It's not just that Bradley Beal is misfiring from the free throw line at an alarming rate recently. It's that the Washington Wizards' wing guard is an historic shooting anomaly for his career.
Improvements in Beal's overall game this season are clear, particularly since returning from his latest leg stress injury. Beal is averaging a career-high 18.5 points despite a dip in minutes because of the training staff's prescribed restrictions. The career 42.6 percent shooter from the field is at a personal-best 46.7 clip this campaign despite taking more 3-pointers (5.2) per game than any previous season. Attacking defenses off the dribble helps Beal get to the free throw line with greater regularity.
Yet while Beal's efficiency and aggressiveness have reached new heights, his current free throw percentage (73.9) represents a career low. This month, it's even worse at 65.5 (19 of 29). That's made odder because Beal's percentages from the field (51.5) and on 3-pointers (40) in February are strong.
Speaking of odd, let's get to the career numbers. One of the league's best pure shooters, Beal hits 39.9 percent* of his 3-point tries even though he takes his fair share per game (4.5). From the free throw line, he hits 77.8 percent.
According to data from BasketballReference.com, Beal and Dennis Scott are the only two players dating back to the 1946-47 season who over their careers shot under 80 percent from the free throw line and at least 39 percent of 3-pointers while attempting at least four from deep per game. If Beal doesn't miss six of eight 3's in Saturday's loss at Miami, the 3-point % bar jumps to 40 and Beal stands alone.
Having textbook form helps from distance. That's why overwhelming strong perimeter shooters are weapons at the free throw line. Clippers guard J.J. Redick, a 40.9 percent career 3-point shooter, hit at least 86% of his free throws in nine of his 10 seasons.
Including the current campaign, Beal has never topped 79 percent:
2012-13 (56 games): 78.6 (125-159)
2013-14 (73): 78.8 (149-189)
2014-15 (63): 78.3 (130-166)
2015-16 (33 to date): 73.9 (82-111)
Hitting 78+ percent from the line works. It's just that historically, a player with Beal's perimeter touch does better.
I used 4.0 3-point attempts per game because of Beal's 4.5 career average, but also typically, your better shooters take more. Even when lowering to 2.0 attempts and adding criteria of 225 games played (Beal's career total), the list includes just 14 players with teammate Jared Dudley among them.
Dudley, one of the top long-range shooters in the league this season, didn't enter the league as a 3-point threat; he shot 22 percent as a rookie. Three times Dudley finished seasons under 70 percent on free throws, though he's at 75.3 this campaign. No offense to Dudley, but based on form, these two shouldn't be in the same category. So, what gives?
One noted free throw shooting fixer offered a thought.
"Lower body injuries tend to hurt free throw percentage," Art Rondeau told CSNmidatlantic.com via Twitter.
Rondeau once gained some notoriety for helping Knicks standout Allan Houston. Having only watched the Wizards casually this season, Rondeau offered general thoughts on Beal's injury situation.
The 22-year has missed parts of all four NBA seasons with a leg stress injury.
"Primary reason for missing [free throws], in general, is either the body's response to losing balance or what [the] player will do to avoid losing it," Rondeau said. "Dwight [Howard] shooting flatfoot, for example. Lower body injuries make it tougher to keep balance."
According to his current bio, Beal weighs 207 pounds, five more than at the 2012 NBA combine.
"And 5 extra pounds may have changed his center of gravity from what he's used to," Rondeau noted."
All we know for sure is that Beal is struggling on his free throws right now. Nene, a noted clanker, is sinking attempts at a higher rate (74%) in February. We also know that for his career, Beal misses more from the line than his deep threat peers. We see the overall improvements in his game. Taking advantage of the freebies is the next step.
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