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Free Throws Mean Free Wins: NBA Picks Who Draw Contact


Basketball is built on the basics. Fundamentals make a player and great fundamentals make a great player. There is nothing more fundamental than free throws. It may not be the most exciting thing for fans to watch, especially coming from the past decade which included debacles like three-point flopping or Hack-a-Shaq. It does slow down the pace of games, but the ability to get to the line, drawing contact, and still finishing, is a remarkable art that only the best players have mastered. It is incredibly undervalued in an era of basketball where shooting ability reigns high. Driving to the hoop and drawing fouls ensures a player’s ability to increase his team’s score even on poor shooting nights. Also, don’t overlook the hype of late game free throws. Check out Rolando Blackman in 1987’s All Star Game. Confidence baby CONFIDENCE.

In fantasy, free throw percentage is a category that is often overlooked and punted by taking centers that cannot hit a free throw to save their life. I agree that it isn’t something to place too much emphasis on, but if you have 1-2 players who are making it to the free throw line consistently every night they play AND are shooting 85% or higher, then that category could easily be swung in your favor.

Today we are looking through historical statistics to develop a list of top tier, mid-tier, and sleeper players focusing on their ability to draw fouls and make free throws. I will be spending most of my time on detailing the potential of our sleepers because anybody who is reading fantasy basketball articles in early September probably is already aware of the top picks!

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Free Throws Mean Free Wins

The following players are top picks based off their ability to draw fouls and covert that are likely going to be gone in the first or second rounds of a draft. Taking any of these players will be great for owners! In no particular order:

 

Next, here are few mid-round talents worth looking at due to their ability to get to the charity stripe.

Eric Bledsoe (Projected 28th, Ended Season 33rd)

4.3 fta/game on 79.5%, but he shot 6.9, 5.5, and 5.4 fta/game in past 3 seasons in Phoenix. He should regress back to higher attempts. Plus, there is more spacing for Bledsoe to drive. What’s worrisome is his lower FT%

Gordon Hayward (Projected 40th, Ended Season 5 minutes into his first game)

An excellent player but surrounded by talent. He can historically go to the line for about 6 fta/game and hit at a mid-80% clip but with better teammates it seems too high to put him at rank 40 unless we know how Brad Stevens will value Gordon.

DeMarcus Cousins (Projected 36th, Ended Season 13th)

Same worries as Hayward except he won’t be back until mid-January at the earliest and the Warriors have no incentive to rush back Boogie. He’s been incredible at getting to the line for the past four seasons although he shoots at a mid-70% clip. Will he demand the ball in the post and mess up the Warriors cutting scheme? He's currently going around 91st in Yahoo leagues, and it’s not a bad idea to take a flier on Cousins and stick him in your IR spot, since even a diminished Cousins could return 3rd or 4th round value in the games he does play.

DeMar DeRozan (Projected 46th, Ended Season 47th)

I am high on Demar. I think he will do well in SA and be able to show his ability to draw fouls even more than in Toronto. He is an excellent finisher and will be a focal point to the SA offense. An above 7 fta/game player, Derozan has made driving a major part of his game and it doesn’t matter to me if he doesn’t add a trustworthy 3 point shot as long as he continues to polish his already determined skills. 17.4% of DeRozan’s isolation plays lead to free throws which was 4th in the league. 16.3% of DeRozan’s PnR Ball Handler plays lead to free throws which was 1st in the league. He shows proficiency at drawing contact in offensive plays. I would take Demar in the 3rd round. Don’t be afraid to trust DeRozan.

Kyle Lowry (Projected 25th, Ended Season 29th)

How forlorn it is to talk about Lowry right after Derozan and remember that they are no longer teammates… Lowry had somewhat of a statistical regression that nobody is mentioning. This is most likely due to the success due to Toronto teamwork. Lowry averaged 3.3 fta/game over the last season when previously he was averaging between 4.5 and 6.5 fta/game. But he did have a better free throw shooting percentage year which hopefully will translate into his career. There is something to say about Kawhi coming into the picture but Lowry should still be the clear number 2 guy and should have a better season compared to last season.

Khris Middleton (Projected 26th, Ended Season 25th)

This is every NBA nerd’s favorite underrated player. Middleton had an incredible season last year and could very well reach All-Star status in an emptier Eastern Conference. He has shown increased ability to get to the line and should be a strong no. 2 option on defense. His capability to shoot 3s should open up his driving lines to draw fouls as well. Middleton was ranked top 5 for shooting percentage on free throws in clutch minutes. He also had one of the highest free throw percentage in the league. This indicated a level of trust to let Middleton handle the ball at the end of games.

The final prospects that I want to focus on are the prospects that are maybe less known but have the potential to have a great season. These players have shown ability to produce points in limited situations, and can be nice pick-ups for fantasy owners

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Projected 75th, Ended Season 101st)

RHJ was on a team that was in the top third of the league in free throws per game. Rondae showed ability as a big who could handle the ball and had a major jump in his 3rd year in the league in terms of scoring and getting to the free throw line. For somebody who doesn't ever shoot 3s, RHJ is a high 70% free throw shooter and could improve. RHJ gets 26.3% of his points off free throws. Brooklyn is likely still not going to be a very good team, and they will have incentive to help their younger players progress. I think going into his 4th year RHJ could be a breakout candidate as he tried to earn his next contract.

Jamal Murray (Projected 53rd, Ended Season 60th)

Denver is a team that is getting a lot of hype to go into the 2018-19 season. Part of that is riding on their young talent such as Jamal Murray. Murray really showed strides in his sophomore season and he will be a primary option on offense for an incredible fast paced squad. Over the season, Murray averaged 90.5% free throwing shooting percentage on 3.1 attempts per game. You can trust Coach Malone to let Murray take the reins by looking at how Murray's playing time increased over the season. By the last month, Murray was averaging 37.2 minutes per game. As his shooting from deep improves, Murray will continue to grow as a threat. He is my leading candidate for Most Improved Player for next season.

Julius Randle (Projected 87th, Ended Season 139th)

Randle is one of my favorite back-half of the draft pickups. In his first four years in LA, he was misused because of his unique role as a small ball big without ability to shoot threes. He does have some ability to handle the ball and bully his way to get a bucket. In his 4th year in the league he has increased his points per game and FG% from 48.8% to 55.8% in 2017. At the end of the season when Randle was getting the car keys to the offense, Randle bumped up his FTA/game up to 7.3. He can still be a stronger free throw shooter as he currently averages in the low-mid 70% range. But the change in team and role should be better for his career. A lot of Randle's potential depends how Coach Gentry will set his lineups. But whether Randle starts at PF next to Anthony Davis or he comes off the bench to direct the offense as a small ball center, he should be able to score effectively in a talented front court. For example, 18.8% of Julius Randle’s Post Up plays led to free throws which was 4th in the league. Anthony Davis is such a good player his presence should draw threats away from defending Randle. Randle is a great pick that should have a high floor.

Rudy Gay (Projected 105th, Ended Season 147th) 

Spurs lost Kawhi in the offseason, but the best news for Rudy Gay was Memphis signing Kyle Anderson to a four-year contract. This slots Gay into a starting small forward role and he should have a much larger role to produce counting stats. Back in the 2014-15 season for the Sacramento Kings, Gay was on a team with limited capable wings back then and he was 13th in the league in terms of ability to get to the line with 5.8 attempts on 85.8%. In San Antonio, Rudy Gay has the potential to pull off similar stats. The deciding factor will be the Spurs ability to space the floor. The starting lineup doesn't have much range in the backcourt and this could be a cap on Gay's ability to cut to the hoop. Once you are drafting around players projected 100th or higher, it's good to go for high ceiling risks especially if they are starting in a new increased role. Go for Gay if you are looking for a player that can score.

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