Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. That’s the main line of defense of every analytics fan in moderns sports. It’s not their fault three-pointers, and free throws are the most efficient shots in the game – they are just optimizing their style of play. Still, I can’t watch James Harden, and the Rockets play. At the risk of my father finding out I sound like him, I have to say it – that’s just not basketball.
If you had to design Daryl Morey’s wet dream of a game, it would be close to the 1993 WCF between the Suns and the Sonics; Barkley & Co. shot 64 free throws in that game (courtesy of Dick Bavetta). Morey being Morey would probably notice an angle to improve the number of attempts. The Suns were mostly fouled on 2pt attempts. That 64 could easily go into the 80s by getting the ultimate high percentage play – a fouled three-point attempt.
Funny thing, that play didn’t exist before 1994. Despite the fact the three-point line was introduced in ’79/’80, if you got fouled shooting a three, you’d only get two free throws until 1994. What happened then?
Game 3 of the 1994 Finals, Knicks vs. Rockets. Knicks down three points with five seconds to go, John Starks found himself open behind the arc. He missed, but was fouled by Hakeem and would go to the line. If he had made the shot, it would’ve potentially been a four-point play. But because he missed, Starks shot only two free throws. He drained the first and intentionally missed the second one.
I don’t have to explain how frustrated Pat Riley and the Knicks were after the game. This game was the tipping point, and that summer, the rule was changed. If you got fouled shooting a three, you get three free throws. It seems obvious, but it took the league 15 years.
James Harden should make a yearly donation to the John Starks Foundation. A $100 for every free throw made after a foul was called while shooting a three.