LJWorld.com weblogs The Newell Post
These Jayhawks don't have short shorts, but they shoot like it ...
Note: No Kansas players were talked to or jinxed by the creation of this blog post.
One of the most maddening things to see as a basketball fan is missed free throws.
Just think about Christian Moody against Missouri, or Kansas against Syracuse in 2003.
Nothing makes fans want to rip their hair out any more than a team that misses lots of free throws.
Having said that, KU fans should have most of their hair still in place this season.
This year’s Jayhawks on pace to have the best free-throw shooting percentage of any Bill Self-coached Kansas team.
KU has made 72.5 percent of its shots at the line this year. That ranks third in the Big 12 (behind Oklahoma State and Colorado).
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
If KU keeps this pace up, it will have the best free-throw shooting percentage since 1982-83. That would be 26 years ago. That also would be before I was born.
Let’s take a quick trip down Memory Lane. For illustration purposes, here’s a college basketball photo from the 1981-82 season.
And here’s one from the 1982-83 season. (Be sure to check out the clothes and hairstyles.)
The 1982-83 Jayhawks, who hit 72.9 percent of their free throws, had players like Jeff Dishman (left), Carl Henry (center) and Mark Ewing (right).
Anyways, back to the topic at hand. KU is shooting free throws well this year. Really well. The list below shows KU’s all-time best free-throw shooting percentages for a season. (Free-throw statistics have been kept since the 1947-48 season.)
KU's best free-throw percentages
1. 1948-49 — .733
2. 1979-80 — .731
3. 1982-83 — .729
4. 2008-09 — .725
5. 1983-84 — .723
— Through 28 games
So what is the reason for the success? KU coach Bill Self answered the question at his press conference Thursday.
“We don’t practice them any differently, anything like that,” Self said. “The thing about it with this team, the two guys that get fouled the majority of the time are maybe our two best free-throw shooters. If the guys that get fouled the majority of the time are your two worst free-throw shooters, obviously, your free throws would look poor. But Cole’s the best big man free-throw shooter we’ve had here since Wayne (Simien). Sherron obviously is shooting about 83, 85 percent. Those are the guys that are getting fouled the most.”
Let’s examine some of Self’s assertions.
KU has made 465 of 641 free throws this season. Of the 641 free throws, Collins and Aldrich have shot 258 (40.2 percent of the team’s free throws).
The chart below shows Collins’ and Aldrich’s free-throw makes, attempts and percentages.
Sherron Collins free-throw shooting
2008-09 — 109-134, 81.3 percent
2007-08 — 45-58, 77.6 percent
2006-07 — 49-64, 76.6 percent
Cole Aldrich free-throw shooting
2008-09 — 96-124, 77.4 percent
2007-08 — 26-38, 68.4 percent
Let’s not take for granted these guys’ improvement at the line either, as both obviously worked hard on their shot in the off-season, and the numbers show it.
In case you were wondering, Collins is sixth this year in the Big 12 in free-throw percentage, while Aldrich is 12th (Players must average 2.5 made free throws to get on the list; Texas A&M’s Josh Carter leads the league with an 84.5 percent free-throw percentage). KU’s accuracy obviously has been helped tremendously by Collins and Aldrich, but it also hasn’t hurt that Tyrel Reed (82.2 percent) and Brady Morningstar (79.3 percent) have been stellar from the line as well.
The other advantage for these Jayhawks is that no one is dragging the high average down.
On every team, you can usually count on one or two big guys that brick free throws like Shaq in his heyday. Typically, there’s at least one guy who shoots a lot of free throws that is a liability because he hangs in the 50-percent range.
KU doesn’t have anyone like that — at least not anyone that is shooting a lot of free throws.
Of the six Jayhawk players that have more than 30 free-throw attempts, only two are shooting worse than 72 percent from the line: Markieff Morris (62.3 percent) and Marcus Morris (62.1 percent). And while those numbers could stand to be higher, they aren’t low enough to sink KU’s average too far.
As for Self’s claim that Aldrich is the best big-man free-throw shooter since Simien, let’s take a look.
The box below shows the top big-man free-throw shooters for KU (with at least 50 attempts), going back to the 2003-04 season. (For this exercise, I’m considering “big men” to be guys that played primarily power forward or center. Sorry, Brandon Rush, you’re not a “big guy” on my list.)
KU’s best “big-man" free-throw shooters
2008-09 — Cole Aldrich: 96-124, 77.4 percent
2007-08 — Darrell Arthur: 80-114, 70.2 percent
2006-07 — Darnell Jackson: 67-102, 65.7 percent
2005-06 — Darnell Jackson: 40-52, 76.9 percent
2004-05 — Wayne Simien: 142-174, 81.6 percent
2003-04 — Wayne Simien: 167-206, 81.1 percent
As we can see from the list, Self’s statement holds true, though Darnell Jackson gave it a nice run during his sophomore season.
What does it all mean? KU fans should appreciate this young team not only for its quick development, but also for its ability to hit free throws to make it a more enjoyable viewing experience.