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Pacers Should Be Defensive About Their Free Throw Differential

The Indiana Pacers crushed the league in free throw attempt (FTA) differential last season, checking in a -6.6 FTAs per game.

That's not good.

A few months ago, IC reader Brian emailed looking for answers as to why the Pacers' FTA differential was so large. He broke down the FTA differentials for the whole league and the Pacers stood way atop the list (Atlanta was second at -5.04 then it dropped to the Kings at -3.72). For a team that finished three games out of the playoffs, overcoming those 6.6 points was too difficult on most nights.

But it gets worse.

The Pacers lost 19 games by four points or less or in overtime last season. Flip four of those 19 games and Danny Granger has some playoff experience right now.

But it gets more painful.

Looking at the FTA differential for those 19 games tells a sorrowful tale of where it all went awry. Pacer opponents averaged 10.3 more FTAs in the 19 close losses which obviously played a factor. When you further consider that the Pacers finished third in the league in FT% at 80.7%, that large a charity attempt differential destroyed an advantage the Pacers carried into most of those games.

Brian's question "why" quickly filled my head with a few factors to consider. The Pacers play at a faster pace than most of the league and generally shoot earlier in a possession than their opponents. The quicker you jack up a shot, the less time you have to draw a foul. Plus, the team shoots a lot of three pointers and shooters are rarely fouled on three-point attempts. Seems pretty plausible at first blush.

After further consideration, the pace probably plays a role, but in looking over the 19 losses, 3-point attempts were generally about the same. So if I have to pinpoint the main reason for the FTA differential, I'm looking at the other end of the floor.

The Pacers struggled defensively last year, remember? Their quest for defensive stops were often far too literal and instead stopped play altogether. Problem is, when a whistle stops play the other team eventually starts shooting a lot of free throws. New faces and young players held back the defense as well and whether they admit it or not, referees do consider which players are involved in a play. When a player like Roy Hibbert gets the rookie treatment in the paint and then develops a reputation for drawing fouls, tweener calls start to always go the other way.

Late rotations, no rotations or over-zealous rotations were all common place throughout a game. When faced with a layup or free throws the Pacers would take the latter. I appreciate a "no freebies" approach, but at some point making a defensive stand and getting a true stop which takes the ball the other way is the only way to minimize the FTA differential that plagued the Pacers last season.