The foul shot is the most underrated facet of the game of basketball and should never be phased out. When it comes down to it, the game is made into an individual sport for one, two or three shots at a time following a foul. This is where the sport becomes mental. If you’re on the visiting team, you’re up against a crowd of boos. If you’re on the home team, then the crowd will be completely silent, which can be just as much of a mental block.
The foul shot should be seen as free points, but as time advances, fewer and fewer players are focusing on it. Most notable is the Philadelphia 76ers, which selected point guard Markelle Fultz first overall in the 2017 NBA draft. The dynamic scorer was a one-and-done player at Washington, entering the draft after just one season. Fultz was just a 64 percent shooter from the line in his 25 games at Washington.
The talented guard’s shooting abilities, however, have significantly devolved upon entering the NBA. But injuries have sidelined him and now, in the latter half of his rookie season, he has only four games under his belt, totaling just 19 minutes. This is quite the change of pace for someone who played 892 minutes just a season ago.
Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond was in a similar predicament, as he too played just one year in college and made a debut in the NBA at 19. The 7-foot center is not relied upon for his scoring, but still received flak for his inability to shoot over 40 percent from the line. Drummond took the extra time and developed his foul shot over the years and is currently above 60 percent from the line this season.
This realization came after Drummond found himself averaging seven foul shots per game, but converting on merely 35 percent two years ago during a season in which he was still selected to play in the All-Star Game. This is where a young player such as Fultz, who will eventually be relied upon for his scoring abilities, needs to take out the notepad.
Granted, Fultz is currently dealing with an injury to his right shoulder, but his decline in shooting ability since he was drafted is a popular topic of discussion when it comes to the current state of the 76ers. The fact that closely contested games more often than not come down to free throws is often forgotten.
Most recently, the No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks had the opportunity to take down one of the best teams in the nation, No. 17 Oklahoma Sooners. The experienced Sooners’ coaching staff used the “Hack-a-Doke” game plan late in the game against Kansas’ sophomore center, Udoka Azubuike, who shoots just over 40 percent from the charity stripe.
Jayhawks head coach Bill Self left the talented young 7-footer in the game despite realizing the Sooners’ plan strategy. He went one-for-eight from the line, as the Sooners won the game, 85-80.
One college coach’s decision doesn’t necessarily reveal an overall trend in the sport, but if players like Fultz are given playing time moving forward without improving their foul shots, their respective teams will suffer. With only 10 players on the hardwood at any given time, the basketball players who are relied on for scoring must be proficient from the free-throw line.
This includes driving in the paint, forcing 3-point plays, and converting the third point should be automatic for a first-overall pick in the NBA draft. Whether it be spending more time on practicing foul shots, or finding a way to deal with the pressure, these young scorers need to adapt.