Free Throw Points as a Percentage of Total Points

There's been a lot of talk about how the Atlanta Dream's Angel McCoughtry makes most of her points at the free throw line - when watching games it appears that the announcers keep reminding us of that fact.  McCoughtry, like Marynell Meadors, knows that a shot plus a free throw is just as good as a 3-pointer.  (Although, perhaps, not a substitute for one.)

I wanted to answer two questions:

1)  Was McCoughtry's percentage of total points made from free throws among the highest percentage for all WNBA players?
2)  Do players with high percentages of total points made from free throws last longer in the WNBA?  My starting hypothesis was that they do not:  these players get to the free throw line more often but take a beating while doing so, and clearly such a beating must shorten the career lifespan of such players.

We'll look at the numbers first.  In order to remove outliers, we'll limit the sample to players with at least 80 games.  Since my data is only from 1997 to 2010, this will eliminate McCoughtry.

Top 11 Players in FT% of Total Points
(minimum 80 games played)

Crystal Kelly    47.89%
Nicky Anosike    37.19%
Monique Currie    34.43%
Ticha Penicheiro    34.40%
Dominique Canty    33.16%
Jamila Wideman    31.38%
Janice Braxton    31.24%
Marlies Askamp    30.58%
Barbara Farris    30.53%
Lindsay Whalen    30.45%
Armintie Price    30.41%

I used the top eleven as opposed to the top ten as this made 30 percent the natural cut-off point.  Crystal Kelly - who got cut in training camp by the Liberty this year - was an absolute master at initiating contact to get to the free throw line.  Almost one out of every two points she ever scored was made at the stripe.  Armintie Price of the Dream is a master of the driver plus foul as well. 

Of course, it helps to be a good free throw shooter.  Price is the only player that shoots below 68 percent at the line as of the end of 2010.  As of 2010, "Half Price" was a career 54.3 percent free throw shooter!

Bottom 9 Players in FT% of Total Points
(minimum 80 games played)

Laurie Koehn    3.05%
Jamie Carey    6.06%
Kelly Mazzante    6.77%
Shanna Crossley    7.24%
Amanda Lassiter    8.38%
Nicky McCrimmon    8.45%
Adrienne Johnson    8.84%
Sidney Spencer    9.66%
Roneeka Hodges    9.98%

Once again, bottom nine vs. bottom ten, because we can make 10 percent the natural cutoff point.

These players all have high ratios of 3PA/FGA, and all shoot better than 32 percent from the free throw line.  These players strike me as non-driving, long-range sharpshooters, particularly Mazzante who played briefly with the Dream this year - unfortunately, when she couldn't hit the three with Atlanta her value disappeared.

So where was McCoughtry at the end of 2010?  At 25.28 percent.  That won't even get her to the Top Ten.

Now for the second question:  do players who score a lot of their points as free throws have longer or shorter careers than the players who rarely score at the line?  I split the group of 80 game players into a top half and a bottom half (this left me with one odd player, whose totals I included for each group), according to the percentage of shots they made at the free throw line.  We'll call them - although this is misleading - "high contact" players and "low contact" players, the "low contact" players being the ones who rarely score points from the charity stripe.

I averaged in two ways:  by seasons played (if you play one game in a year, it's counted as a season) and by career minutes.

"high contact":  6.50 seasons/4,329 career minutes
"low contact":  6.36 seasons/3,900 career minutes

Even though the difference in seasons isn't much, the "high contact" players have 10 percent longer careers than the "low contact" ones.  My hypothesis was wrong.  So why is this the case?  It could be that these "high contact" players are exactly what you want in a player - they're playmakers, shot creators, players willing to wiggle through defenses and take contact to make the shot.  Whereas at the extreme other end, you're limited to players with one talent only - firing away from the perimeter.  Players with only one talent are the ones more likely to be pulled to the bench when that talent isn't going for them.

That's just one hypothesis. But even though Angel McCoughtry's free throw numbers don't make her a unique player, clearly she's in the "high contact" group - and if the numbers above are correct, we should be seeing her in the W until 2015 and beyond if we're lucky.

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