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When Duke is knocking down threes, getting to the line and converting isn’t of the greatest concern to the Blue Devils. But as I just discussed, Duke’s inconsistency lends itself to periods of play when the team needs points by any means necessary.
In the game at Wake Forest, when Duke struggled from three-point range, 77.3 percent free-throw shooting gifted the Blue Devils 17 crucial points in a narrow 75-70 victory (via GoDuke).
In the second game against NC State, when Duke struggled to score in the second half, it was free throws that kept the Wolfpack at bay. 22 of Duke’s 40 second half points came from the free-throw line (via GoDuke).
In both those games, the Blue Devils shot well above their season average for free throws and needed every point.
Earlier in the year Duke’s free-throw shooting looked to be anything but an issue. Starting in December, however, Duke’s efficiency dipped. After averaging a free-throw percentage in the upper 70s, the Blue Devils descended to 69.8 percent in back-to-back games (via StatSheet).
For the season Duke is shooting 70.9 percent, which ranks them second in the ACC (via StatSheet). While that isn’t bad, it certainly could be better. And on top of that, the real issue comes in when you notice that Duke is fourth in free-throw attempts (via CBS).
Again, Duke is first and foremost a jump-shooting team, which doesn’t translate into drawing a lot of fouls. Nevertheless, Duke needs easy points on occasions when the shots aren’t falling. In those instances it’s important that the Blue Devils get to the line and convert.
Aggressively attacking the basket not only augments the versatility of Duke’s offense by forcing teams to defend against penetration, it affords Duke the opportunity to draw fouls and get to the line.
So far the Blue Devils are doing a decent job in terms of free throws. Even Mason Plumlee is shooting 65.1 percent.
Still, for a team that so frequently opts for long-range shooting, it’s important that Duke makes the most of uncontested free throws and responds to cold spells by attacking the basket and drawing contact.