This Week in Stupid: The Post-Standard Insults Your Intelligence IV

Installment I: Limiting Turnovers

Installment II: Blanket Shooters

Installment III: Forgo Three-Pointers

Good news, you guys!  We're halfway through picking apart this piece from The Post-Standard!

Bad news, you guys!  There's still lots of words left to go!

Good news, you guys!  This is the shortest essay of the bunch!

Bad news, you guys!  This floats some odd correlations!

Alright, enough of that nonsense.  Here's the premise statement that is going to get the business:

4. Get to the line
SU isn’t making a high percentage of free throws (64.8), but it’s getting to the line 23.7 times per game while opponents are only getting 13.3 free-throw attempts. That reflects a willingness to take the ball to the basket.
Example: SU was 26-for-38 from the line against Georgia Tech.

Courtesy, as usual, of Ken Pomeroy, here's what we working with:

METRIC OFFENSE DEFENSE NATIONAL AVERAGE

FTA/FGA

41.4 (118)

23.3 (6)

38.1

Free Throw Distribution

21.9 (156)

13.8 (338)

21.1

Free Throw Percentage

64.8 (118)

60.8 (26)

68.1

Offensive free throw rate correlation to offensive efficiency: +60
Offensive free throw rate correlation to defensive efficiency: +74
Defensive free throw rate correlation to defensive efficiency: -11
Defensive free throw rate correlation to offensive efficiency: +36

I want to define some of these terms before we really get into the meat of the essay (tehehehe! meat!):

  1. FTA/FGA: This is essentially "free throw rate."  It's just free throw opportunities against total field goals attempted.  Pretty straightforward, but don't confuse "free throw rate" with . . .
  2. . . . Free Throw Percentage: This is the team (or player's) conversion rate from the line. 
  3. Free Throw Distribution: This refers to the point distribution for Syracuse (out of its total aggregation of points, this percentage comes from made free throws, from made two-pointers, etc.).

Alright, let's go!

When you talk about getting to the line, there is only one man for the job: LE POINT DE BALLE!

  • Straight up: There is a fairly significant correlation between Syracuse getting to the line and its impact on offensive and defensive efficiency (as we know, if you're really efficient on both ends, you usually win). On the flip-side, there isn't much of a correlation between Syracuse limiting opponent free throw attempts and the Orange's offensive and defensive efficiency.  This is a little weird, but I think I have a bead on it.
  • Let's start with Syracuse's ability to get to the stripe and what it means for the Orange offense.  There's two primary reasons why getting to the stripe a lot is pretty important for the team's offense: 1) Syracuse is a poor free throw shooting team; and 2) As bad as Syracuse is from the stripe, it's better from the line than it is from the field.  Now, the first point is no surprise (in the last five years, the Orange has been above the national average in free throw shooting percentage once: 2006-2007 (70 percent), and that was an N.I.T. team).  With that said, taking the logic leap as to why getting to the stripe a lot is important for this team is straightforward: Syracuse needs to aggregate attempts to get points on the board.  Basically, this is blunderbuss basketball theory. The more crap you throw at the rim, the more opportunity you have for it to go in.  When you buttress this with how bad Syracuse is from the floor (47.9 percent effective field goal percentage), the team is going to rely on attempts from the stripe rather than from the field.
  • Let's use some examples to show why this is important.  I want to focus on three games: Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Michigan State.  In all three games, Syracuse free throw rate was higher than its season-long rate (it was also higher against Northern Iowa, but as we have spoken about before, that game came down to Northern Iowa being a horrendous shooting team).  You can say with a solid fist bump that getting to the line against the Yellow Jackets was huge (84.4 rate), but in that game Syracuse also shot the ball well enough to win (the effective field goal percentage in that game was pretty good (60.0 percent), which is helped in part by converted free throw attempts).  So, let's focus on the second two games.  Against North Carolina State, a 10-point win, the team was garbage shooting the bean (40.0 effective field goal shooting); it's free-throw rate, though, may have saved the offense -- the team's offensive efficiency that game was 100.7.  In other words, getting to the line (43.3 free throw rate) turned an otherwise miserable offensive showing into an average offensive showing.  Against Michigan State, the team was also registered a poor effective field goal shooting performance (46.3), but a 53.7 (53.7!) free throw rate pulled the team's offensive efficiency from the depths to an above-average 106.0.  Now, I'm not saying that there were other factors in those games that contributed to the victories, but getting charity chances was certainly important.
  • On the defensive end, there isn't much of a correlation between limiting opponent attempts and defensive efficiency.  This is due to a single point: Syracuse's defense has just been plain terrific. We spoke about how good the defense has been in the "Blanket Shooters" essay, so I'm not going to reiterate those points.  When push comes to shove, it just hasn't mattered.  And, as an aside, it's not like Syracuse's opponents aren't particularly good free throw shooting teams anyway.
  • If you want to extrapolate this with some examples, I'll oblige. There were four games where the Orange limited opponents to below its regular free throw rate: Canisius, Michigan, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State.  With respect to Canisius, Syracuse won because it owned the offensive glass and Canisius didn't shoot all that well. Against Michigan, the Wolverines shot themselves out of the game. Against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, well, we've talked about both contests.  So, the items are there, but I think other things are more important, namely, how well this team has played aggressive defense.
  • There's also an odd correlation here between the Orange offense getting to the line and its impact on Syracuse's defense.  The correlation is shown as strong, but I'm not believing it all that much.  I mean, there are some intangible reasons for this -- it gives the team a chance to catch its breath, it makes the opponent press offensively trying to take the ball to the tin and get points back quickly, etc. -- but I'm not sold that this has a bunch of value.  In games where Syracuse has really gotten to the line a lot, the defensive efficiency correlation vacillates.  Against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech, Syracuse got to the stripe a lot, but had two of its worst defensive games (defensive efficiency was above the norm).  Against Northern Iowa and Michigan State, the team got to the line a lot as well, but defensive efficiency was stronger than the norm.  Accordingly, I think it's unwise to attribute too much to this correlation as the outcomes are just weird.
  • And here's a bonus bullet point to impress your friends while having a beer and watching the game: Kris Joseph is the catalyst to this rate.  He's drawn about six fouls per 40-minutes of action.  That adds up to the176th most drawn fouls in the country and a free throw rate that is  211th best nationally.He's also canning about 72 percent of his free throw attempts, which is nice. If you want to further impress your friends, tell them that Baye Keita and C.J. Fair would be in this company, too, if they used up more possessions.

So, what did we learn? Well, any four-factor metric is important, but if you wanted to pick this apart you could say that Syracuse's ability to get to the line has helped the team as: 1) The team stinks from the field; and 2) It has a poor conversion rate from the line, but the aggregation approach is helping.

Final Decision: Important, but not in terms of the Syracuse-Opponent attempt discrepancy.

Next Installment: Control Boards

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