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Going back to our foul-drawing ways

Bullets Forever is counting down the 10 key areas that will determine next season's success.  Here's number ten.

Despite the absence of Gilbert Arenas last year, the Wizards offense nearly matched its high-powered 2007 production.  The team effective field goal percentage was a whole .2 points lower, the team turnover rate stayed exactly the same and the team offensive rebound percentage actually increased from 28.1% to 28.9%.  There were really only two differences between the 06/07 and 07/08 units.  One was pace, which we'll get to in a later edition of this countdown.  The other, however, was free throw attempts, or I should say, a lack thereof.

The dip in free throws attempted basically accounts for how the Wizards' offensive rating (points/100 possessions) dropped from 111.1 in 06/07 to 110.4 last year.  Ever since Eddie Jordan took over, this has been a team that has made it's living offensively at the free throw line.  In 2005, it was the slashing of Arenas and Larry Hughes that propelled the offense to new heights.  In 2006 and 2007, Arenas honed his slashing game while everyone else got into the act.  Because of the nature of the offense, you could always count on someone manufacturing an opportunity by getting to the free throw line.

Last year, however, this wasn't the case.  Without Arenas, this turned into a jump-shooting team, and the offense suffered.  In 2006/07, nearly 32 percent of the Wizards' possessions ended in a trip to the free throw line.  Last year, however, that number dipped to 27.5, meaning the team's free throw attempt drop was not merely a function of pace.  With nobody able to draw fouls effectively, the offense suffered once teams learned how to shut down the top options, as evidenced by Game 6 of the Cleveland series.  

This problem should mostly be solved with Arenas' healthy return.  In 2006/07, Arenas averaged 8.8 FTA/36 minutes, easily one of the top marks in the league.  Not only is the guy a great slasher, he also gets star calls now, as indicated most poignantly by this game.  If he remains as explosive as before, he probably makes up most of the difference himself. 

He's not the only one, though.  Despite his breakout season, Caron Butler's free throw rate also dropped last season.  Counted on to be the guy to manufacture the opportunities Arenas created before last season, Butler mostly created jumpers rather than free throws.  For someone with the Tuff Juice monikor, it's surprising to see his attempting just 4.1 free throws per 36 minutes.  If he can get that number up to 5 or higher, it'll make the Wizards' offense even more dangerous. 

If we can get our free throw attempts back up to our 2007 level, there's no reason our offense can't be one of the three best in basketball.  If we can't get that number back up, though, we better hope our defense has made a ton of improvements to pick up the slack.