Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hack a Shaq

ESPN's John Hollinger has a great piece on a new milestone for Shaquille O'Neal: 5,000 missed free throws (regular season only). Shaq, probably the most dominant big man the NBA has ever seen, has averaged 52.5% for his career and has missed 4,995. He's still about 800 short of Wilt Chamberlain (51.1%).

As Hollinger notes, missing this many free throws requires two rare skills: an incredible ability to get to the free throw line and being absolutely horrible at the line. You'd have to miss 300 free throws a season every year of a long NBA career. Even if you shoot 50% and stay healthy, you'd have to attempt 8 a game. Dwight Howard is the only current player who might one day join the ranks of Wilt and Shaq in historic free throw ineptitude. He's only 23, has already missed 1,142 FTs and is averaging 5 misses a game this season.

Despite all of these misses, Hollinger theorizes that even if Shaq shot 70% from the line, it is doubtful that he would have won more than one additional championship. However, his career "player efficiency rating" (a stat Hollinger created), would go from 27.1, second only to Michael Jordan's 27.9, to 36.1 - far and away the best ever. 

A couple more factoids: 
  • The top 12 FT shooters of all time combined to miss only 4,995 for their careers.
  • If Larry Bird came out of retirement and missed 3,000 straight FTs, he'd still have a higher FT percentage than Shaq.
  • Based on his career stats, Steve Nash would have to play 200 more seasons to match Shaq's 5,000 missed FTs. 


Rudi said...

I've always thought that Shaq is one of the best players in NBA history... without really being that good at basketball.

He's just so big and strong, there's really very little people can do other than hack.

Why are big men (wilt, dwight, shaq, many more) so bad at free-throws? I've heard that "freethrows to a big man are like throwing a ping-pong ball into a cup," but I've got to think that if my profession required me to throw a ping-pong ball into a cup that I could, with loads of practice, become really good at throwing ping-pong balls into cups.

Jon Vander Plas said...

Shaq isn't just big and strong - he is incredibly agile for someone that big.

While smaller players are usually better FT shooters, there are many big guys who are/were good: Yao, Pau Gasol, Hakeem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, etc. However, big guys can be very effective without being good shooters, but small guys can't. Shaq isn't just bad at FT shooting, he's bad at shooting in general. Poor shooting big guys can make it in the NBA because of their defensive presence or low post scoring.

In addition to shooting mechanics, there is a strong mental aspect to shooting FTs. I think this is probably the issue with guys like Tim Duncan who can shoot, but struggle from the line. You have too much time to think and it can cause you to shoot differently than you would taking a jump shot in rhythm.