More on Perimeter Players & Free Throw Rates
Last Friday, I posted about teams that formed as potent a slashing combo as the new LeBron James–Dwyane Wade duo in Miami, and found that in an incredibly small sample of similar cases (3, to be exact), at least one — if not both — of the players had to change their playing style to accommodate their new circumstance. A lot of people asked about the general effect of the new team member on the offense, though, so today I wanted to quickly follow up and look at whether the driving tendency of the added player correlated to the amount of offensive improvement the team saw.
Since 1952, there have been 267 cases where a perimeter player (PG, SG, SF) who played at least 24 minutes per scheduled game in year Y was added to a new team and played at least 24 MP/scheduled game in year Y + 1. Of those, 155 had a Free Throw Rate Index (FTRI, or FTA/FGA scaled where 100=average, >100 is above-average, and <100 is below-avg) below 100, 99 had a FTRI above 100, and 13 had exactly average FTRIs.
The teams who added a below-average “driver” were, on average, 0.26 points/100 possessions worse than average on offense the year before the acquisition; in year one with their new player, they improved to 0.14 pts/100 poss better than average (that’s a difference of +0.4 if you’re scoring at home). Meanwhile, teams that added an above-average driver averaged -0.67 pts/100 poss relative to the league before the pickup, and they improved to +0.02 pts/100 poss relative to the league in their first season with the new player (an average difference of +0.69).
All in all, though, there was essentially no correlation (r = 0.02) between the previous driving ability of the new acquisition and his team’s offensive improvement when he arrived. Teams were just as likely to improve their offense by adding a hard driver (see Andre Miller, 2004 Nuggets) or a paint-aversed guard (see Nick Van Exel, 1999 Nuggets).
More interesting, though, is the fact that teams who added a >100 FTRI driver to a roster that already had a returning perimeter player with >100 FTRI saw their offenses decline by -0.22 pts/100 poss on average, while teams who already had a >100 FTRI player and added a below-average driver saw their offenses improve by +0.34 pts/100 poss. Similarly, teams whose leading returning perimeter player by FTRI was <100 but added a >100 FTRI driver saw their offenses improve by +0.84 pts/100 on average.
The samples are ridiculously small again, but these findings seem to indicate some kind of “too many cooks” syndrome for teams with multiple hard-driving perimeter players. There are, of course, numerous success stories where two high-FTRI players coexisted on strong offensive teams, and among these hard-driving pairs there may not have ever been a more talented combo than Wade/James. But as we imagine the possibilities for the upcoming season, the open question of whether #3 and #6 can each maintain their rim-attacking ways and simultaneously keep the offense “on schedule” is definitely something to keep in mind.