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NBA Players with Mid-Career Improvement in FT%

18 Jan

As a fan of unusual events I’m both excited and fascinated by the career of Tyson Chandler.
Let me explain why…

  • he was drafted second overall… yet he played less than 25 minutes in each of first three seasons.
    Obviously he came straight out from high-school which didn’t help but still it’s pretty unusual treatment of such high draft pick.

  • he changed teams 5 times which is already well above average and he is 29 years old.

  • his toe was the main reason for a rescinded trade which is a very rare event in itself
    [according to prosportstransactions.com there were only SEVEN of them!].

  • last year alone he was traded as a salary dump… and he was the key piece for a championship team.
    Quite a rollercoaster ride, huh? And I can’t count how many times it happened but I’m pretty sure that’s not a typical way to acquire one of the best players on championship team.

  • most importantly [at least for this post], he did something which most big guys [or maybe even all people] can only dream about: he learnt how to shoot free throws very late into his playing career!

    In his first 8 years Tyson Chandler attempted 1789 free throws and made 1071 of them for a 59.87% mark but in his ninth season he suddenly became 73+% shooter. And it wasn’t a fluke either, in all following seasons he made at least 73% of his freebies.

For the purpose of this post I’d like to focus on the last part and explore it: How often does such sudden improvement happen? Who did have the most impressive mid-career improvement in FT% in history?

Also you may not know this from this blog but I like playing basketball a lot and it’s the first topic which not only I can relate to personally but it also makes me appreciate it even more than just a curiosity because I feel like in terms of veteran’s basketball skills “you are who you are”.
Yet somehow at least one old dog learnt a new trick… maybe there is a light at the end of tunnel for all of us ;-)

OK, let’s start with basics, I downloaded a file from basketballreference.com with historical data and I compared FT% in every season after 5th [with minimum 150 free throw attempts] to Free Throw Percentage based on all combined makes and attempts at this point of player’s career. And here are the results…

Player year Season ftm fta FT% to-date-FTM to-date-FTA to-date-FT% Sudden jump by
Chris Webber 1999 7 311 414 75,12 799 1477 54,10 21,02
Dale Davis 1999 9 139 203 68,47 882 1729 51,01 17,46
Dale Davis 2001 11 150 212 70,75 1117 2084 53,60 17,16
Chris Webber 2004 12 181 228 79,39 1983 3158 62,79 16,59
Kevin Restani 1979 6 131 161 81,37 131 201 65,17 16,19
Mark West 1989 7 199 288 69,10 471 872 54,01 15,08
Marty Conlon 1996 6 144 171 84,21 327 470 69,57 14,64
Corliss Williamson 2001 7 240 298 80,54 933 1415 65,94 14,60
Paul Silas 1971 8 433 560 77,32 1269 2023 62,73 14,59
Joel Przybilla 2008 9 112 169 66,27 331 633 52,29 13,98
Brendan Haywood 2007 7 216 294 73,47 794 1334 59,52 13,95
Chris Webber 2001 9 253 338 74,85 1434 2352 60,97 13,88
Gerald Wallace 2008 8 365 454 80,40 1074 1614 66,54 13,85
Toby Kimball 1973 8 127 185 68,65 571 1037 55,06 13,59
Connie Dierking 1966 6 134 180 74,44 455 747 60,91 13,53
Jamal Mashburn 2001 9 211 241 87,55 1734 2342 74,04 13,51
Kevin Willis 1998 14 130 155 83,87 2490 3538 70,38 13,49
Tyson Chandler 2009 9 115 157 73,25 1071 1789 59,87 13,38
Kevin Willis 1991 7 292 363 80,44 1004 1493 67,25 13,19
Connie Dierking 1967 7 237 310 76,45 589 927 63,54 12,91
Drew Gooden 2009 8 186 216 86,11 1180 1612 73,20 12,91
Caldwell Jones 1981 6 179 219 81,74 553 802 68,95 12,78
Baron Davis 2009 11 239 291 82,13 1983 2846 69,68 12,45
Thomas Sanders 1969 10 161 183 87,98 1632 2158 75,63 12,35
Nate Thurmond 1969 7 261 346 75,43 1554 2462 63,12 12,31

Obviously Tyson Chandler made a list, otherwise you wouldn’t read this post, but his improvement was far away from the most impressive one – this title probably should belong to Chris Webber who after six years of shooting at dreadful 54% made a jump to 75% and he even had some seasons close to 80%! Very nice Chris.

Dale Davis would be my clear number 2 in terms of most impressive improvement though he started at lower clip than Webber. Also last year’s backup to Tyson Chandler – Brendan Haywood – had a nice jump himself but it proved to be just a fluke year.

By the way, does anybody know how they did it?
Is there any coach who should get some deserved credit?

And just because I’ve checked and it works very nicely as a curiosity…
here’s a difference between the worst year and the best one [with minimum 150 FTA for both seasons]…

Player Best Year ftm fta FT% Worst Year ftm fta FT% Difference
Karl Malone 1999 589 739 79,7 1985 195 405 48,14 31,56
George Mcginnis 1975 475 642 73,98 1981 72 159 45,28 28,7
Dale Davis 2001 150 212 70,75 1996 92 215 42,79 27,96
Paul Silas 1973 264 337 78,33 1964 83 164 50,60 27,73
Vin Baker 2003 114 157 72,61 1998 72 160 45,00 27,61
Doc Rivers 1988 247 287 86,06 1985 172 283 60,77 25,29
Baron Davis 2009 239 291 82,13 2001 196 338 57,98 24,15
Tom Hawkins 1959 106 164 64,63 1968 62 151 41,05 23,58
Wilt Chamberlain 1961 835 1363 61,26 1967 354 932 37,98 23,28
Dennis Johnson 1987 255 298 85,57 1976 179 287 62,36 23,21
Tyson Chandler 2009 115 157 73,24 2005 97 193 50,25 22,99
K.c. Jones 1959 128 170 75,29 1963 88 168 52,38 22,91
Drew Gooden 2009 186 216 86,11 2003 167 262 63,74 22,37
Kevin Mchale 1989 393 440 89,31 1980 108 159 67,92 21,39
Jerry West 1966 602 686 87,75 1960 331 497 66,59 21,16
World Free 1980 528 649 81,35 1975 112 186 60,21 21,14
Dick Vanarsdale 1976 145 166 87,34 1967 227 339 66,96 20,38
Gary Payton 2001 267 335 79,7 1993 166 279 59,49 20,21
Antawn Jamison 2002 375 475 78,94 1998 90 153 58,82 20,12
Shaquille O’Neal 2002 451 725 62,2 2006 124 294 42,17 20,03
Tim Duncan 2001 560 701 79,88 2003 352 588 59,86 20,02

Seriously Wilt? 38%?
Plus we should mention that Karl Malone also made a significant improvement in this category but it happened in his third season which certainly helped to reach second best scoring mark of all-time.

Finally, there aren’t many guards on both lists… so tip your hat to Baron Davis for… I don’t know, lack of concentration in some years? ;-)

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6 Comments

Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Casually Unique

 

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6 responses to “NBA Players with Mid-Career Improvement in FT%

  1. Anonymous

    January 18, 2012 at 22:23

    watch for perk to make this list. 60% career, 78% so far this season

     
    • wiLQ

      January 18, 2012 at 22:33

      But that is also a very small sample size, let’s wait for some more free throw attempts for him before making such bold statements ;-)

       
  2. Kyle B.

    January 19, 2012 at 02:10

    I would guess you’d find more jumps in FT% in a positive than in the negative way. I think it’s something that comes with declining athleticism. Some players realize they have to improve at free throws to have a similar impact to their young self. They’ll also have practiced free throw shooting a lot more when they’re older, know more about their (bad) habits etc

     
  3. Leszczur

    January 23, 2012 at 12:21

    I’m wondering how those parameters behaved over time.
    The key to my perhaps twisted logic is – have those players who saw big boost in FT% or 3PM/3P% season to season – hold up their increased effectiveness in season(s) that followed?
    Because single season spike is most probably an outlier rather than effect of applied knowledge increase ;-)
    Well – same stands for low FT% and 3PM/3P% – could be a random effect that has nothing to do with gaining more skills.

     
    • wiLQ

      January 26, 2012 at 13:07

      Chris Webber, Dale Davis, Corliss Williamson, Paul Silas and Kevin Willis – so players at the top of the first list or those who appeared multiple times – have indeed hold up their increased effectiveness in season(s) that followed. The same thing with Tyson who was the inspiration for this post.

      The second table is more about fluke years in both directions ;-)

       

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