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Clippings: The Clippers want to earn more free throws

Their free-throw rate is just fine, but the Clippers are battling the perception that they’re a jump-shooting team.

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Los Angeles Clippers v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Every time head coach Ty Lue talks about the team’s offense, he says they need to touch the paint. Those paint touches usually lead to kickouts for threes, a system that has worked very well for the team with the best 3-point shooting percentage in the league.

What those paint touches don’t necessarily lead to are shots at the rim, or even free throws when those shots are taken through contact. The Clippers are 29th in the frequency of field goals they take within four feet of the basket. They’re 10th in free-throw rate, however, even though they’re 25th in the league in the number of foul shots they take per game. That’s mostly a function of the team’s slow pace; if there are three fewer possessions per game, there’s less time to earn free throws.

And yet, fouls often come up when dissecting the team’s losses. It’s something that Paul George brought up when the Clippers only drew 11 fouls compared to 19 for the Bucks, resulting in a free throw disparity of 15.

“That’s more of a league question than our team question, that’s more of a league question,” George said when asked about his team’s free throw rate. “I think we do enough. I think we put enough pressure. We get contact. 19 to 11 tonight, or today. I think we did enough to get some calls our way.”

The team’s offense is doing just fine with or without a high volume of free throws. They are dependent on jump shots since so few of their field goals come at the rim, but they have really good shooters on the team. The problem, if there even is one, is what happens on a night when those open shots simply aren’t falling.

That’s when having a healthier diet of shots in the paint, and consequently the free throws that come from those rim attacks, might come in handy. The Clippers go from eighth in the league in free-throw rate in wins to 19th in losses, and that’s a number that seems to fit the eye test.

“Majority of them were good looks. I just thought sometimes, they were too quick,” Kawhi Leonard said about his team’s shot selection Sunday, when they took 43 threes and 14 shots at the rim. “Even if we do come down, we drive and have a clean look with whatever 19, 18 on the clock, I feel like we gotta give that up just to get some ball movement at times, trying to attack the paint more, especially on the road. You have to get downhill to try to get to the free throw line, get some layups.”

LA has the second-best offensive efficiency in the league. They’re not winning and losing most games because of an inability to score. But in the postseason, all the little details matter, and this is one area where there is substantial room for improvement.

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