More Free Throws for Victor Oladipo?

After a slow start to the season, Victor Oladipo is getting to the free throw line with more regularity.

Through fourteen games this season, Victor Oladipo is proving that last season wasn’t a fluke. Averaging 23.8 ppg, 7.1 reb, 4.4 ast on .450/.343/.703 shooting splits he has further cemented himself as one of the best shooting guards that this league has to offer.

Despite picking up where he left off, Oladipo has yet to take that next step as an elite scorer. He has the ability to score on all three levels but the one thing that is separating him from elite scorers such as James Harden, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Zach Lavine and others is the ability to consistently get easy points at the free throw line. Each of the players mentioned above averaged more than seven free throws per game in the month of October. Meanwhile, Oladipo averaged 3.9 free throw attempts per game which was tied for last among players averaging at least 20 points per game. For comparison, Oladipo averaged 3.9 made free throws last season.

Last season, Oladipo averaged close to eleven (10.8) drives per game according to NBA.com tracking data. This season, he has averaged less ten (9.5) drives in the month of October. With his speed and athleticism, he should able to get to the rim at will, but that was not the case in October as he had become too reliant with his pull-up jumper. This isn’t unheard of, especially early in the season. After putting hours of work with personal trainers during the off-season of working with personal trainers it’s common for players wanting to show off their new and improved skill set. In this particular case, Oladipo’s eagerness to show off his pull-up jumper is leading him to settle for an increased number of contested mid-range shots. In the eight games in October, over 36 percent of Oladipo’s shots were pull-up jumpers from within the arc which is up from his 30 percent last season. 

The clip below perfectly illustrates this alarming trend settling. Oladipo receives the inbound pass at the top of the key and immediately flows into a 1-5 pick n’ roll with Kyle O’Quinn. Now the two defensive players involved in this action are Derrick Rose and Karl Anthony-Towns whom both aren’t known for their defensive abilities. Instead of going downhill and attacking Towns, Oladipo opts for a relatively uncontested mid-range shot which hits front iron.

Getting to the free throw line is not only a way to get “free” points but it helps players get into a shooting rhythm. In Oladipo’s two worst shooting performances so far this season (against Portland and Minnesota) he had a total of FIVE attempts at the line. Perhaps if he got to the line more, he would have been able to establish a rhythm offensively. Even Oladipo himself acknowledged that he needs to get to the line more often after the game against the New York Knicks.

“Just putting some pressure on the refs to make those calls. Settling for long two’s and shots like that aren’t really going to give us a chance to get fouled. We have to put more pressure and make plays. Maybe, maybe, we’ll get more foul calls”

Oladipo eluded to the fact that the whole team, including himself, has been settling instead of attacking opposing defenses. The numbers confirm this, as Oladipo is only taking 27 percent of his shots at the rim per Cleaning the Glass. This is down from last season where 31 percent of his shots were at the rim.

Since that Halloween game, it is clear that Oladipo has placed a greater emphasis on getting to the charity stripe with more regularity. In the six games since, he averaged over five free throw attempts per game including eight attempts against the Celtics and six attempts on three different occasions. So, what changed? Oladipo is being more aggressive on the offensive end. He’s driving into the paint more and is not settling for as many pull-jumpers. As a result, he’s drawing more fouls per game which is resulting in more attempts at the free throw line.

  October November
Drives 9.5 10.5
Pull-Up Two's Frequency 37% 20.60%
Free Throw Attempts 3.9 5.5
Fouls Drawn 3.6 4.5

Against Boston, Oladipo was aggressive in terms of driving into the paint and creating contact. Here, Aron Baynes closes out on Oladipo after he receives the pass from Thaddeus Young. Using his momentum against him, Oladipo gives Baynes a hard jab step to the right and drives to the middle of the floor. Undeterred by the Terry Rozier dig, Oladipo drives hard and draws the foul on Baynes.

Though it's only a six-game sample size, it’s encouraging to see Oladipo address the flaws in his game. A more aggressive Oladipo is a better Oladipo.

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