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The Lakers free throw rate is not as outlandish as you’ve been led to believe

The latest narrative surrounding the Lakers has focused on their free-throw shooting and the discrepancy between them and their opponents, which isn’t as drastic as has been portrayed.

Orlando Magic v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Because the Lakers are the Lakers, the focus on the team in recent days and weeks has not been on their turnaround in the second half of the year or how great Anthony Davis has been this season. Instead, the focus has been on the free-throw discrepancy between the Lakers and their opponents.

Effectively, it started when the Suns melted down after their loss to the Lakers about the free throw discrepancy. It wasn’t all that surprising. The Suns don’t shoot many free throws this year, the Lakers d,o and a head coach is always going to feel like their team was screwed, so Monty Williams took exception and defended his team at the cost of $20,000.

That raised enough eyebrows that stats started getting shared across social media lacking any sort of context. That noise peaked on Wednesday when, during the Lakers-Bulls game, a graphic was shown on the local broadcast about the differential in free throws shot by the Lakers vs. their opponents.

And away we went. On the surface, that’s a pretty gaudy number. But with some context, it’s not that egregious. Averaged out, the Lakers attempt 5.6 more free throws per game than their opponents, a number that isn’t even the largest we’ve seen in recent years.

We all remember the uproar when the 2018 Charlotte Hornets shot 722 more free throws than their opponents, right? Or when the 2014 Houston Rockets shot 419 more than their opponent.

No? Huh. Odd.

There are a number of ways to logically explain this. The easiest is just looking at where the Lakers' shots come from. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers are first in the league in their frequency of shots at the rim. Getting to the rim typically means getting fouled which typically means shooting free throws.

But you can look even closer than that and find some logical explanations, too. The Lakers spent half the season without 3-point shooters, so instead of hoisting those shots, they drove to the rim. Up to the trade deadline, the team ranked 24th in 3-pointers attempted per game and were well clear of first in shots at the rim.

It makes sense, right? A team with bad 3-point shooters adjusted instead of firing away. And they ranked third in the league in free throws per game pre-deadline.

But also, if you simply just look at the players the Lakers have on the roster, it’s full of players who typically draw fouls and are doing so at the same rate they always have. Players like Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Dennis Schröder and even Russell Westbrook before being traded all were shooting free throws at their typical rate relative to their careers.

The one exception is Austin Reaves, who has seen a massive jump in free throw attempts this season. However, his free throw rate this year is actually lower than the rate of his final year at Oklahoma. After a rookie season where he did what was needed to get playing time, Reaves has adapted to the league and become the type of player he was in college.

The flip side to this is that other teams aren’t shooting free throws. Likely unintentionally, the Lakers have put together a team that doesn’t foul. They rank 30th in the league in fouls committed per game.

The natural bad-faith counter is that the NBA isn’t calling fouls on the Lakers this year. Earnestly, I combed through each rotation players stats and, effectively across the board, the Lakers are averaging almost the identical number of fouls per game per person. And in some instances — namely with AD, Jarred Vanderbilt and Dennis — the number is actually higher than their average.

The Lakers just built a team of guys that don’t typically foul and draw fouls on the other end. Basically, they’re grifters.

The result is a team getting to the line more frequently than anyone in the league. Because it’s the Lakers, it became a huge story, but it’s one with logical explanations. They’re probably just not ones that other fans want to hear.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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