Free throw impact

High-volume, efficient free throw shooters who also hit 3s very valuable

Updated: March 19, 2013, 4:47 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

If you're reading this, I'm assuming you're still in contention in your league(s). Congratulations.

Now I want to help you win by sweating some of the little details on your behalf.

I'll readily admit that an in-depth examination of the fantasy ramifications of performance at the free throw line lacks a certain sizzle.

Don't forget that in standard eight-category leagues, free throw percentage accounts for 12.5 percent of your league's total scoring output. Just as much as points scored or blocked shots.

Last week, I used a homegrown stat -- Field Goal Impact -- to help delineate which NBA players had the biggest positive or negative net effect on your team's field goal percentage.

This week, I've expanded the search to free throw percentage.

Field Goal Impact uses a formula that accounts for the volume of shots while also folding in Effective Field Goal Percentage to account for 3-point performance. The Field Goal Impact (FG%I) formula looks like this:

(eFG%-league average eFG%) * (FGA/gm)/(League average FGA/gm)

We can easily alter and simply the formula to use free throw statistics:

(FT%-league average FT%) * (FTA/gm)/(League average FTA/gm)

It's a simpler formula because we don't need to account for the additional factor of 3-point shot versus 2-point shot performance. (A free throw is a free throw.)

What's the idea of Free Throw Impact (FT%I)?

By accounting for volume of attempts, fantasy owners are able to get a better idea of how much an individual player is helping or hurting his or her team.

I'll give you a player by way of example. How about Carmelo Anthony?

Anthony ranks 39th in the NBA in free throw percentage at 82.8 percent. Not bad, but barely in the top 40. However, Anthony ranks fifth overall in free throw attempts per game at 7.7.

Anthony's Free Throw Impact formula looks like this:

82.8%-75.5% * 7.7/2.1 = 26.7

The result; Anthony ranks sixth in the NBA in Free Throw Impact. His better-than-average free throw percentage is positively amplified by his high volume of attempts.

Here's a quick snapshot of the top 10 performers in Free Throw Impact for the season, measured against their rank in Free Throw Percentage.

It's simple. Very good free throw shooters who get to the line at a higher frequency are rewarded, while elite free throw shooters who rely more on outside shooting are penalized.

Kevin Durant, who leads the league in free throw percentage (90.9 percent) and is second in attempts per game (9.4), dominates both rankings.

Free throws are the No. 1 reason Durant still leads LeBron James by a healthy distance on the Player Rater.

Despite LeBron's lethal effectiveness from the field, LeBron is a shade below the league- average free throw percentage (75.1 percent versus 75.5 percent). When you factor in his 7.0 free throw attempts per game (seventh in the NBA), his net Free Throw Impact is -1.33. A small net negative.

(By the way, do you see the column at the far right? %PTS (FT)? That's what percentage of a player's overall scoring comes from free throws. It's a stat I imported from my favorite new toy of this NBA season, the stats.nba.com page. I can sit down at that page, blink, and find that 45 minutes just passed.)

Let's take a look at some players outside of the top 10 who rose the most when comparing Free Throw Impact versus free throw percentage:

There are a couple of players here who show hidden efficiency despite hurting their teams in field goal percentage. John Wall and Russell Westbrook are two of the NBA's weaker 3-point shooters, but owning either will help owners at the free throw line.

LaMarcus Aldridge makes a rare big man appearance on this list. As a group, power forwards and centers tend to be middling to poor free throw shooters and get to the line less often than wings or guards. (The highest-ranking center in Free Throw Impact is Marc Gasol, who ranks 15th. Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-ranking power forward at 25th.)

Now let's look at the players who do the highest amount of damage to your team's free throw percentage.

By and large, these are the same players at the bottom of the NBA in overall free throw percentage. But check out the devastating blunt-force trauma Dwight Howard registers upon fantasy teams.

Howard's Free Throw Impact is what happens when you combine the last-place player in free throw percentage (49.0 percent, 125th out of 125) with the third-place player in free throw attempts (9.2 per game). It's a statistically staggering effect. Not even owning Kevin Durant can cancel him out.

(This underscores why I hate punting categories. The longest- running debate of my fantasy writing career has been over whether or not Howard is worth a first-round pick. You can certainly win with Howard, but it leaves no room for error.

When a high-end, flawed player like Howard gets injured or begins to struggle in another category, his value drops through the floorboards. That's why despite some strong recent performances, Howard is still only 79th on the Player Rater for the season.)

Here are the players who sank the most when comparing Free Throw Impact to free throw percentage:

None of these players have a negative impact overall. Any will help out a fantasy team at the line. They just get dinged due to a low amount of free throw attempts. It's the opposite of the risers list; a lot of players who rely on 3-point production for their scoring.

Finally, here are some players currently available in most fantasy leagues with the most dramatic Free Throw Impacts. And to give you a more immediate snapshot of their impact, I based these numbers on only the past two weeks' worth of statistics.

Head-to-head owners looking for a quick fix on the boards, take note. While Reggie Evans can help you win the rebounding battle, he just might sneak up on your free throw percentage when nobody's looking and cost you the war.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE