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Why Are NBA Centers so Bad at Free Throws?

Why Are NBA Centers so Bad at Free Throws?

Why Are NBA Centers so Bad at Free Throws?

Free throws are one of the most basic shot attempts in basketball.  Typically awarded after an offensive or defensive foul, the foul shot provides teams with an opportunity for an additional one or two points.  However, too often, particularly towards the end of a close game, teams will purposefully foul the big men and centers on the opposing team, forcing them to the foul line.

Done strategically, these big men and centers will line up at the foul line and poorly miss the shot.  But just why are basketball and NBA centers so bad at free throws?  Below, we are going to look at and discuss the interesting phenomenon of big men and centers and their relative inability to properly shoot free throws.

Why Are Free Throws Important?

While many players dismiss free throws, often preferring to practice their dunking, lay-up, and three-point shooting abilities, the free throw is in fact one of the most important shots in the game.  Within the last season in the NBA, teams were attempting just under 22 free throws per game, at 21.8.

And considering the average scoring distribution in an NBA game ranges between -10 to 8 points, being able to effectively take and make all available free throw opportunities can be the difference between winning and losing the game.

And the importance of free throws for an NBA center or big man is even more important than for other players.  Often, NBA teams will look to purposefully foul an opposing player when the point differential in a game is close.  And as NBA centers and big men have a poorer free throw shooting average than other players, teams will look to purposefully foul them.

Whether you play the center position, are a power forward, a point guard, or a shooting guard, the importance of the free throw cannot be overstated.  Basketball teams, and NBA teams in particular, live-and-die on the free throw line and by honing your free throw ability, you’ll be better able to assist your team secure the win.

What Are the Average Free Throw Percentages in the NBA?

While stating that NBA centers and big men are poor at the free throw line is a common trope, looking into the statistics proves the old saying true.  If we take a look at free throw shooting percentages by player positions, we can see that players playing the center position tend to have a much poorer free throw shooting percentage.

For NBA centers in the 2020-21 season, the average free throw percentage stood at 71.4%.  In comparison, power forwards in the NBA had a 76% free throw percentage, small forwards had a 78.9% free throw shooting percentage, shooting guards had an 81.1% free throw percentage, and point guards had a 80.5% free throw percentage.

Clearly, from the above information, centers and power forwards in the NBA had the worst free throw shooting percentages from all other players in the league.  And with those same players being purposefully fouled towards the end of the game, improving their overall free throw shooting percentages can significantly help their teams to secure the game and the win.

Just Why Are NBA Centers and Big Men Bad at Free Throws?

While it is difficult to isolate the exact reason why so many centers and big men in the NBA are so poor at shooting free throws, there are plenty of opinions which are valid and help to explain the phenomenon. 

And while centers and big men in the NBA do have poorer free throw shooting percentages than other players and positions in the league, the issue is one that can be solved and rectified.  We will discuss those solutions in the next paragraph.

  • Centers and big men never focused on their free throw shooting abilities – perhaps the most obvious, and most compelling reason, as to why centers and big men in the NBA have a poorer free throw shooting percentage, is simply due to the fact that the free throw was never an area they focused on.  As big men and centers, these players are typically more concerned with defending the lane and the basketball rim.  As such, they paid little attention to their shooting abilities, in particular to their free throw shooting abilities, and continue to suffer when shooting from the free throw line.
  • Size plays a significant role – similarly, for NBA centers and big men, being larger than the average male and their basketball counterparts places a significant disadvantage on their shooting abilities.  A regulation sized basketball is 29.5 inches in circumference. And while a comfortable size for most players, the size of the basketball may simply be too small for centers and larger players looking to position it correctly at the free throw line.
  • Fatigue and wear-and-tear – in addition to the above, for many NBA centers and big men, playing the low-post and in the lane requires significant strength.  Between boxing out for the rebound, defending the lane against incoming players, blocking shots, and bodying other players for the forceful dunk, these players often exert more energy on the court than their smaller counterparts.  As such, their ability to properly shoot the basketball at the free throw line is affected by their overall fatigue and wear-and-tear.
  • Pressure from teammates and fans – similarly, many NBA centers and big men know that their free throw percentages are poorer than their counterparts.  And when they are purposefully fouled and placed on the free throw line, they feel enormous amounts of pressure and judgment to make the shot.  And with thousands of fans at away games yelling and attempting to distract them and their focus, making the free throw can become even more difficult.
  • Centers are difficult to replace – perhaps the least discussed reason, but a compelling one, is that NBA centers simply do not have to practice and excel at the free throw as compared to their teammates.  Simply put, finding, recruiting, and signing a big man or center is infinitely more difficult than signing other players.  With many NBA centers standing in at over 7-feet, it can be difficult to replace them and find a suitable alternative.  As such, centers and big men in the NBA are given a bit more leeway and allowed to focus in on honing their main responsibilities and duties on the court.

Can NBA Centers Improve Their Free Throw Shooting Abilities?

Simply put, yes, NBA centers and big men can improve their free throw shooting abilities, but it is not easy and will take time.  To do so, these players must first commit to improving and want to be better at shooting free throws.  Once they have dedicated themselves to improving, they will be able to work on their free throw abilities.

To start, NBA centers should commit at least half-an-hour each day to practicing their free throw shooting.  This amount of time is sufficient enough to allow them to become more comfortable with the act of shooting free throws.

Once comfortable, NBA centers should focus on balancing themselves at the free throw line.  Keep your knees bent with your weight on your toes while balancing the ball with your non-dominant hand.  Position your elbows straight to the rim while keeping them aligned with your shoulders.

From there, centers and other big men should work on their concentration.  Focus only on the free throw and the rim directly ahead of you.  Aim for the center of the hoop and ignore the noise, sounds, and commotion coming from other areas of the court.

Release the ball in one fluid, smooth motion.  Don’t be too rigid nor should you freeze up while shooting the ball.  Extend your shooting hand as you release the ball and make sure to follow through with the shot.