Why is Zaza Pachulia Sort of Almost Leading the NBA in Free Throw Percentage?

Question

One day, the Bucks will win the NBA championship (again). Today is not that day.

However, today is Zaza Pachulia's birthday. So let us toast to the real questions of our time.

To begin: Why is Zaza sort of almost leading the NBA in free throw percentage?

History

Here is a short list of players who have never shot 93.7 % at the free throw line any season: Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Stephen Curry.

Also on that list? Pretty much everyone else in NBA history. Exactly 10 players have eclipsed that mark in a season, and that includes the NBA and ABA.

Pachulia is shooting 93.7 % at the free throw line this season.

Right now he is on pace to slot in at #12 on the all-time single season free throw percentage list, a couple spots in front of Rick Barry, famous of course for the underhand free throw. When you type “Rick Barry” in Google, the first suggested result is “Rick Barry Free Throw”. Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Pachulia now lives in this neighborhood.

From 64.4 % to 93.4 %

As a 19 year-old rookie in Orlando back in 2003-04, Pachulia struggled at the line (Fun Fact: Pachulia played with old friend Drew Gooden on that team). In fact, he made just 64.4 % from the stripe, which ranked among the worst percentages on the team.

After that, he improved a bit, moving into the low-to-mid 70s for the next five seasons. Yet as recently as 2009-10, Pachulia hit just 65.0 % at the line.

Entering this season, he carried a 73.3 % career throw percentage. To put that into perspective, the average free throw percentage in the NBA this season is 75.4 %.

And so here is the strangest, quietest storyline of the season: After 10 NBA seasons as a below-average free throw shooter, Zaza Pachulia has turned into one of the greatest free throw shooters in history of the planet.

Zaza’s Routine

Always the same: knees over feet, three dribbles, half crouch, follow-through, step-back, swish.
The mechanics look about the same as ever for Pachulia. So what is different?

“I never had this good of a percentage. I am glad I am taking advantage. Just going out there and concentrate on making the shot. That’s about it. I think it is more mental.”

More mental. Free throw shooting seems to be one of those things.

When you Google “Andris Biedrins”, the first suggested result is “Andris Biedrins Free Throw”. But this is something very different than “Rick Barry Free Throw”. You may recall that Biedrins once led the NBA in field goal percentage back in 2007-08 on a high-flying Warriors team. He also made a mildly respectable 62.0 % at the line. Just two seasons later, that dropped all the way to 16.0 %. Yes, 16.0 %. Biedrins has yet to really recover, and has only played 45 minutes this season (1-6 on free throws).

This season, Pachulia has made 10-10 free throws in two different games, and 4-4 in two others. His “worst” line is a 1-2 night.

Best of the Bucks

Pachulia also has a chance to post the best single season free throw percentage in franchise history.
Here are a few notable Bucks seasons that did not make the chart above because they did not qualify:

  • Mike Glenn at 95.9 % in 1985-86 (47-49)
  • Keith Van Horn at 94.5 % in 2002-03 (86-91)
  • Keith Bogans at 93.9 % in 2008-09 (31-33)
  • J.J. Redick at 91.8 % in 2012-13 (56-61)
  • Steven Henson at 90.5 % in 1990-91 (38-42)

Why is Zaza Pachulia not leading the NBA in free throw percentage?

That tweet is almost two months old, and somehow he has improved on the percentage.

Nevertheless: Pachulia’s name is missing from all of the free throw leaderboards right now. At the moment, here is the top five: J.J. Redick (.914), Dirk Nowitzki (.909), Jameer Nelson (.885), Kevin Durant (.884), Damian Lillard (.881).
That is because at 59-63 (.937) overall, Pachulia doesn’t meet the minimum qualification requirements. In short, he needs to shoot more free throws, make more free throws. A few others who don’t qualify also would, could be leading, including Mike Harris (.963), Danny Granger (.957), Ryan Anderson (.952)

In order to qualify, he needs to make 125 free throws overall this season. That could be a difficult one, namely because he missed most of December with a broken foot.

After the Knicks game (that Knicks game) last week, I asked Pachulia if he knew that would be leading the league in free throw percentage… if only he had enough attempts to qualify.

“I am not paying that much attention. It is not a big deal for me.”

In the very next game a couple days later, Pachulia went 11-12 at the line.

 



Alex Boeder

Writing and the Bucks. Two of my passions. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009. I started writing for the Bucks in 2012. Before that, I co-founded and wrote for BrewHoop. I have written for the Milwaukee BrewersSB NationESPN MilwaukeeSlam Online, and so on. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.