The Knicks' Ever-Widening Free Throw Gap

Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

The Knicks are getting a lot of fouls called on them...I wonder how Sheed feels about that?

Well, that Knicks-Bulls game certainly wasn't the most pleasant experience in the world, but I think it's important to...

-whistle- Blocking foul on Joseph Flynn. Two shots, Chicago.

The game's over, guys! I'm just writing about it. I'm not blocking anyone.

Anyway, I think a sense of perspective is needed. Sure, the winning streak is over, but remember...

-whistle- Reach-in foul on Joseph Flynn. Two shots, Chicago.

What the hell, Mr. Crawford? I'm not even on the team!

-whistle- Technical foul on Joseph Flynn

Fouls, fouls, fouls all the time! The Bulls shot 37 free throws to the Knicks' 22. If that refrain sounds familiar, it's because this is the second time this season the Knicks lost the free throw battle by the exact same 37-22 margin (March 13, at Denver). They should be used to it by now - Knick opponents have enjoyed an advantage of at least ten free throws a whopping 12 times this season; by comparison, the Knicks have enjoyed an advantage of 10+ free throws in only six games.

Differences
Rk Date Tm Opp Result FT FTA
1 2012-11-09 NYK DAL W 104-94 +6 +15
2 2013-02-24 NYK PHI W 99-93 +10 +15
3 2013-02-27 NYK GSW W 109-105 +8 +12
4 2012-12-08 NYK @ CHI L 85-93 +5 +10
5 2012-12-23 NYK MIN W 94-91 +8 +10
6 2013-03-22 NYK @ TOR W 99-94 +2 +10
Rk Date Tm Opp Result FT FTA
67 2012-12-11 NYK @ BRK W 100-97 -7 -10
68 2013-04-05 NYK MIL W 101-83 -6 -10
69 2012-11-16 NYK @ MEM L 95-105 -10 -11
70 2013-01-11 NYK CHI L 101-108 -9 -11
71 2013-03-27 NYK MEM W 108-101 -10 -13
72 2012-11-23 NYK @ HOU L 103-131 -13 -14
73 2012-12-25 NYK @ LAL L 94-100 -12 -15
74 2013-03-07 NYK OKC L 94-95 -11 -15
75 2013-03-13 NYK @ DEN L 94-117 -11 -15
76 2013-04-11 NYK @ CHI L 111-118 (OT) -13 -15
77 2013-04-09 NYK WAS W 120-99 -11 -16
78 2013-03-17 NYK @ LAC L 80-93 -7 -17
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

All of this adds up to a rather disturbing discrepancy - the Knicks are near the bottom of the league, both in getting to the line (.200 FT/FGA - 20th in the NBA) and in sending their opponents to the line (.217 Opp FT/FGA - 24th in the NBA). The only other playoff team that rates below average in both categories is the Memphis Grizzlies, and they're better than New York in both regards (.202 FT/FGA, .208 Opp FT/FGA).

And the gap is getting bigger - notice that half of those 12 games have come in the last five weeks.

On the surface, this makes a lot of sense - the Knicks are a jump-shooting team, not terribly disciplined defensively, and last month they lost Amar'e Stoudemire's 4.5 free throw attempts per game. Still, it does sting a bit - we were told all these years that we needed a superstar, because superstars get superstar calls, and now we have Carmelo Anthony getting the same number of free throws as Nate freakin' Robinson!

No fan wants to watch his team get dominated from the charity stripe, game after game. It naturally leads fans to swap bitter, nonsensical conspiracy theories: "David Stern doesn't want New York to win the 'chip, because...uhh...the deficit? Mayans? Thanks, Obama!"

While the free throw numbers are a bit scary, they lead us to a fascinating question: how are the Knicks hemorrhaging points at the foul line, yet still kicking ass?

Check the free throw stats from the Knicks' now-deceased 13-game winning streak:

  • Knicks: 20.5 free throws per game, 118.8 ORtg
  • Opponents: 23.4 free throws per game, 104.0 DRtg

"Hey rest of the NBA, we're gonna spot you three free throws and still win, cuz we don't give a fuuuuuuuccccck..."

During the streak the Knicks shot fewer free throws than their season average (21.4 FT/G), gave up more free throws than their season average (22.3 Opp FT/G) and dominated their opponents with a D-rating that would be top-10 in the league over a full season and an O-rating that can only be described as a Tantric Score-gasm.

Still, all this seems a bit counter-intuitive, and 13 games is a small sample size. Let's widen our gaze a bit and compare the 30 games the team played with Amar'e Stoudemire to the 19 games they've played since his injury:

With Amar'e (Record: 17-13)

  • Knicks: 22.2 free throws per game, 106.9 ORtg
  • Opponents: 21.4 free throws per game, 102.8 DRtg

Post-Amar'e (Record: 14-5)

  • Knicks: 20.9 free throws per game, 111.6 ORtg
  • Opponents: 24.9 free throws per game, 105.2 DRtg

I find nothing surprising about the free throw numbers - Amar'e is truly elite when it comes to drawing fouls. But the offensive and defensive ratings...what the hell is going on there? Could it possibly be true that a team with Amar'e Stoudemire was both worse offensively and better defensively than one without Amar'e? Hold on, slick...remember that the Knicks have also been missing Tyson Chandler for much of the post-Amar'e run. The Knicks had a DRtg of 102.7 in the 30 games before Amar'e made his debut.

It seems to me - and many others - that the Knicks have found their optimal playing style for the rest of the season - spread the floor with Melo at the 4 and one defensive-minded big, either Chandler or Kenyon Martin. What does this mean for their foul problem? On offense, there's not much chance they'll get to the line as often as they did during the Amar'e Days. That's just not their game...and they're scoring so much right now that there's really no use complaining about it. On defense...well, the story is a bit more complicated. Kenyon Martin probably isn't going to bring down his robust 5.3 foul-per-36-minute average anytime soon. Besides, as Chris Herring pointed out, fouling (with gusto!) is an important part of K-Mart's defensive game - it has been quite effective so far, and I'm scared to tell him to stop. The free throw deficit has become a fact of life for the Knicks and I don't see any reason it will stop heading into the playoffs.

Who knows? We've always heard that the refs are encouraged to swallow their whistles in the postseason (unless the Lakers are in danger of missing the Finals, that is); that might just play to the Knicks advantage.

P.S. The preceding playoff analysis was purely academic. We're talking about the Knicks and the playoffs, here! There is no advantage. Chandler and K-Mart are never coming back. Ray Felton is probably done for the year. Every single Knick is about to get horribly injured.

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