Free Throwing Shade
An average player typically shoots their best percentage shots from the free throw line, followed by normal two-point shots, followed by three-point land. For example, Amorie Archibald is 93% from the stripe, 54% from two, and 34% from three this year.
But DaQuan Bracey, one of Tech’s most electric athletes, is no typical player.
#4 #25, it’s just the opposite. Bracey is hitting 53% from three, 51% from two, and 38% from one. On the surface, this sounds like good news, right? This would mean that Bracey has been more effective on the higher scoring plays.
And some of that stat line is impressive. The average player only makes a three pointer a third of the time, and Bracey makes two-pointers slightly more often than most college players too. But while we can (and should (and do)) praise Bracey for what he has done well, we also can’t ignore that 38% free throw stat, especially considering the national average is nearly double that at 70%.
For context, the last Tech player that shot that poorly from the line on 20+ attempts was Gilbert Talbot in 2014 (32%).
But Bracey isn’t the only problem the Bulldogs have at the charity stripe. In fact, only three Bulldogs on this year’s team are above average free throw shooters:
That chart doesn’t quite tell the full story of Tech’s free throw predicament, because some players head to the foul line much more often than others.
So let’s see how often Tech’s best free throw shooters are the ones that make the trip to the line:
So Tech’s best free throw shooters are only taking just over a quarter of the shots. That’s… less than ideal.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that two of the largest slices of the pie belong to Crawford and Muhammed, who often play under the rim, where most shooting fouls are called. And the good news is that while Crawford and Muhammed are below average free throw shooters, they aren’t too far below that average.
The real concern here is Bracey, who is both Tech’s worst free throw shooter and Tech’s fourth leading free throw attempter (is that a word?). If Bracey had instead gone the typical 70% from the line instead of 38%, Tech’s team average would improve from 310th in the country to 210th.
That’s still just below average, but Tech has only been above average from the stripe in three seasons in the Mike White and Eric Konkol eras combined:
The one Mike White team that just peaked above the average line in 2012-13 shot 69.6%. If that team was copy-pasted into this season, they would instead be just below this year’s 70% average. And they’d also be confused about why everyone hates Star Wars now.
Eric Konkol on the other hand, brought the team across that average line in 2016-17 and even improved upon that in 2017-18.
But then 2018-19 happened.
How did Tech fall from 73% to 66% in just one year?
It turns out losing your top three free throw shooters will do that. Tech lost Boykins to graduation, Christon to a season-long injury, and Harris to his own ego and also the transfer portal.
The returners in the 2018-19 season all had seasons that were similar to the previous year. And while Langston was Tech’s top free throw shooter on the year, his arrival couldn’t nearly make up for Muhammed’s struggles.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, Muhammed has followed up his inaugural season with much more success from the stripe so far this year:
If you compare this chart to the one above it, it looks a lot more chaotic. Between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season, the returning players had similar numbers from the stripe. The biggest difference was Pemberton’s improvement from 60% to 69%. But this season Bracey, Jean, and Powell are shooting over 15 percentage points worse.
If you take Archibald and Ledoux off this team, and Tech is the worst free throw shooting team in Division 1 basketball.
Some of the disparity between last year’s and this year’s performances are due to sample size. As we get into conference play, we’ll probably see Jean, Powell, and even Bracey start shooting closer to their career average. Of course, that also means we might also see Archibald and Muhammed regress back to how they’ve shot in previous seasons.
With three players underperforming and three players over-performing, Tech will probably end the season with a free throw percentage close to what they have now.
And if that’s true, I just hope Tech doesn’t play in any close games in the C-USA Tournament that come down to foul shots. I mean, what are they odds that happens again like it did in 2019, 2018, 2015, and 2014.