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Friday, Feb. 26, 2010


No excuse for poor results at free-throw line

Staff writer

Any league that doubles in size in its first five years will experience growing pains, and there's really no way to avoid this.

For the bj-league, free-throw shooting mediocrity has been a constant problem during its infancy.

Consider: only two teams shot 70 percent or better at the line last season. The Tokyo Apache (70 percent) and the Osaka Evessa (71.1 percent), both teams advanced to the Final Four.

The other 10 teams' shooting percentage at the line ranged from 62.5 percent (expansion Shiga Lakestars) to 69.2 percent (Sendai 89ers).

For decades, the general rule of thumb has been that all teams and players ought to be able to shoot at least 70 percent at the line, and NBA averages have consistently proven this maxim.

As of Monday, for example, all 30 NBA teams were shooting 70 percent or better at the charity stripe.

On the other hand, through Tuesday only three of 13 bj-league teams are making more than 70 percent of their foul shots: the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (74.6 percent, or 456-for-611), the Evessa (71.5 percent, 471-for-659) and the expansion Kyoto Hannaryz (71.1 percent, 420-for-591).

The Toyama Grouses are an atrocious free-throw shooting team (52.5 percent, 301-for-572), and the Oita HeatDevils aren't much better (56.2 percent, 399-for-710). They are the league's worst teams this season at the line.

The reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings are the league's busiest foul shooters. They've attempted a league-high 880 shots — or exactly 300 more than the Saitama Broncos — and made 528 of them (60 percent). Only two other teams have shot more than 700 free throws: Oita and the Rizing Fukuoka (508-for-739, 68.7 percent).

So what's the big deal about making free throws?

Well, remember what the act entails. A player takes shots without a defender in his face, doing so from the same spot every time and without the pressure of the game clock or 24-second clock ticking down to zero.

In the bj-league, dozens of games are won and lost at the line. Which is why a player like Tokyo's Cohey "Mr. Automatic" Aoki, a career 90.7 percent shooter entering the season, is such a valuable weapon in the fourth quarter.

Naturally, it takes time for a league to develop great shooters; that much is understood by fans, team executives and the media.

But the bj-league's general structure — unlimited transactions and the use of several home gyms for each team — limits a team's ability to have more than a few free-throw shooters on its roster and takes away from any home-court advantage.

Memo to the league: Players don't become great shooters at multiple home venues. They do this by playing the majority of their home games at one site. After all, it's all about familiarity and a comfort zone at the arena.

And again, it comes back to the quality of play. More times than not, games become a war of attrition, and the better of two bad free-throw shooting teams winds up as the victor.

Collectively, all bj-league teams need to place a greater emphasis on improving free-throw shooting. Perhaps each team needs to invite free-throw shooting maestros Rick Barry or Mark Price to practice for a few days to hammer home this point to all players.

Or better yet, bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi could order all teams to watch "highlights" of Shaquille O'Neal at the line for 30 minutes each day for a month. Talk about torture.

Seriously, the league is doing itself no favors by not finding ways to improve free-throw shooting.

Foreign players hold a responsibility to improve their free-throw shooting, and the same is true for Japanese players.

Perhaps, starting next season, a clause should be inserted in contracts, one that gives bonuses to players with 75 percent or higher success rates at the line.

At this point, both groups have failed miserably in showcasing this important aspect of the game.

It's time for necessary changes — real improvement.

Upcoming games: This week's schedule features four series in which the teams are playing each other for the first time this season.

Those matchups are Shiga (16-18), coming off a bye week, vs. Saitama (11-19, losers of four straight; Sendai (20-12, 9-7 on the road) vs. Kyoto (12-18); Takamatsu (10-22) vs. Toyama (12-18); and Oita (15-19) vs. Tokyo (10-20).

Also on the docket for Saturday and Sunday are the following: Hamamatsu (26-6) vs. Niigata (17-15) and Osaka (17-15) vs. Ryukyu (22-12).

Fukuoka (20-14) has a bye week.

Weekly accolade: Osaka star Lynn Washington, one of the league's premier clutch performers, is the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week. The award covers games played between Saturday and Tuesday.

Washington scored 30 points on Tuesday, including a pair of free throws with 2 seconds left, to lift the Evessa to an 89-87 triumph over the host Apache at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. He was 12-for-16 from the line (season-highs in makes and attempts) and added eight rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes.

In Monday's 89-82 Evessa loss, the former Indiana University player had 23 points, 11 boards and three assists.

Around the league: Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who turns 41 on March 9, has two 19-point games in his last three outings, and he's scoring most of his points from inside the 3-point arc. Eight of his nine buckets on Feb. 7 against Toyama were of the 2-point variety.

He was 6-for-10 from inside the arc on Feb. 20 against Fukuoka, but 0-for-3 from long range. In Sunday's rematch, he was 7-for-12 from inside the arc and 1-for-3 from downtown.

Grouses forward Jason Arbet has been released, the team announced on Wednesday. He averaged 9.4 points in 28 games (24 starts). Arbet had only two 20-point games in a Toyama uniform: 21 on Dec. 6 and 20 the day after Christmas.

Evessa guard Jun Nakanishi wrote a blog entry on the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers, who squared off on Tuesday, for the NBA Japan Web site. The entry was posted on Wednesday.

Beast of the East: The Phoenix have won 19 of 22 games against conference foes this season. Entering this weekend, Hamamatsu is 3-1 against Sendai, 3-1 against Niigata, 6-0 against Toyama, 4-0 against Saitama and 3-1 against Tokyo.

What's more, they are 13-3 at home and 13-3 on the road. Both are league-best marks.

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