Against the Phoenix Suns, the Chicago Bulls had a pretty good game offensively. Chicago shot 40% from three-point land, knocking down 16 from beyond the arc with Kris Dunn and Justin Holiday hitting 10 between them. They even moved the ball ok, registering 27 assists on 38 made shots.
However, there was one stat which was not impressive at all: free throw attempts. The Bulls had a paltry 10 attempts from the line, knocking down 7 of them. It was pale in comparison to their opponents, who had 23 attempts. Although these stats were only one game, the lack of getting to the free throw line has been a problem for the Bulls.
Currently the Bulls sit dead last in the league in terms of free throw attempts per game, averaging only 16.2 trips to the line. They are a whole free throw behind second to last place Sacramento (17.5) and 13 behind league leaders Charlotte (29.2). They’re also dead last in Free Throw Attempt Rate (Free-Throws per field goals attempted), at a mark so low if it held throughout the season it’d be the lowest in 5 years from any team. Though 15th in the league in free throw percentage (76.9), it doesn’t mean a whole lot if they are going to the charity stripe only a few times per game.
The numbers don’t get any prettier if you start looking at it from the individual level. David Nwaba currently leads the pack with a free throw attempt rate of .474 but he’s only played 8 games so the numbers are a skewed. He had an attempt rate near .500 last year (.481) so his eventual return from an ankle injury could help Chicago out in this department. Quincy Pondexter is second in this category but he’s played just as many minutes in 14 games as Nwaba has in 8.
Out of all the players who have been healthy and regularly in the rotation, the top player in free throw attempt rate is Jerian Grant, whose .352 rate is in the top 20 for rotational guards.
While it’s certainly good to see a guy like Grant do well here, you can’t say the same thing when it comes to the rest of Chicago’s young players. Lauri Markkanen’s at less than .250, while even more egregiously Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn have attempt rates less than .100 which is extremely rare for a guard or wing (Paul Zipser is also in this group). Valentine has the worst FTr among regular playing guards in the whole league by a fairly substantial margin, with 4 free-throws attempted all season (two of them were technical attempts).
(Eventually-returning LaVine isn’t a guy knowing for getting to the line either with an attempt rate of .222)
Anytime you have a squad full of young players, you are going to have your struggles on offense. Getting to the line is a quality which many good teams have to generate easy points. It’s not the most important part of offense (in fact among the 4 factors it’s the least important), but not being able to get to the line effectively just worsens problems when the regular offense bogs down. Currently, guys are going to be more prone to taking a contested three-pointer rather than attempting to drive into the lane and draw a foul.
The lack of attempts for the Bulls could be partially due to inexperience (young players are less adept at working the officials) or more troubling athleticism (which explains Valentine but less so Dunn). But it can also be coaching. Maybe drawing up some more plays to get guys into the lane or teaching guys like Dunn and Valentine to be more aggressive when driving into the lane. He has to find something. There are some solutions for this problem but none of them are going to be easy, it’ll be interesting to see if the Bulls remain historically-awful in this aspect of the game.