Thunder free throw shooting needs to improve for Playoffs

SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Russell Westbrook
SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Russell Westbrook /

As the playoffs rapidly approach, the OKC Thunder need to take care of a glaring issue.

When looking for someone or something to blame for OKC Thunder losses, there is a fair share of low-hanging fruit. Carmelo Anthony is perhaps the biggest target. His shot selection at time can be baffling and his defense is practically non-existent. Billy Donovan, with his inconsistent rotations, is another. When Andre Roberson was healthy, his poor offense was easy to call out.

But in the Thunder’s recent losing skid (now dropping four of the last six games) a new team-wide issue has made itself more apparent than ever.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are a terrible free throw shooting team.

Only the Los Angeles Lakers (.708) have a worse team free-throw percentage than the Thunder (.712) this season. Combine that with the fact that OKC taken the sixth-most foul shots this year and you get a ton of misses free throws. 534 to be exact.

The Thunder are giving away games at the charity stripe in the most crucial games of the season. Oklahoma City went 15-27 (55.6%) at the line in their one-point overtime loss against Denver, which included multiple chances to put the game away late. In the four-point loss at San Antonio, the Thunder were 14-21 (67%).

OKC Thunder
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MARCH 29: Russell Westbrook #0 of the OKC Thunder looks on during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on March 29, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The most infuriating example of this was the loss to the Celtics, when Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony missed three free throws in the final 16 seconds to choke away a win. In a Conference where teams are only separated by a few games, these losses could come back to haunt the Thunder.

Star players aren’t stepping up

What’s most concerning is that the Thunder’s best free throw shooters have taken a significant drop off from last season. Westbrook is shooting a career-low .733 from the line, this coming after a career-high .845 last season. All while taking a career-high 840 free-throw attempts.

The same goes for Paul George. Last year, he was fifth overall in the league, shooting a career-high .898 from the line. On the same amount of shots per game, George is down to .815 this year, his lowest in a full season since 2014.

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Oklahoma City had a nice bounce back win against the Pelicans Sunday night, hitting 18 of their 25 foul shots. But once again, Carmelo Anthony missed two straight free throws in the fourth quarter that could have helped put the game away instead of a stressful five point win.

If the Thunder have any hopes of a serious playoff push, the free throw shooting is going to have to improve. In too many close games this season, the Thunder have either blown a lead or made a game much closer than it needed to be. In what will be an incredibly important postseason, the Thunder simply cannot make preventable mistakes and give away free points.

The Thunder roster – especially Westbrook and George – have shown in the past they are capable of being excellent foul shooters. It will be up to them to dig deep mentally and address this issue as the season reaches its utmost importance.