by Eli Boettger – December 4, 2017
Arizona State has been one of college basketball’s early season surprises, racing out to a quick 7-0 start and crashing the AP top 25 for the first time since the James Harden days.
One of the key explanations of ASU’s hot start has been the play of redshirt freshman forward Romello White. White has been an instant impact player for Bobby Hurley’s squad, averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.0 block per game while shooting 69.0% from the field.
The most notable of White’s stats, though, is his free throw rate. Calculated by free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts, White leads the country with a FT rate of 1.5, meaning for every field goal attempt, White attempts 1.5 free throws. Through seven games, White has attempted 42 field goals and a whopping 63 free throws, converting just 36 of the freebies. White’s field goal percentage (69.0%) is significantly better than his free throw percentage (57.1%), though he has attempted far more free throws to this point.
Because of White’s important role in the Sun Devil offense (and his ability to get to the line), he’s likely the most important free throw shooter in America. His free throw conversion rate has a fairly dramatic impact on Arizona State’s offensive efficiency.
Though White’s on-court usage percentage is 22.8% (percentage of possessions used while on-court) according to Sports Reference, White has used approximately 14.7% of his team’s total possessions this season (about 76 of 515 possessions). The table below shows how White’s offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and Arizona State’s team offensive efficiency changes based on White’s free throw percentage.
Yes, you’re reading that right. If White would have connected on 47 of his 63 free throw attempts (74.6%) instead of 36 (57.1%), Arizona State’s KenPom rank would improve from 54th to 41st. The Sun Devils’ adjusted offense efficiency would also rise from 116.6 points per possession (11th in the country) to 118.8 points per possession (2nd in the country) as a result. The more favorable per-possession metrics might have also influenced a handful of AP voters to nudge Arizona State in their weekly polls.
The sample size is small, and White probably won’t finish with a free throw rate greater than 1.0 (it’s only happened 21 times in the past 14 years), but this study is further proof of just how important free throws are to a team’s survival throughout the season. And when a player heads to the charity stripe as often as White, free throws are even more vital.