The Lakers’ massive free throw advantage is finally getting attention it deserves

The Los Angeles Lakers take a lot more free throws than their opponents. This has been a widely known fact for a certain type of internet-addicted NBA fan dating back to last season when the trend emerged. On Monday against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers’ own announcers mentioned it on the broadcast, and the clip immediately went viral.

The 2022-23 Lakers of last season attempted 2,182 free throws, the most in the NBA. Lakers opponents shot 1,706 free throws, the fewest in the NBA, per basketball-reference. The trend is continuing this year: the Lakers have taken 1,180 free throws (the fourth-most in the NBA, but only No. 7 in free throws per game), and they have allowed 946 free throws — the third lowest total in the NBA, and the second-lowest total per game.

The fact that the Lakers rank dead last in the NBA in drives per game this year makes the massive free throw discrepancy even more questionable (last season’s Lakers had the eighth-fewest drives per game).

Here’s the clip of Lakers announcers Bill Macdonald reading the stats on air:

Yes, it is bizarre that the Lakers have enjoyed such a huge free throw advantage over their opponents. No team in the NBA had a bigger split in free throw attempts vs. opponent free throw attempts last year, and the trend is holding on again this season.

At the same time, driving the ball isn’t the only way to get close to the basket and/or earn free throws. This year’s Lakers still rank No. 2 in the NBA in rim frequency, per Cleaning the Glass, and No. 5 in rim accuracy. The Lakers rank No. 5 in post-up attempts, per, and No. 3 in possessions finished by the roll man. Those play types typically generate shots near the rim, which leads to a greater tendency get foul calls. Having LeBron James on your team doesn’t hurt, either, when it comes to looking for a “superstar call.”

Our old pal Jackson Frank had a good thread on this on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter:

The Lakers can get to the rim in lots of ways that don’t come off drives. That makes sense. How do the Lakers avoid fouling? Well, for one, they allow a ton of three-pointers instead. The Lakers have given up the third-most three-point attempts this year. But is their massive free throw advantage two years running still a bit bizarre? Yes it is.

The conspiracy theorists will tell you the NBA wants the Lakers to succeed. The Lakers are by far the most popular team in the NBA, and have been for decades. There’s an entire generation of basketball fans born in the ‘80s and ‘90s that still root for the team because they loved Kobe Bryant. Los Angeles is also obviously one of the country’s biggest markets.

Lakers games typically draw much bigger TV ratings than other teams. This weekend’s Lakers-Warriors battle between two sub-.500 teams put up huge TV numbers.

The game isn’t rigged against your favorite team just because the Lakers shot more free throws than them on a night-to-night basis. Steve Kerr’s recent criticism fell flat in that regard. Still, we now have 1.5 years of evidence that this Lakers team is really good at getting to the foul line, and absolutely incredible at avoiding fouls. Maybe Darvin Ham isn’t such a bad head coach after all? Or maybe the Lakers really are getting a little extra favoritism from the officials.

Either way, the Lakers’ huge free throw advantage is now fully mainstream. They have their own announcer to thank.

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