As I watched David West step to the foul line last night with a chance to seal Game 5 for the Pacers I started to wonder something.
Just how many teams in the NBA would use an inbounds play in that situation to get the ball to one of their big men? While I didn’t ever settle on a specific number of teams my mind immediately shifted to the Pelicans and the luxury they have in the same situations.
When you think about big men, free throw shooting is one of the last things that come to mind unless it is a player like DeAndre Jordan who is so bad it hurts his team. But for the Pelicans the free throw shooting they will get from what looks like the three main bigs they will play next season is a huge strength, especially at center.
Last season just 15 NBA players who basketball reference qualified as centers, center/forwards and forward/centers shot 78 percent or better from the foul line. Of those 15 players, just eight played more than 900 minutes including Anthony Davis and Alexis Ajinca.
There is a ton of value in having those two players shoot free throws so well and it goes beyond just big men get fouled a fair amount. At the end of games the Pelicans have two huge weapons that they can utilize in a variety of ways. First it gives them two massive individuals who it should be easy to inbound the ball to thanks to their length. This opens up a ton of options for New Orleans when they know they have to be fouled as they can easily throw out lineups of Jrue Holiday, Anthony Morrow (if he returns), Ryan Anderson, Davis and Ajinca when they know they need free throws and have five players who shot 79 percent or better in the 2013-2014 season to close things out.
It also means that the team doesn’t need to sub in rebounders in late game situations that they have to worry about getting fouled when they corral that rebound. Davis, Ajinca and Anderson are the team’s three best rebounders so having the ability to use any and not worry about having to burn a timeout to keep them off the foul line is a great situation to be in late in games when every point and every timeout matter.
The most encouraging part of all though is Davis, who jumped his free throw percentage from 75 percent as a rookie to 79 percent last season. If he continues to rise, even on a much slower scale he becomes a massive weapon in the way Yao Ming used to be for the Rockets. I mentioned above but the ability to easily inbound the ball to Davis in late game situations and not have to worry about how he would perform at the foul line is huge. Just last night we watched as the Heat almost earned a late possession by knowing the ball was coming to Paul George and almost knocking the ball off him and out-of-bounds. With Davis there is almost no way for that to happen as all the Pelicans need is the tiniest sliver of space to toss things high into the air and late Davis extend to the heavens to corral the ball.
With a team seemingly heading to the playoffs next season closing games out at the free throw line is going to be a big deal. Thankfully for New Orleans they are in good shape thanks to unique bigs, and in the tough West every little advantage helps.