Basketball: Free throws again prove a fatal flaw

By Niall Anderson

Breakers’ inadequacy at the line has been a key factor in their slide.
Thomas Abercrombie of the SkyCity New Zealand Breakers. File photo / Nick Reed
Thomas Abercrombie of the SkyCity New Zealand Breakers. File photo / Nick Reed

In basketball parlance, the free-throw line is often called the charity stripe - but the New Zealand Breakers aren't accepting many donations.

The Breakers are the worst NBL free-throw shooting team in the past 15 years, and their woes from the line reared its ugly head during their sixth straight loss on Saturday night.

The defending champions went at a horrid 13/30 clip (43 per cent) in a 90-87 loss to the Cairns Taipans, a defeat which saw the Breakers fall three games back of fourth-placed Adelaide in the loss column with only five games to go.

It would take a remarkable form reversal for the Breakers to make the playoffs now, and their inability to hit free throws has been a key factor in their slide.

Speaking after the loss, assistant coach Paul Henare rued their continued inadequacy at the line.

"Shooting possibly a season-high in attempts for us but we go and miss 17, you only need to make a handful more of those and you're still at a pretty disappointing percentage but could still have won the game."

Studies in the NBA have shown that free-throw shooting can be a hard skill to improve once players reach their peak at the pro level. Devoting hours of practice to the craft can lead to good results in the gym, but often no significant change in results during the pressure environment of a game.

The Breakers have been putting in the work in training, but there's been no noticeable improvement, as Henare succinctly noted. "It's been a constant for us, a constant work-on, we've addressed it in more ways than one - in the end of the day it came back to bite us in the arse."

The Breakers reckon they have to win all their remaining five games to have a shot at making the playoffs - a task that could have been easier without their meltdowns at the line.

Four times this season the Breakers have shot better from the field than the free-throw line, the most by any team in NBL history. Additionally, they have lost seven games by seven points or fewer, and in each contest they shot worse than 66 per cent on their free throws, leaving valuable points on the board.

The small sample of the NBL season must also be considered when contemplating the Breakers' inefficiencies in hitting their freebies.

Players like Tom Abercrombie (74.6 per cent) and Mika Vukona (70 per cent) have capable career percentages from the line, but are shooting 64.5 per cent and 53.1 per cent respectively this season.

Over a larger set of games, they would almost certainly improve, but the same can't be said for the two Breakers who are fouled the most - Cedric and Charles Jackson.

The import pairing have both proven to be below-par foul shooters, and this season they have combined to miss 105 freebies.

The point guard's woes have in turn caused offensive problems for the Breakers, with defenders often willing to play off Jackson and his 26 per cent three-point shooting, or fouling him if they get beaten off the dribble.

Corey Webster is the only prominent player making the most of the opportunities at the line, missing only seven all season (87 per cent).

The Breakers play Townsville on Friday, but their playoff run - much like their free throws - is likely to fall short.

- NZ Herald

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