The Decline of Bulls Free Throw Shooters

The 2011-12 Chicago Bulls are a pretty dominant team due to their strengths in multiple areas. An underrated offense, elite defense, and elite rebounding define this team. If there is one glaring weakness for the Chicago Bulls though, it's free throw shooting. This year, we are shooting 72.2%, placing us at an awful 27th/30 teams.

What is particularly interesting is that while it is pretty much universally accepted that Tom Thibodeau is a top five coach in the league, the team has regressed in this area during his tenure as coach. I have always been a firm believer that free throws are a direct result of practice and coaching, so it is pretty surprising that this is one area where Thibs can maybe draw a little bit of justified criticism.

Player Career FT 2012 FT Diff
Carlos Boozer 72.4% 69.6% -2.8%
Derrick Rose 81.5% 81.5% 0.0%
Luol Deng 76.6% 78.0% 1.4%
Joakim Noah 72.0% 74.4% 2.4%
Kyle Korver 87.7% 83.1% -4.6%
Taj Gibson 64.0% 59.0% -5.0%
CJ Watson 80.6% 80.0% -0.6%
Ronnie Brewer 68.8% 56.7% -12.1%
John Lucas 78.7% 84.6% 5.9%
Rip Hamilton 85.1% 75.9% -9.2%
Omer Asik 48.9% 46.7% -2.2%
Jimmy Butler 80.9% 80.9% 0.0%
Mike James 80.3% 87.5% 7.2%
Brian Scalabrine 78.3% 50.0% -28.3%

Numbers as of 4/14/12

As a qualifier, this is not all on Thibs, as free throw shooting is down across the league due presumably to lessened practice time, out of shape players, etc. in the lockout season. Last year, the league average was at 76.3% while this year it has dropped to 75.1%. However, out of the rotation players, only Luol Deng, John Lucas and FingerGuns Noah have improved their free throw shooting while Boozer, Korver, Taj, Brewer, Rip, and Asik have all seen precipitous declines that well exceed the league average dropoff. Notable in particular are Ronnie Brewer, who has fallen off a cliff (-12.1%), Rip Hamilton (-9.2%), Taj (-5.0%), and Korver (-4.6%).

How much should we be worrying about the declining free throw percentages on our team? For a guy like Scal, who didn't even shoot a free throw the entire year last year and only has 6 this year, we probably don't care that he's 28 percentage points below his career average. However, Taj, Boozer, Brewer, Asik, Korver and Hamilton are #5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 in free throw attempts per game on the Bulls, combining to shoot 9.7 free throws per game. As a team, we are only shooting 26 free throws a game. That means that over 1/3 of our free throws are being shot by guys that are well below their career averages.

I am sure that Thibs has these guys work on free throws every practice. However, whatever he is doing clearly is not producing the desired results. With such little practice time, it is understandably hard to allot time to everything, but free throw shooting and the declining shooting in particular of Boozer, Korver, Taj, Brewer, Rip and Asik this season should be something we are cognizant of while watching this team in the playoffs.

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