Free throws have been anything but free to start the season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Amidst the team’s 3-3 start, one of the most glaring ways they’ve been leaving points on the board has been their performance from the charity stripe, where they’ve converted just 84 of their 116 attempts, good for 72.4%, the eighth-worst percentage in the league.
Considering that the team has only been outscored by six total points on the year, and that their three defeats came by an average of just 8.3 points, it’s not hard to speculate that a few more made free throws could have made a difference in one or two of those losses. As a result, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that head coach Frank Vogel said at the team’s first shootaround of the season on Friday that the Lakers’ free-throw shooting is “an issue,” and that they’re working on it.
“We’ve got to make our free throws. That’s the simplest way to put it,” Vogel said.
How can they get better at it? Vogel had a few ideas.
“Obviously you can’t go out and just make guys make their free throws, but you can make them honor their work,” Vogel said. “That’s the biggest thing, is just making sure they’re shooting free throws in practice, and in particular when they’re doing their individual ‘vitamins,’ or individual work, that free throws are a big part of it.”
Vogel is also aware, though, that the team isn’t suddenly going to morph into a top-10 free-throw shooting roster overnight. He didn’t name names, but a group featuring LeBron James (career 73.4% shooter from the line) and Russell Westbrook (78.9% career, below 70% in three of the last four seasons) taking a high volume of their free-throw attempts is never going to shoot great on freebies.
And that’s before even considering that this roster also features DeAndre Jordan (career 47.5% free-throw shooter, and 50% this season) and Dwight Howard (56.6% career) — two of the worst high-volume free-throw shooters in NBA history — although the latter has actually helped the team’s percentages so far.
I was looking up something else, and Dwight Howard (!!!) has shot 9-11 from the free-throw line this season, a career-high 81.8%.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 30, 2021
I'm not saying that's gonna continue, but he (somehow) hasn't been at all to blame for the team's woes from the line.
So yeah. Dwight’s season-opening shooting exhibition aside, those kind of overall, career-long free-throw issues aren’t actually going to just get completely fixed overnight. And Vogel understands that.
“We all have to do the best we can, you know? We’re not going to make 60% shooters into 90% shooters, but everybody’s got to honor their work,” Vogel said. “If you honor the work, then we’ll get the most out of it.”
We’ll see if that work can help the Lakers climb out of the bottom third of the league in free-throw shooting, but if it can, it would go a long way towards giving this team a bit more cushion in these tight games.