The Nuggets offense has had a particular strong point since George Karl took over as head coach (during the 2004-05 season): getting to the free throw line. The Nuggets thrive on aggressive offensive play. The team is typically either getting to the rim or shooting open three-pointers.

In fact, the Nuggets have led the NBA in free throws attempted every season since the 2007-08 campaign. But the Nuggets haven't ranked higher than 9th in made free throw percentage during that same regular season span. How many games could missed free throws cost the Nuggets next season? Did it cost them the Lakers series?

When the Nuggets traded away Arron Afflalo (197-247) and Al Harrington (119-176), they traded away free throw shooters that combined to go 316-423 from the foul line (74.7%). While Afflalo was Denver’s fourth ranked free throw shooter (79%) last season, Harrington (67.6%) only shot better than Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, and JaVale McGee.

Currently, the Nuggets only boast three guys who have career free throw percentages of 80% and up, and one of them (Quincy Miller) you have to use his freshman year statistics at Baylor, for him to qualify. Take a look at the current shooting percentages of the Nuggets roster (sorted from top to bottom by career):

Reg 2011-12 Playoffs 2012 Career
Danilo Gallinari 87.1% 91.7% 85.2%
Quincy Miller 81.6 (Baylor) 100 (4-4) 81.6
Andre Miller 81.1 86.7 80.7
Wilson Chandler 83.3 (10-12) n/a 78.7
Ty Lawson 82.4 63.2 78.5
Evan Fournier 75.4 (Euro) 65.9 (Euro) 77.5 (Euro)
Anthony Randolph 76.2 n/a 74.3
Andre Iguodala 61.7 58.9 73.7
Julyan Stone 72.7 (8-11) n/a 72.7
Jordan Hamilton 40 (2-5) n/a 70.9 (UT)
Corey Brewer 69.2 75 69.9
Timofey Mozgov 68.4 50 69.7
Kenneth Faried 66.5 75 66.5
Kosta Koufos 60 n/a 62.2
JaVale McGee 46.1 53.8 58.1

A simple breakdown, the Nuggets have:

  • Three players who earn a B at the charity stripe,
  • Seven guys who earn a C,
  • Four guys who earn a D,
  • One F.

The good news, Lawson has not only seen his attempts per game rise in each of his three NBA seasons, but his made percentages have also gone up each time. Lawson, a C shooter, could give the Nuggets another B shooter. Gallo is, by far, the Nuggets' best free throw shooter and he could make strides to raise his percentages from B to B+ or even A- before long. The Nuggets have to hope that Iguodala gets back to his normal C range from his D- range last season. And the Nuggets need Chandler to stay healthy and be the scoring force that Harrington was for the Nuggets at the foul line, but with much better percentages.

The reason free throw shooting is important for the Nuggets is because Karl's system allows for plenty of free chances to get points by attacking. As mentioned above, the Nuggets have led the league the last five seasons in free throw attempts per game. Under Karl, the Nuggets have always been in the top-7 of free throws attempted.

FTA Per Gm Rank Team FT% Rank
2011-12 (Karl) 26.7 1st 73.5 25th
2010-11 (Karl) 29.6 1st 76.5 16th
2009-10 (Karl) 30.6 1st 77.2 9th
2008-09 (Karl) 30.3 1st 76.0 20th
2007-08 (Karl) 30.7 1st 75.1 19th
2006-07 (Karl) 29.9 3rd 74.6 19th
2005-06 (Karl) 28.2 7th 74.4 16th
2004-05 (3 coaches) 28.2 5th 76.3 15th
2003-04 (Bzdelik) 26.3 6th 76.7 9th

Also under Karl’s tutelage, the Nuggets have never finished higher than 9th in team free throw percentage. You can compare the Nuggets with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season quite easily. The Thunder finished second to the Nuggets in free throws attempted with 26.4 and the Thunder were first in team percentage, making 80.6% of their freebies. The difference between 80.6% and 73.5% is OKC’s 21.3 makes per game and Denver’s 19.6 makes per game. You may see that it’s only a difference of 1.7 points, but every point is crucial in the NBA. As Al Pacino once said in Any Given Sunday, “(it’s the) difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying!”

If that all seems to close and like it's not a big difference … well then, let's look at the 2012 playoffs.

The Thunder and Nuggets both went into the post-season thriving off getting to the rim and getting points at the charity stripe. The Thunder vs. the Nuggets from the charity stripe in the post-season:

2012 Playoffs FTA Per Gm Team FT% FTM Per Gm
Thunder 24.5 82.0% 20.1
Nuggets 20.3 71.8% 14.6

As you can see above, OKC shot roughly four more free throws per game than the Nuggets did, had a better made percentage, and turned that into practically six more points per game. Could the Nuggets have used six more points per game in their seven game series against the Lakers? You bet.

There isn't a ton of reason to think that the Nuggets will be much better than their team percentage of 73.5% next season. With McGee and Faried likely to see increased minutes, the Nuggets are likely to see their low individual percentages drag the team down. Gallo, Andre Miller, Lawson, and Chandler need to anchor the Nuggets free throw shooting, Iguodala needs to see his dip last season correct itself, and the aggressive Nuggets need to figure out a way to take advantage of the free points Karl's system allows them. Otherwise, what's the point of the attacking style?

It could be an interesting season for the Nuggets at the charity stripe …

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