2010 Season Preview: Highlighting Gonzaga’s impressive ability to get to the foul line
I consider Gonzaga’s free throw rate to field goal attempts to be its most impressive quality of a pretty successful 2009-2010 season. They ranked 7th in the country at 49.3% although their 66.4% success rate from the line shows this might not have been beneficial to Gonzaga.
However, the success rate at the line is much easier to fix than a team that is not aggressive and not able to get to the foul line. There is hope that Elias Harris (67.5%), Robert Sacre (62.9%), Demetri Goodson (56.1%) and others will raise their free throw percentage while getting to the line at the same rate. I would rather have the problem of not making foul shots than not being aggressive enough to get to the lane.
Two questions came to mind when I saw this stat: How did they do it last year and is it sustainable this year? Let’s find out the answers to both.
How did they do it?
Attacking the rim
Gonzaga had several players who had the ability and desire to attack the rim with the ball. Matt Bouldin (40.4%), Steven Gray (33.7%) and Demetri Goodson (58.3%) were above average at attacking the rim and drawing fouls.
Compare these rates to the rates of Lebron James (51%) and Dwyane Wade (46%) and we can see that the guards of Gonzaga match up with two of the better attacking players in the NBA.
The following clips will highlight this strength of the Gonzaga guards, as they were able to recognize the open space and were quick enough to take advantage and get to the rim.
Goodson beats the defense down the court on this drive. Watch him turn on the jets right before the 3 point line and notice how he can get from the 3 point line to the rim without a dribble. That shows off the athleticism of Goodson.
Bouldin drives the baseline and gets cut off in the following play. Instead of forcing a kick out pass, he is patient, waits for the defense to make a move and squeezes in the opening to draw a foul.
Bouldin uses the screen beautifully and curls to the lane. With his defender on his help, he slips around the help defender but creates enough contact to draw a foul.
Goodson again shows his explosiveness in the following clip, as he forgoes the ball screen and takes it hard to the rim. The guards for Gonzaga have shown they do not shy away from contact in the pain and are willing to draw the foul if they cannot make the shot in the lane.
Strong offensive post player
Robert Sacre and Elias Harris form one of the better post tandems in the nation. Add in Kelly Olynyk (who last year thrived more on the perimeter) and I do not think you can find a better trio of big men.
Sacre ranked 36th in the nation in free throw rate last season at 73.9%, shooting 170 FTs and 229 field goals. Harris was exceptional at drawing fouls as well, with a free throw rate of 56.2%.
By having two or more big men on the court at once, it creates mismatches on the offensive end for Gonzaga. Add in the fact that both Sacre and Harris are good post players on their own, this gives them a better chance to succeed by either scoring or drawing a foul.
Watch the clips of Sacre and Harris getting the ball in the post and going to work against the defender. They are strong post players and when they beat their man, can either score or force the defense to commit a foul (as we will see in the following clips).
Now if Harris and Sacre could only improve their free throw percentage, they could become an even more formidable duo.
Piggybacking off the previous point, Gonzaga uses offensive rebounding to draw fouls on the opposition. They had a 33% offensive rebounding percentage last season, again thanks to the size advantage they have over many teams.
The strength of offensive rebounding helps to contribute to the high free throw to field goal rate. These situations are ripe for drawing fouls and Gonzaga is an above average rebounding team.
So when you look at the high free throw rate from Gonzaga last year, these three things are the three main reasons Gonzaga was able to accomplish and sustain that rate through last season. Although their free throw percentage was lower than desired, they had plenty of chances at the line.
Is it sustainable?
That is the main question heading into the upcoming season. I see Gonzaga having a very high free throw rate again. Their big men are back to attack the offensive glass and dominate the post and their guards still have the ability to drive to the basket.
Matt Bouldin departs and while Steven Gray is not the best at attacking the rim. Goodson and Manny Arop return and are very good at getting to the rim and drawing fouls.
Both of these bode well for Gonzaga having a repeat performance of a high free throw rate. Hopefully they were working on free throws this summer and are ready to improve on their rate from last season and take full advantage of their ability to draw fouls.