Despite the slow start to the season, the San Antonio Spurs are starting to find the offensive gear that allowed them to finish the 2011-12 season on a 21-2 tear, while also touting a much improved defense. After shooting only 6-of-20 from beyond the arc in a win against the Houston Rockets, the Spurs then proceeded to hit a franchise-high 19 treys in 34 shots in the 30-point drubbing of the Charlotte Bobcats. Although it is good to see that the Spurs can score even when not hitting from the three-point line, the Spurs could likely make their potent offense even better. How? By getting to the free-throw line.
Currently, the Spurs are shooting 79.1% from the line (2nd best for the team in the three-point era), good for 5th in the NBA. However, the Spurs post a paltry free throw-to-field goal attempts ratio of 0.200, good for a lousy 19th in the league and near the bottom of Spurs seasons during the three-point era (although to be fair, Gregg Popovich Spurs aren't great at drawing fouls and finishing). The Spurs only have 438 free throw attempts over the first 21 games, an average of 20.9 per game.
On the other hand, the Oklahoma City Thunder have an absurd 581 free throw attempts over 21 games, averaging a monstrous 27.7 per game. Given that they also shoot 83.6% from the line as a team, the Thunder sport a league-leading FT/FGA of - wait for it - .302, good for "merely" 13th all-time in the three-point era. Most of the teams ahead of them on the list happen to be from the Stockton-Malone Jazz, and Karl Malone is only the career leader in free throw attempts.
Getting to the line is an efficient way of adding to an already powerful offense, and when defenses manage to stifle the best scorers in the league, those scorers can still get their points by getting to the line. Even in Kobe Bryant's notorious 6-24 performance in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, he still managed to score 23 points because of how great he is at getting to the line.
Of course, the Spurs may have trouble getting whistles, as Manu Ginobili has been declining in his ability to draw fouls as he ages (he peaked at 7.1 FTAs per 36 minutes in the 2004-05 season) and the officials seem to rarely have respect for the Spurs. Maybe I'm just jealous of how much the Thunder get to the line, and in a close series, we know that every point counts. But in the end, the Spurs can improve an already great offense by drawing fouls and making more free throws. They're free, after all.