Don’t You Learn How To Hit Free Throws In Youth Basketball?

By Greg Moore
Updated: May 15, 2007

NBA Spalding Ball SAN ANTONIO — Oh the horror. Oh the humanity. Oh the humiliation. A bunch of grown men who are paid millions of dollars cannot hit the most basic basketball shot in the game — the free throw.

Most noticeably, the Golden State Warriors have allowed their lack of mastering the free throw stroke cost them yet another playoff game in a series that clearly shows they are the better team. Or are they?

After all a consummate basketball team that is successful in the playoffs isn’t just athletic, they are a disciplined unit that tackles all adversities and succeeds at the task at hand. Evidently, coach Don Nelson thinks this just part of the quirkiness of his squad.

“We are not a very good free throw shooting team,” Nelson said after his team’s 115-101 loss on Sunday to the Utah Jazz. “You need to be at 80% to make it far in the playoffs.”

Hitting 80% may be pushing it. How about hitting crucial free throws when you are ahead of your opponent. But the Warriors aren’t the only playoff team that cannot hit free throws.

Until recently, the San Antonio Spurs were just as bad and we won’t even talk about the Miami Heat. Overall, the whole league has players who just don’t care about free points from the charity stripe like they used to.

During the heyday that were the Magic/Bird era, you had players who were shooting 80% or better and many of them were bench players. Your starters were at 82% or better.

Today, teams are lucky to find players who can hit 60% on a consistent basis. This season there aren’t enough players who care about being above 80% from the line.

For example, when looking at this year’s free throw leaders who are in the top 50 and seeing if any Spurs players are amongst that group, only one player, Manu Ginobili, is in that group.

Manu is 17th on that list. As for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, they are ranked 75th and 130th respectively. Bruce Bowen is not on the list of 137 players listed and other players from this year’s roster do not qualify as they did not have enough attempts to be ranked for the regular season.

Taking Bowen and the rest of the team out of the mix, the Spurs top three stars should be in the top 50 of free throw shooters and it should be something that they are proud of.

For example, with Dirk Nowitzki, he was ranked second on this list with a 90.4% accuracy rate. Dirk is every bit as tall as Duncan so there really is no excuse for Duncan to be 130th on this list.

A 63.7% average should be a penalty on his pay stub and hearing the excuse that he is a big man and it is difficult to have the proper trajectory on that shot just doesn’t float any more.

Again not when Yao Ming and Dirk are in the top 20 or so.

It may be 2007 and the game we know and love from the NBA may have become faster but there still is no excuse for professional athletes who are paid to hit shots fail to do so in crucial times of the game.

The Spurs have lost numerous contests because Duncan and company failed to hit free throws early in the game and Golden State has let three of the four playoff contests against Utah be decided by them not hitting those easy points.

Pride in the art of free throw shot has to be somewhere in the league and it needs to be resurrected, even if it is just for one series or season. Or at least so that the beginning ball players see that what they learned in youth basketball still applies when you turn professional.

League needs to look at everybody The NBA is looking into last Saturday’s game to see if Bruce Bowen intentionally kneed Steve Nash during the game. In the past few days, the Suns’ Amare Stoudamire said that both Bowen and Ginobili were dirty players. An NBA spokesman confirmed earlier Sunday that the league was indeed investigating Bowen.

While that may be all well and good, the league needs to broaden its investigation and look at both teams in this instance. Bowen isn’t the only player who may be committing an egregious act.

The Suns have their culprits as well; namely Shawn Marion and Raja Bell. And if anyone needs to look at who is committing a foul, it’s Bell and/or Marion.

If the league is going to crack down on rough play, then maybe it needs to look at all the teams playing and send out a general warning that excessive hard fouls will not be tolerated.

One or two players should not be singled out but a stern warning should be given to all players before the next round begins.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was written prior to Monday’s Suns-Spurs game and Tuesday’s Warriors-Jazz game.