Free throws are important. They're one of the most effective ways to score points in the NBA, and take advantage of another team's defensive breakdowns. Yet oftentimes we don't give it enough credit for a team's success or failure.
The Wizards are shooting 73.6 percent from the stripe. Only five teams are shooting worse, and four of them feature players who get intentionally fouled to exploit their poor free throw shooting (Kings - Rondo, Clippers - Jordan, Rockets - Howard, Pistons - Drummond). In other words, the Wizards are the second-worst team in the NBA at shooting free throws without a clear hacking target.
Since the All-Star break, the Wizards' free throw woes have gotten worse. They're shooting 68.8 percent on free throws since the break. Only the Rockets are shooting worse than the Wizards in that span.
At the end of the day, even though the Wizards don't have a demonstrably awful free throw shooter, they don't have many above-average free throw shooters either. The only players on the roster shooting above the league average (75.8 percent) this season are Jarell Eddie (4 free throw attempts), Alan Anderson (11 free throw attempts), John Wall, and Markieff Morris. Bradley Beal is shooting exactly the league average, and everyone else is below average. That includes Nene, who is fourth on the team in free throw attempts (despite missing 24 games) and is shooting 57.8 percent at the line this season.
As Ben Epstein noted on Tuesday's episode of the Limited Upside Podcast, leaving a bunch of free points on the table matters for a team whose average point differential per game this season is -1.2 points.
If you flip some of those misses in close losses into makes, perhaps we're talking about a different season right now. Here are a few examples of how the season could be different if the Wizards were an average free throw shooting team this season:
The Wizards went 13-21 (61.9 percent) from the line in a game they lost by two in New Orleans. If they had an average night at the line, they would have gone 16-21. Those three points would have been useful.
Washington missed 9 of 24 free throws, including one from Nene with 10 seconds left, in a game they lost by a point.
The Wizards shot 11-23 from the stripe in a game they lost in OT. If Washington had just managed to make more than half of their attempts in this game, they would have avoided overtime entirely and picked up a useful road win.
Most people remember that Marcin Gortat missed a pair of free throws when the Wizards were down by 1 with 15 seconds left in double-overtime which helped Minnesota ice the game. Don't forget about Nene going 1-2 with 30 seconds left in regulation, which gave Minnesota an opportunity to set up Gorgui Dieng for a three to force the first overtime.
BONUS November 28 vs. Toronto
The Wizards shot an above-average 77.8 percent from the stripe in this one, so we can't say the end result would have been different if they were average. But it's worth noting John Wall missed two attempts with 3.8 seconds left that would have put the Wizards up by 3. He missed both and Cory Joseph responded with a three at the buzzer to steal the game.
If you flip those five losses into wins, the Wizards would be 41-32, just a game behind Charlotte for the sixth seed in the East. Even if you leave out the Toronto game they're 40-33 and ahead of Indiana in the standings, with the tiebreaker over Indiana to boot. Instead, Washington is 2.5 games out of the eight seed with just over two weeks left in the season. In a season where a lot of big things have gone wrong, it's still amazing how those little things end up being the ones that hurt the most.