It takes 25 seconds
Plus, Chris Paul's case as the greatest midrange playoff scorer of all time
I’m not breaking any news here, but Giannis Antetokounmpo takes a long ass time at the free throw line. The only questions remaining are: how much time is he taking, and how does it compare to other players in the league?
Inspired by Tom Haberstroh’s analysis and with the help of real-time NBA expert, Mike Beuoy, I looked at the amount of real-time that elapsed in between a player’s first and second free throws, and second and third free throws, when applicable.
To make sure I was only measuring the time related to a player’s free throw routine, I limited my data so that I was just looking at the time elapsed between consecutive free throw attempts with no interruptions. I threw out the data if a substitution or some other kind of action occurred in between free throw attempts. In other words, I only looked at free throw attempts where the preceding action was also a free throw. This should provide a clean-ish look at how long it takes each player to go through their routine at the line1.
The chart below shows the distribution of real-time elapsed from when a player took their first free throw and when they took their second free throw. As you can see, no one came close to spending as much time as Giannis in between shots.
On average, about 25 seconds elapsed in between Giannis’ first and second free throw attempts during the regular season. That’s now up to 27 seconds in the playoffs. For comparison, the league average in the regular season was about 16 seconds.
Even more concerning is that unlike most players, there’s little consistency in Giannis’s time spent in between free throws. It’d be one thing if he was consistently taking 25 seconds at the line, but he’s all over the place. Some games he’s in the low 20s. Other games he’s in the low 30s.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Last year, Giannis averaged right around 20 seconds in between free throw attempts. As you can see in the chart below, his time spent at the free throw line rapidly increased around the beginning of the 2020-21 regular season.
Something must have happened over the summer that caused him to change his routine at the line — perhaps he’s spending all that time thinking about how if he misses, his wife and child will have to run sprints. Whether its helping remains to be seen.
The Short King
The more I watch Chris Paul in this postseason the more I wonder whether he could have averaged 25 points a game his entire career if he had wanted to. His ability to effortlessly increase his scoring burden on demand without sacrificing efficiency suggests he probably left some points on the table over the years. If the Suns are looking for an adjustment to make in this Finals, the simplest and most effective one might be to ask Paul to take more shots.
You can see this illustrated in the chart below, which shows the change is a few select player’s career scoring volume (as measured by True Shooting Attempts per game) and efficiency between the regular season and the playoffs. Like LeBron James and Michael Jordan, Paul has that rare ability to extend his extend his skill curve.
It’s fun to think what Paul’s career would have looked like if he had come into the league ten years later than he did. It’s easy to imagine him at the center of a heliocentric offense that allowed him to rack up counting stats and individual accolades galore. Alas, the closest we can get to that version of Paul these days is the minutes he’s on the court without his co-star, Devin Booker.
When Booker is out of the game, the Phoenix Suns rely on Paul’s scoring, particularly in the midrange, even more than they already do. Fortunately for the Suns, Paul is the most accurate midrange scorer in the playoffs over the last twenty years. In that time period, no one has matched his efficiency on both short and long midrange shots.
As I noted last week, this type of game is tailor-made for the postseason.
It’s worth mentioning that about 95 percent of Paul’s successful midrange shots in the playoffs over the course of his career have been unassisted. Add in the fact that the other players near him on the chart — Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, and Kawhi Leonard — have more than half a foot on him in height and it’s nothing short of remarkable what Paul has been able to achieve.
Outside of the Lakers series, in which he was nursing a bum shoulder, Paul has been consistently great for the Suns in this postseason. That’s difficult to do when you’re exceeding your recommended daily dose of unassisted jumpers. Players like Devin Booker and Khris Middleton, who both also live on a steady diet of similar shots, are often criticized for their lack of consistency because there are so many nights when their jumpers aren’t falling. That doesn’t seem to happen with Paul nearly as often.
There’s still the issue of how long it takes the referee to rebound the ball and return it to the player (which is why all these players exceed 10 seconds on the chart), but can’t do much about that.