Warriors guard Stephen Curry is a great free-throw shooter, currently leading the league with a ridiculous 93.2 percent mark at the charity stripe. That percentage puts him not just at the top of the league for 2010-11, but among the most accurate free-throw shooters ever over a single season. In fact, he's set to pass Warriors great Rick Barry's 92.4 percent single-season franchise record, set in 1977-78.
It's tough to argue with accuracy like that. But it should be noted that the Warriors aren't entirely pleased with Curry's performance at the line, because he doesn't get there as often as you'd like from such a great shooter. Rusty Simmons has more for the San Francisco Chronicle:
"If you're going to lead the league in free-throw shooting, you might as well find a way to get to the line more often," general manager Larry Riley said. [...]
But Curry has gotten to the line only 217 times, a far cry from the league's most-fouled point guards, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (601 free-throw attempts) and Chicago's Derrick Rose (519).
"You've got to learn how to get in there and bait the guy to foul you," coach Keith Smart said. "Over time, he'll figure it out. He'll learn the nuances of inviting a player to foul him."
Curry said he has started to be more aggressive on his drives this season, and he's learning how to sell calls. He has made 202 free throws, which is two more than he attempted all of last season.
"I haven't found all of the secrets to it yet," Curry said. "To be gifted athletically or to be able to fly over people would help, but I can't do that. I just try to get my body into it."
The point here is fairly simple: It's nice when a player can make his free throws, but that same player isn't maximizing that skill if he's not getting to the line enough to exploit. This isn't entirely Curry's fault -- he's far less athletic than Westbrook and Rose, much stronger players who also happen to have an extra season of NBA experience. As a smaller player, Curry is going to have to draw fouls with the kind of intelligence that usually only comes with more seasoning. Westbrook and Rose have improved their ability to get fouled, too, but they also have the kind of natural athleticism that Curry can't rely on.
However, the larger issue at play in this story has little to do with Curry's physical tools. Some basketball observers often complain that today's players don't spend enough time working on the fundamentals of free-throw shooting, but getting to the line is a skill that must be practiced, too. Skills don't only manifest themselves when a positive result is achieved -- a player has to create the opportunity to get that result, too. Making free throws is important, but that accuracy is worth less than it could be if he can't get to the line at an impressive rate. (The same goes for shooting -- creating an open shot is as much of a skill as making that shoot.) Curry may end this season with a better free-throw percentage than Barry in '77-'78, but Barry also earned 409 attempts that season. Which player had the better year at the line?
Fundamentals are often neglected in modern-day basketball instruction. But it's important to remember that the skills exist beyond throwing crisp bounce-passes and displaying proper shooting form. There are many areas of the sport that a player can master over time, and not all of them are described by Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers."