TheJay first posted detailed research into the Bucks' free throw disparity nine months ago, providing context to the Bucks' struggles and real insight into what it might mean to the bottom line of wins and losses. He's now updated those numbers and provided some additional data which you can check out below. Big thanks to TheJay!
All the way back in January, I wrote about the Bucks allowing far more free throw attempts than they received. At that time, they had lost the free throw battle 32 times out of 38 games, a whopping 84.2% of the time. Two months later, I updated the numbers and found the team's personnel changes in the meantime improved that number a little bit. Of course, the season ended in April, but a final update six months late is better than never.
Note: as in the other two posts, I have considered a free throw attempt tie to be a "win" for each team when calculating percentages. Since I am concerned with losses, this does not skew the numbers from my perspective. Finally, my numbers (from basketball-reference.com) go back to the 1986-1987 season.
First, the historical team rankings:
In the eighteen games between my last update and the end of the season, the Bucks lost the free throw battle an additional twelve times. That bumped their -FTA percentage down slightly but left them comfortably in first place in team history.
The historical league rankings are fun as well:
The Bucks slid another spot down the list in their final eighteen games. Whereas they were in second place in January and twelfth in March, they finished the year thirteenth. The Golden State Warriors had been above 70% in March, but they managed to work their way down to 68.3% and consequently no longer appear on the list. The Bucks are only the second team since 1986-1987 (and first in over twenty years) to finish over .500 while losing the free throw battle at least 70% of the time. They are the third such team to make the playoffs.
In the comments of my second post, there was a brief discussion of the correlation between winning the battle at the line and winning overall. I noted there was not much correlation between the percentages in my post and overall winning percentage. Joana noted there may be a stronger correlation between winning games and FTM/FGA ratios (see this page for more). Joana also noted the 2009-2010 Bucks were awful, trailing their opponents in that statistic by 9.0%. I decided to look further into that. Here are the 23 teams with a differential of -7.50% or worse:
Two Bucks teams appear here. Intriguingly, they were the two teams coached by Scott Skiles. Another Skiles team, the 2005-2006 Bulls, also made the cut. While it's notable the 2009-2010 Bucks hold the record for worst differential by a winning team, I am more interested by the top two teams on the list. How is it they managed to be nearly three percent worse than the next closest team?
Is it true this differential correlates more to winning percentage than winning (and tying) or losing the free throw battle? In the discussion under my March post, I posted a graph with an R-squared value of .1568, suggesting there was a weak correlation between the two stats. Here is a similar graph showing the connection of FT/FGA differential and winning percentage:
If you are having trouble reading that chart, you can click to get the full size image. That graph shows a R-squared value of .1713, slightly stronger than simply losing or not losing at the line, but still not very strong. That actually squares pretty well with the post originally linked by Joana, that said while FT/FGA differential is one of the four most important offensive factors in basketball, it should be weighted much less than the other three.
In sum, the 2009-2010 Bucks made the playoffs despite rarely winning the battle at the free throw line. While not winning the free throw battle does not preclude winning a given game, losing it game after game after game makes it tough to make the playoffs or finish over .500. However, last year's Bucks showed it is not insurmountable. Ideally, the addition of Corey Maggette, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and others, as well as a full season of John Salmons will make it easier for the team to win at the free throw line and win overall.