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Free throw shooting: It’s not about where you’re from, it’s about height

Mar 31, 2011, 10:09 AM EDT

balance bracelets Shaquille O'Neal

Fascinating bit of research we want to point you to over at Basketball-Prospectus that shows the numbers back up what you already knew — big men do not shoot free throws as well as smaller players.

But, don’t go thinking foreign players are better at it than Americans.

Kevin Pelton crunched the numbers a few different ways and found the one fairly consistent thing is that the taller a player is the less likely he is to be good at free throw shooting.

For each inch taller, players tend to shoot 1.2 percent worse from the line.

But it’s not that clear cut. Yao Ming is a career 83 percent free throw shooter, for example.

That’s because he’s a foreign born player and they are better at shooting free throws you say? Not true.

Pelton’s numbers show American players shot 76.5 percent from the line, foreign players 75.5 percent. European players shot 76.6 percent, basically the same as their American counterparts.

However, European big men tend to be better than American big men, Pelton notes. That’s not just Dirk Nowitzki (whose streak of 74 consecutive free throws came to an end Wednesday night), but also guys like Andrea Bargnani, Pau Gasol and Danilo Gallinari. And that may be the cause of perception about Americans and fr

One other note, Pelton says there is evidence of some players having dramatic improvement in their free throw percentages (hello Chris Webber), but that more often despite practice guys just kind of stay the same. Some guys even regress. While there is a statistical value to practicing the shot, it’s not as dramatic as some people think, Pelton concludes.

Go read the entire bit of research. It’s interesting work in an area not all that covered.

  1. thestudiokida - Mar 31, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Okay this is a good reminder that correlation statistics do not indicate causality. Just because a guy is tall doesn’t mean it CAUSES him to shoot poorly. The smart bet would be that bigger hands CAUSES difficulties at the free throw line. Look how Shaq holds a basketball, it would be like me shooting a softball.

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