So as a follow up to my unsubstantiated claim last Friday that a team’s volume of free throw attempts is more important than their free throw percentage, I decided to run some tests on last season’s data. I took the top 30 and bottom 30 teams in various categories and computed their total winning percentage. In this very un-scientific method, the greater the difference between the winning percentage of the good teams and bad teams, the more important the statistic is.

So here’s what I found:

                    Top 30 Win%   Bottom 30 Win%
FT%                    .615            .408  (Difference = .207)
FTA/FGA                .552            .355  (Difference = .197)
opponents' FTA/FGA     .622            .382  (Difference = .240)
FTA/FGA difference     .638            .356  (Difference = .272)

FT% = Free Throw Percentage (FTM/FTA)
FTA/FGA = this is basically the ability of a team to get to the line. You could use total free throws, or free throws per game, but this best accounts for how often a team gets to the line relative to it’s own ability to get shots off.
opponents’ FTA/FGA = the same as above but for a team’s opponents.
FTA/FGA difference = the difference in the previous two statistics.

So anyway, as you can probably see from the numbers, I overstated the benefits of getting to the line somewhat. Getting to the line or preventing your opponent from getting there is roughly equal to or maybe slightly more important than shooting well from the line when you get there. But a large free throw differential (the last line above) between you and your opponent is clearly more important than just your own free throw percentage.