averages (James 77.9 percent, Wade 77.2 percent, Bosh: 78.6 percent) and will be great additions if your team's average is in the tank. But if you're trying to move your team up from, say, 77 percent to 79 percent, there's only so much these guys can do for you -- unless you're dealing away a Dwight Howard-type player to get one of those studs.
Of course, in order to get studs, you'll have to pay for studs. And if you want to make a big move, you can't do it with just one player. So, you'll want to take a close look at the next tier of free throw studs, which includes guys like Devin Harris, Chauncey Billups, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger, Brook Lopez and Tyreke Evans. They all average at least six attempts per game and, except for Harris (77.8 percent) and Evans (78.8 percent), each of them hit better than 80 percent from the line.
Harris has knocked down at least 82 percent of his free throws the past two seasons, so he'll be up there soon enough. Evans drained only 71.1 percent of his free throws during his lone collegiate season at Memphis, but he has good form and should stay up around 80 percent this season.
The ultimate free throw sleeper every season, though, is Corey Maggette, who is averaging 8.4 attempts at 83.8 percent in just 29.9 minutes per game this season. In eight January games, Maggette is averaging an amazing 12.9 attempts at a 90.3 percent clip. I've even seen Maggette on waivers recently.
Trouble due to bad percentage and high FTA
Obviously, Howard is the worst of the worst when it comes to free throws, but there are a few other guys who can be a real drag on your team's free throws.
Gerald Wallace is taking a career-high 7.4 attempts per game but is knocking down just 75.4 percent of them. That's not bad, but it's not great, either. The upside with Wallace is that he shot 80.4 percent last season and has hit 84.6 percent this month, so he could still pick things up in the second half.
Monta Ellis also is averaging a career best in free throw attempts (6.3) this season. While he hit a great 83 percent in his 25-game campaign last season, this season (75.6 percent) he's right around his career average of 76.6 percent, so don't expect much change.
Rudy Gay has a similarly mediocre career average of 76.0 percent and is draining just 74.5 percent of his 5.6 attempts this season. We should see his percentage rise in the second half, but clearly it's a matter of concentration with Gay, as he's been thoroughly inconsistent the first four seasons of his career: 72.7 percent, 78.5 percent, 76.7 percent, 74.5 percent.
Mirages due to low FTA
While fantasy owners often note the big free throw producers, what's regularly missed by even the astute fantasy veteran is the mirage of a player who drains a high percentage of his free throws but fails to take enough attempts to make a serious difference.
Joe Johnson (83.3 percent, 3.5 FTA), David West (85.7 percent, 3.3 FTA), O.J. Mayo (82.5 percent, 3.2 FTA), Kevin Garnett (84.3 percent, 3.1 FTA), Andrea Bargnani (79.8 percent, 3.0 FTA), Rashard Lewis (77.9 percent, 2.8 FTA), Stephen Curry (84.7 percent, 1.8 FTA) and Jason Kidd (77.1 percent, 0.9 FTA) are similar examples of great free throw shooters, who simply don't take enough attempts to make a large impact.
It's hard to knock a fantasy superstar like Chris Paul, but he's averaging a career-low 4.5 FTA this season, more than two fewer attempts per game than last season. That's not hollow, but it's not what you might expect from a stud and is more proof that you must look deeper into percentages when looking to make trades.
Retro Roto: Wilt Chamberlain
As a young player, Wilt Chamberlain was a strong free throw shooter. That's because he had a very unique technique. No, he didn't shoot them granny-style. And no, it didn't look funky like Shawn Marion's charity-stripe tosses. Chamberlain simply took the ball in one hand, jumped from the free throw line and dunked the ball. Seeing how no one else could do that, basketball rules were changed and his "technique" was banned. Keep that in mind the next time you think about dunking your free throws!
With the rule change, Wilt's relative success died off quickly and his fantasy impact would have been epically bad. Over his 14-year career, he averaged 11.4 free throw attempts and hit just 51.1 percent of them. For those of you suffering through another year of watching D-Ho hit about 59 percent of his 10 attempts per game, consider just how brutal some of Chamberlain's campaigns would have been in fantasy terms.
During the 1961-62 season, when he was with the Philadelphia Warriors, Wilt averaged a staggering (and NBA record) 17 attempts from the line and hit just 61.3 percent of them. As brutal as that may seem, that was the highest free throw percentage of his career.
How about the 1967-68 campaign with the Philadelphia 76ers? He averaged 11.4 attempts per game, and he hit just 38 percent of them. I'm guessing you just threw up a little bit in your mouth while reading that.
Still, just like Howard these days, it would have been mighty tempting to draft Chamberlain for your fantasy team. After all, during that '61-62 season, he hit 50.6 percent of his 39.5 field goal attempts per game to average 50.4 points per game. Oh, and he just happened to pull down 25.7 rebounds per game.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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