After a loss on February 25 to the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron James made a comment about going to the free throw line. He had a solid game with 33 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists but was just 3-4 from the free throw line. Over the next few days many outlets mentioned LeBron’s free throw attempts and he is averaging his least amount of free throw attempts (6.1) since his rookie season (5.8).
Looking at the numbers, free throw attempts across the board are down. That is because the league has made many strides to stop rewarding players for swing through attempts and the refs are calling less calls when a player drives to the basket.
Going back to LeBron’s last season with the Heat, he was 8th in the league in free throw attempts with 585. He also had 9.4 drives per game. Kevin Durant led the league with 805 and he was the only player with 800 free throw attempts that season. There were five players with at least 600 free throws.
Since returning to the Cavs LeBron’s free throw attempts have gone down each season; 528, 491, 531 and this season he’s at 382. However, his drives per game has gone up since his last season in Miami, he’s averaging 11.7 drives per game since returning to Cleveland. Last season there were two players with 800 free throw attempts (Harden, Westbrook) and there were six players with at least 600+ free throw attempts. This season only Harden, and Giannis Antetokounmpo have attempted more than 500 free throws.
LeBron James has played seven more games than Jimmy Butler and has 11 fewer attempts. Despite averaging a triple-double in the month of February LeBron only had one game with at least 10 free throws. During his recent tear through the league Anthony Davis had five games with at least 10 free throws in February, while James Harden had eight games with at least 10 free throws.
There have been twelve 50 point games this season. There were three players that attempted less than 10 free throws in those games. Bradley Beal, C.J. McCollum and LeBron James were those players. Beal and McCollum are not great at getting to the line. LeBron was 9-9 in his 57-point game. Harden has two 50 point games and a 60-point game; in those games he’s attempted 55 free throws. Anthony Davis attempted 26 free throws in his 53-point game.
Although the number of free throws being shot is down, LeBron James does not get the calls because he is bigger. He’s only averaging 6.1 free throws per game and right behind him is Steph Curry with 6.0. If you look at free throw attempts based on drives to the basket, the top three is James Harden, DeMar DeRozan and Russell Westbrook. Those are names we expect to see on this list. If you look at total drives in the league Ben Simmons and Dennis Schroder are in the top five but they don’t attempt the same amount of free throws.
Drawing a foul on a drive is a skill which does favor smaller players. If we go back to free throws based on drives, Damian Lillard has 726 total drives and LeBron James has 723 total drives. Lillard has attempted 144 free throws while LeBron has only attempted 130. Lou Williams has 683 drives and has attempted 131 free throws.
LeBron James is tied at 4th place with Russell Westbrook with 8.3 points per game off drives. He leads the league in drive FG% and paint touch FG%, so he gets to the basket. His total shot attempts have gone down in general as he increased his efficiency. We all know things change in the playoffs so maybe he will get more calls then.