WASHINGTON -- On Friday night, in their loss to the Cavaliers, the Wizards as a team shot only six free throws compared to 29 for Cleveland. The difference in makes was 25 to three and the Wizards lost by 13. Naturally, Wizards players and head coach Scott Brooks pointed to that discrepancy as a reason they lost, albeit carefully as to avoid fines from the league.
Although that was an extreme example, getting to the line has been an issue for the Wizards so far this season. After eight games, the Wizards are 29th out of 30 teams in free throw attempts. That has conveyed to the fourth-fewest points from free throws.
There are a few reasons for why this could become a long-term trend. For one, the Wizards are shooting more threes as they pivot to a more analytics-based shot profile. They are attempting 2.6 more threes per game this season than they did last year.
They are 15th in the NBA in shots within five feet, 22nd in drives and 26th in post-ups. They are posting up just 4.4 times per game, less than a quarter of the league-leading Sixers who with Joel Embiid post up 18.2 times on average.
The Wizards are even taking long twos, despite their analytics push, with the fifth-most shots from within 15 to 19 feet of the rim. Add it all up and the Wizards, who ranked ninth in free throw attempts last season, are getting to the line far fewer times nowadays.
Head coach Scott Brooks has recognized the problem and is working on finding the exact solution.
"Nowadays, a lot of three-point shooters get fouled as well. We've just gotta keep working, keep doing it and believing in it and things will turn our way," he said.
Brooks pointed out how Bradley Beal, despite ranking 15th in the league in free throw attempts with 6.8 per game, should get even more.
"That's the thing that's kind of a bit confusing to me. I'm trying to figure out ways to make it more clear and visible when he gets held," Brooks said.
What could also hurt the Wizards is the fact they have a lot of young and inexperienced players. Drawing fouls in the NBA is an art and so is defending without fouling.
Players generally learn over time the best ways to deal with NBA officiating. There are many tricks to the trade that guys like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan have mastered. They will dribble the ball through the lane and pull it in close right as they sense a defender's reach. They also, of course, know how to sell fouls to the refs.
That dynamic may hold the Wizards' younger players back until they get up to speed, even for a guy like Rui Hachimura whom Brooks sees great long-term potential in terms of getting free throws.
"Rui, to me he's going to be one of those guys who gets us six or seven or eight free throws a game eventually," Brooks said.
For now, it is a learning process, even for Brooks and Beal, a veteran coach and player.
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