The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Research? That’s Cheating!

I rip a lot of articles on here and always have going back to my last blog, so I like to take the time on occasion to highlight a really good article, especially when it’s in a national mainstream publication. The NY Times, of all places, has such an article from yesterday on freethrows- their historical success rates at college and pro levels, variability or lack thereof between the sexes, the influence of non-American players and several likely reasons for the findings. It’s really everything you can ask for from mainstream sports journalism. Thumbs up! The part I found particularly fascinating was the fact that historically speaking, the actual rates of success for free throws have consistently been about 69% at the college level and 75% at the pro, with slight variations likely due to random chance around a baseline. When you think about it, this is almost exactly what we should expect- consistency within individual groupings due to the reasons the article suggests, and a slightly higher rate among professionals since they’re a more stringently selected pool. And yet- how many times have we heard and read that NBA fundamental skills have declined over the years, and that college teaches players to be better in those areas even though they’re poorer athletes? This little article alone doesn’t kill that assertion of course, but it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental skill for the game less influenced by what we commonly consider athleticism than an unchallenged shot from medium range. That free throw rates at both levels have survived mostly unchanged through the eras of high school draftpicks and ever-shorter college tenures for pro-quality players is striking.

The questions I walked away from the article with however (and most good articles leave you with at least one) were about what we commonly consider athleticism. Speed, lift, agility, strength- these are obvious. Hand-eye coordination and judgment of bodies in motion and their relationships to each other are less commonly thought of as athletic gifts; but when you think about it they’re every bit as fundamental as the others to playing basketball well (not just free throws; think threading a bounce pass through traffic on the break), yet tend to get shuffled under the general heading “basketball IQ”. Is free throw shooting a useable proxy for all of those capacities, noting the usual differences between PG free throw shooting and center free throw shooting overall?  Does the consistency of FT% indicate that those areas aren’t being selected for in a a rigorous or dominant fashion? Could you trace a meaningful portion of NBA stars’ success to their possession of gifts in these important-but-non-selected-for areas in addition to gifts in more commonly tracked areas (strength, height, vertical leap, etc.)? Obviously I have no idea of the answers to these questions though I do have some suspicions. There’s still a lot of work to be done in understanding this sport.

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March 4, 2009 - Posted by | Other NBA

1 Comment »

  1. Whoa there, you’re getting into Moneyball territory there at the end, my friend. And you know what bullshit Moneyball is! 😉 Unless you didn’t read the book, in which case you should read the book.

    Incidentally, if you have further interest in the realm of undervalued basketball stats, the author of Moneyball penned a column on just such a subject and the player who apparently exemplifies these new, uncommon ways to look at players.

    That article is linked on Deadspin, here: http://deadspin.com/5153661/the-underrated-genius-of-shane-battier

    Keep up the good work on this blargh, dude.

    -Chris

    Comment by Wacy | March 4, 2009 | Reply


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