Heels haven't been exceptional at FT line in years
Posted December 20, 2013
Although North Carolina’s free-throw shooting almost certainly will improve with time this season, the Tar Heels’ current conversion percentage of 59.6 is following the program’s general trend of the past few years.
Once among the nation’s most accurate teams at the line, the Heels haven’t converted more than 70 percent of their of free throws since the 2008-09 NCAA title team shot 75.2 percent.
The following season (20-17 overall, NIT), the percentage nosed to 65.3 and has stayed in the 60 percentile range since – 67.2 percent in 2010-11 (29-8 record, 14-2 ACC), 68.2 percent in 2011-12 (32-6 overall, 14-2 ACC) and 67.5 percent last season (25-11 overall, 12-6 ACC).
Free-throw shooting is down nationally and has been since the mid-1990s, but Carolina had been well above the norm most of those years. Beginning in the 2004-05 NCAA title season (33-4 overall, 14-2 ACC), the Heels converted 72.5 percent and didn’t slip below 70 percent until 2009-10.
Dating all the way back to early ’50s, Carolina has managed to shoot at least 62.9 percent (1952-53) and has finished above 70 percent in 31 seasons.
But with James Michael McAdoo having missed 41 of his 90 attempts (54.4 percent) and J.P. Tokoto seriously off-target (38.9 percent on 39 chances) through 10 games, the current team is flirting with historically weak numbers.
After missing 23 of 47 attempts in Tuesday’s 86-83 loss to Texas, Roy Williams challenged his team to “be tough enough to step it up and make the dadgum thing” at the free-throw line.
But in order to make consistent improvement, it’s clear that McAdoo’s mechanics are off and Tokoto has developed what seems to be a phobia at the line.
Like many big men with oversized hands, McAdoo has a tendency to hit the back of iron – missing long. For a person with average-sized hands, it’s like free-throw shooting a softball at a target 15 feet away and 10 feet high.
Many big men with similar troubles have had some success by simply stepping a foot or so behind the line. That strategy worked well at times for Wilt Chamberlain, Dennis Rodman and Hakeem Olajuwon, but not so for Ben Wallace and Chris Dudley.
McAdoo following Haywood path?
McAdoo shot 57.8 percent on 173 attempts last season and 63.8 percent on 94 attempts as a freshman, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to improve at least some.
To a degree, McAdoo is much like former Carolina center Brendan Haywood in the late 1990s. As a freshman in 1997-98, he shot 63.5 percent, followed by 62.7 as a soph, 60.2 as a junior and then a miserable 51.6 as a senior in 2000-01.
Now with the Charlotte Hornets, Haywood has been a career 58.7 percent shooter at the line.
McAdoo hasn’t had an easy ride thus far and could be distracted to a degree from having had to play out of position frequently. A natural power forward, he’s been forced to the wing for long stretches but that situation should improve with the return of veteran winger Leslie McDonald.
Tokoto, Brice Johnson (58.6 percent) and Kennedy Meeks (58.1) are struggling but only Tokoto seems to be psyching himself out at the line. Johnson and Meeks clearly have potential to shoot in the mid 60 percent range.
Against Davidson (4-7) on Saturday (5 p.m., Smith Center), the Heels will face a team that has averaged more than 20 fouls per game and has watched opponents convert 72 percent of the time.
Whether it’s mental, mechanical, bad luck or a combination of everything and anything, missed free throws have resulted in two Carolina losses (Belmont and Texas) and will continue to be a point of opposition emphasis until the Heels can turn trips to the line into an asset rather than a liability.