Ed’s Note: This article is written by Greg Mason, who is a regular guest on The Doctor Is In Podcast.  Follow Greg on Twitter at @VotaryOfHoops.

A few weeks ago I wrote a shooting breakdown of the Raptors using the Nylon Calculus shooting charts. In the piece I was fairly critical of DeRozan’s high volume mid-range game.

I realized soon after the post hit the site that I sold DeRozan short by failing to bring a major part of his game into the discussion: free throw shooting.

A good 3-point shooter is sexier than Shakira’s gyrating hips in today’s analytics-driven game. In addition to the obvious fact that 3s count for more than 2s, good shooters also space the floor and open driving lanes to the basket. This is good and well but one important fact has been obfuscated by the love of the 3 ball: getting to the free throw line is actually more valuable than shooting a three. On this subject Andrew Johnson notes: “In the NBA last year, players made just under 36% of the 1766 three pointers taken, for an average of 1.078 points per three point attempt. Players made 75.6% of their free throw attempts for 1.51 points per shooting foul drawn on a two shot. And for those doing the math at home, yes 1.51 is greater than 1.078.”

This brings us back to DeRozan. While I still feel that his game would be well served by cutting down on long mid-range jumpers, part of the high volume, low efficiency critique waged against him is mitigated by the fact that DeRozan is among the league’s best at getting to foul line and making free throws. Last week Zarar offered up ways that DeRozan can improve driving to the basket and noted that DeRozan is 20th in the league in drives per game and 12th in points per drive. While DeRozan is likely too singularly focused on getting to the free throw line when he drives, his ability to get to the stripe nevertheless provides a hell of a lot of value to the team.

Last season DeRozan was 4th in the league in FTM per game behind only Love, Harden and Durant. He not only got to the line frequently, he also converted at an 82.4 % clip. Notably, DeRozan has improved at getting to the free throw line each year in the league. Last season he beat his previous career highs in free throw attempts and makes by 203 and 164, respectively. As you see below, DeRozan also got better at getting to the free throw line as the season went on:

October 1 0.0 2.0 0.0
November 14 5.0 6.1 81.4
December 14 5.2 6.7 77.7
January 15 6.5 8.3 78.4
February 12 7.8 9.2 85.5
March 16 8.1 9.3 86.6
April 7 7.9 9.1 85.9

He not only increased his attempts and makes per game, he also improved his percentages. By the time the playoffs rolled around, DeRozan was a veritable monster at the line. DeRozan led the playoffs in FTM per game by a wide margin at 10.1 makes per contest. Russell Westbrook was the next closest challenger at 7.6 FTM per game. Even more impressive, DeRozan improved his free throw shooting to 89.9% in the playoffs.

Another particularly impressive feature of DeRozan’s game is his ability to get to the line when it matters most. Per 82games.com, DeRozan was 5th best in the league at 18.5 free throw attempts per 48 minutes in clutch time last season. Clutch is defined here as any stat accumulated in the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than 5 minutes left, where neither team is ahead by more than 5 points.

Last season DeRozan was fouled on 16.4 % of his field goal attempts. In the clutch, however, DeRozan increased his already impressive rate of drawing fouls to 21.5%. This was a major jump from the 2012-2013 season where DeRozan was fouled on 13.7 % of his FGA and 14.6 % of his FGA in the clutch.

As a team the Raptors had the 7th-most FTA in the league last year. What’s significant there, aside from the high PPP value of getting to the line, is that teams across the league shot about a 5 percent lower eFG% after ‘stopped ball’ events such as made baskets, turn overs, fouls and time outs.

As we see, getting to the free throw line is valuable to a team in many ways. It’s not only a highly valuable shot in terms of points per possession. It also puts other teams into foul trouble and stops the ball, which enables teams to get back into their defensive sets and cuts down on fast break points allowed. Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and the first person to be hired as a full-time statistical analyst by an NBA team, determined that getting to the foul line frequently is one of the four most important keys for success in team basketball along with shooting a high eFG%, limiting turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds.

DeRozan’s FG% this season was a less than desirable 43 percent. His true shooting percentage (53.2%) however, which takes into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws, was his highest since his rookie season and only a hair below the 53.89% league average. There are certainly downsides to DeRozan’s hyper focus on getting to the foul line such as taking bad shots in an effort to draw fouls and a tunnel vision which sometimes prevents DeRozan from finding open teammates and disrupts the flow of the game. Having said that, if we think about DeRozan’s offensive game holistically and take the time to appreciate the multi-faceted value of getting to the free throw line, we gain a more well-rounded understanding of what DeRozan brings to the Raptors.

  • golden

    Finally, somebody who gets it. People obsess way too much about raw shooting, when the point of basketball is to score – which DeMar does at elite levels (28% USG, 110 ORTG). There were only 7 guys in the NBA with a better ORTG at an equal or higher USG (Lebron, Durant, Love, Curry, Melo, Griffin, Harden). Scoring-wise, Demar is on a similar level with PG, Wade and Kyrie – just below those first tier guys.

    And drawing fouls does a whole lot more than just score efficiently. You score when the clock is stopped, which helps you get back into games and close them out. You also get your opponents in foul trouble and often an opposition big man on the bench, which helps the whole team. There’s a reason why guys like Kobe and Iverson are 4th quarter assassins. It also gets the other team complaining to the refs, and has an overall demoralizing effect on the fans in road games.

    • Rap fan 2

      Yeah, it’s also one of the best ways to try slowing down the opposing teams best players like a Lebron James or a Kevin Love. I remember a game when we played the Wolves and Amir took the ball to the basket on consecutive plays with Love guarding him resulting in a batch of quick foul calls against Kevin Love. What I’m saying here is that if Lebron James already has five fouls and there is still five minutes left in the game and the game is in the balance I would run a majority of my plays at him when you have the chance.

    • Pyron

      In addition fouls give your team (and the other) a breather and a chance to make subs. Like we’ve also heard from many announces FTs can help a struggling shooter get into rhythm.

  • afrocarter

    Amazing. Remember, not so long ago, when we as fans would complain about not getting calls? What a paradigm shift!

    • rapierraptor

      League rank in FTA per game:

      10-11: 19th
      11- 12: 20th
      12-13: 14th
      13-14: 7th

      • afrocarter

        Up 7 spots in one season! Huge.

        • http://www.gamervets.com/ M1GO

          All Star calls! :)

    • Peter G

      That still happens. Just look at the Brooklyn series.

      • CJT

        The officiating was horrendous against both teams in different games. And I don’t believe was a difference maker in the series.

        • noname

          it did…the bad calls against brooklyn were mostly in the middle of the game but the crappy calls against the raps were almost ALL in clutch time.

          • Pyron

            Like I say in any sport, don’t leave it to the refs to decide a game. I don’t remember clearly but I do know the raps could have gone those close games if they made better decisions. Yes there were bad calls but again why leave it to a few possessions and the refs to decide games when it takes things like making free throws when you’re suppose to and reducing TOs

  • Rap fan 2

    Absolutely, I’ve always seen it as an advantage when the opponents need to foul to stop you. It’s especially critical to attack the basket and not settle for a jump shot in the clutch when the game is in the balance. The rule is not to foul the jump shooter right? Your chances to get a foul call are way better when you go hard at the basket. And it’s not just Demar that should doing this it should be the rest of the team. It would take Terrence and Jonas to the next level if they attack the basket just as much as Demar does. Check out that list of players that get to the free throw line along with Demar. They are great players for a reason.

  • TheSpiceTyrant

    Ok… But let’s not underestimate the impact of the Rudy trade on his increase in stats as the season wore on: more opportunities to touch the friggin ball helps a bit.

    I think what we saw was someone getting better by way getting more opportunities and adjusting to his and his teammates chemistry. He’s still figuring it out.

  • rapturd

    Great article.
    The point about the impact of shooting foul throws has on defending the next position is huge.
    DeRozan attacking the basket does help our defence.

    • rapturd

      Meant next “possession”

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    Fully agree with you–Demar DeRozan needs to be focused on getting to the FT line than shooting mid-range jumpers. He would be a more effective player if he would slash to the basket more because not only will he attract fouls but he will also make defenses collapse on him giving more room for Kyrie, Greivis, PPat, and Lou Williams space to shoot.

    • RileyJCruz


    • chacha166

      We got Kyrie?

  • Pingback: Dal, Tor,Cle, Phx, NYK, Atl, Orl, Det | Basketball Intelligence()

  • Sprechen

    DeRozan’s Assists Per Game were up significantly as well, undermining the voracity of your tunnel vision claim.

    • Pyron

      I believe his ASTs would naturally go up without iso plays for Rudy Gay all game, errrday! lol

  • Bryan Colangelo

    Where does the team rank league-wide in terms of drawing fouls? I assume with Kyle’s ability to draw offensive fouls and Demar ability to get to the line we do okay.

  • Shifty

    I remember another guy who excelled at getting to FT line. But he was always called one-dimensional and didnt help his teams a lot
    Corey Magette

    • afrocarter

      Magette’s game isn’t at all similar to DeRozan’s, but thanks for bringing it up anyway.