The Milwaukee Bucks Are Not Good Free Throw Shooters

Dec 12, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) reacts to a call in the second quarter during the game against the Golden State Warriors at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) reacts to a call in the second quarter during the game against the Golden State Warriors at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Although it may not be the biggest obstacle to the team’s success, the Milwaukee Bucks have been a poor free throw shooting team all season.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a lot of weaknesses. There have been articles written about plenty of things the Bucks need to do better, and also a few things they do very well. One thing that Milwaukee really struggles with that has flown more under the radar is foul shooting.

The Bucks are currently 19th in the NBA in free throw percentage. That is obviously not ideal, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the worst problem in the world–after all, they’re in the bottom half of teams, not among the worst five foul shooting teams.

Things get less rosy when looking at the individual Bucks free throw shooting percentages. Shooting somewhere in the 75 percent range is generally seen as average, where 80 percent and above is good and 70 percent and below is bad.

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Out of the Bucks rotation players–those who play at least 15 minutes per game and are healthy–just Khris Middleton shoots 80 percent or better from the line. Even if the requirements are fudged to let Rashad Vaughn in too despite his 11 minutes per game, that’s just two Bucks that do a good job from the charity stripe.

On the other end of the spectrum, three Bucks rotation players shoot under 70 percent from the free throw line. Michael Carter-Williams and Johnny O’Bryant are both shooting around 65 percent from the foul line. John Henson is making barely half of his free throws.

So, why does any of this matter? It matters because the Bucks aren’t just getting blown out (lately) by every team. They’re playing some pretty close games, and poor foul shooting makes it really hard to stay in close games when a team is down.

Take the Bucks last game, against the Washington Wizards. The Bucks lost by five, and made roughly 70 percent of their 34 attempted free throws. If Milwaukee made 80 percent of their foul shots instead, they would’ve been added three points to their total and been down just two points at the end of the game.

Maybe Milwaukee still ends up losing, but the result is obviously closer than it was with the Bucks missing 10 of their 34 foul shots. Would the Bucks be a playoff contender right now if they were better from the free throw line?

No, they wouldn’t. They might be a win or two better, though. This isn’t something that should be a long-term concern for this team, but it’s important to address it now to make sure of that. Many players can improve their percentage from the charity stripe through some hard work–the Bucks would be wise to put in that sort of work sooner rather than later.

O’Bryant has actually raised his free throw percentage some 20 points since last season, and hopefully can become an average (or even slightly below average) foul shooter soon. He’s clearly still learning many NBA skills, and the improvement he’s showcased is a nice sign of that.

Carter-Williams is an odd case. MCW is having a career-best season shooting from beyond the arc, but a career-worst season from the free throw line. Unless he can get his free throw percentage up some 4.5 points by the end of the season, Carter-Williams will have regressed from the line in each of his NBA seasons.

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That’s a pretty strange thing to have happen, especially when MCW has improved his shooting from other areas of the floor. Hopefully that run is more of a fluke than anything else and Carter-Williams can soon get his free throw stroke down.

John Henson might seem like a lost cause at this point, but that might be a premature judgement. In November, Henson made 61 percent of his foul shots before dropping off of a cliff over the last two months. 61 percent is still bad, but a 10 point increase is a 10 point increase, regardless of the starting point.

He’s shown he can at least be better than 50 percent from the foul line. Hopefully Henson will be able to showcase that for an entire season instead of just a month.

Of course Milwaukee’s mediocre free throw percentage isn’t solely on those three players. They do drag the average down, but guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe (both around 75 percent foul shooters) moving from average to good would be helpful as well.

This is something that hopefully will improve with time. It’s not a huge concern yet simply because the Milwaukee Bucks don’t need to worry about crunch playoff minutes, but if teams are able to hack Carter-Williams or Henson late in playoff games it could hurt their team.

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Even shooting 60 percent makes that strategy technically ineffective, but it becomes harder to focus on draining those free throws when a team goes out of its way to put a player on the line.

In January, four Bucks rotation players are shooting under 62 percent from the charity stripe–Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the three players focused on earlier.

The Bucks would much rather be able to run a play to Khris Middleton or Greg Monroe than have to watch Henson or Giannis taking clutch free throws if a game was on the line, especially considering those trips to the line stop the game clock.

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As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the sort of issue to blow up a young core around or anything like that, and there’s every chance that some Bucks improve their free throw percentages as they age. But it is something to keep an eye on, especially when the pressure is on in a close game.