Did the player wait the right amount of time before running off his screener? Was the pump fake convincing enough? Could the Thunder Girls’ outfits distract the defender for a split second? Everything matters.
When it comes to the outcome of a game, the margin of error is even smaller. In games where teams regularly combine for more than 220 points, the victor must score only one point more than the opposition. That considered, it is a good thing the Oklahoma City Thunder are not wasting many opportunities to put a point on the board.
No point is easier to score than a free throw. Sure, fatigue is working against a player, minor injuries throw off technique, intense pressure alters a player’s focus, and on the road, every fan in the arena is doing his or her best to distract the guy at the line.
That said, those same things are all involved in every other basketball play, but there is the added obstacle of a world-class athlete making an effort to stop the ball from getting in the hoop. At the free-throw line, it is just the shooter and the hoop.
That’s why they call them “free throws.”
The cliché is “That’s why they call them ‘free throws.’” Despite it being the most often practiced skill by every professional basketball player, the median team free-throw percentage is about 76 percent. That means about 24 percent of the time, players waste an opportunity to score without any concern about the clock, need to conceive an advantage over the defender, or any question about whether passing would be the better avenue to take.
At press time, the Oklahoma City Thunder are making 83.1 percent of their attempts at the charity stripe. This leads the NBA; second place is Portland at 79.7 percent. To put that in perspective, the Clippers are last at 69.1 percent, so the margin between second and last is more than 10 percentage points, and the Thunder are three points better than the closest competitor.
More impressively, the Thunder are getting to the line more than anyone other than Denver. That means they are not only making the attempts they get, but they are earning more opportunities than just about everyone else.
They need those points.
With a record of 28-15, the Thunder lead the Northwest Division, but their average margin of victory is just 1.6 points per game.
That is skewed by several large-margin losses the team has incurred, but of their first 43 games, 21 had been decided by seven or fewer points. OKC was the victor in 16 of those games. Do you think those, on average, 25 points calmly gathered at the line made a difference?
Matthews is an editor of the local news and entertainment blog TheLostOgle.com.