Free throws are infinitely easier to miss than to make; just ask Ben Wallace.
Some of the best players will tell you that repetition is the key to having success at the line. This is why you'll see players perform, at times, bizarre routines before attempting free throws.
Last week I published an article outlining the worst free throw shooters in NBA history. As a counter to that article, I've compiled a list of the 20 best free throw shooters in NBA history. Instead of 1,000 free throw attempts, these players are judged on a minimum of 2,000.
Career FT%: 88.2% (1599 FTM / 1812 FTA)
Besides being one of the most promising young talents the NBA has seen in years, Durant is primed to challenge every single player on this list for dominance.
Peaking at a 90% rate from the line last season on an absurd 10.2 attempts per game, Durant looks ready to continue his ascent up the ladder. His steadily climbing percentage shows that he can get even better, which is quite scary.
While his numbers and rate thus far dictate a well deserved position in the top 20, it's only fair to see more of his career play out before that judgment befalls him.
Just shy of the 2,000 free throw attempt criteria, he will most assuredly reach that plateau during the upcoming season.
Other Honorable Mentions:
Mahmo Abdul-Rauf - Career FT%: 90.5% (1051 FTM / 1161 FTA)
Scott Skiles - Career FT%: 88.9% (1548 FTM / 1741 FTA)
Darrell Armstrong - Career FT%: 87.1% (1463 FTM / 1679 FTA)
Michael Williams - Career FT%: 86.8% (1545 FTM / 1780 FTA)
John Long - Career FT%: 86.2% (1814 FTM / 2104 FTA)
Career FT%: 86.3% (2572 FTM / 2979 FTA)
Allen was originally drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1993 NBA Draft. After three seasons with the Pistons, he would then go on to join the New York Knicks where he is most often associated; he would spend 12 years as a Knick.
Aside from his smooth jumper, he was always known to be a great free throw shooter. Allan was a solid if unspectacular shooter from the line during his early playing days. As the years went on and he got better and his free throw percentage would steadily climb and eventually peak at 91.9% during his 2002-03 season.
One of Allen's legacies will always be the infamous "Allan Houston Rule". This gave NBA teams the option to release a player without his contract counting toward the luxury tax. This rule came about as a result of the massive max contract he signed that he never managed to fulfill due to injury.
Career FT%: 86.5% (3616 FTM / 4178 FTA)
Chris Mullin was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1985. He would go on to play 16 seasons in the NBA as a small forward. 13 of those 16 seasons were played with the Warriors. His career will always be tied to the franchise; he was at one point general manager for the team following his retirement from playing.
Aside from his 5 all-star appearances, he will best be known for his adept touch from the line and two Olympic gold medals; one with the 1984 amateur team and the other on the "Dream Team".
Along with Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway, the three would go on to form "Run TMC" while with the Warriors. They were a devastating combo during their prime known mostly for scoring and little defense.
Mullin's free throw shooting remained fairly steady over the course of his career. He would mark a career high while with the Indiana Pacers playing under Larry Bird; he hit 93.9% from the line that season. Chris would again break the 90% barrier by shooting 90.2% in his final season with the Pacers.
Career FT%: 87% (3005 FTM / 3456 FTA)
Drafted by the Houston Rockets in the 1971 draft, Mike played 11 seasons in the NBA.
During his tenure in the NBA he made a name for himself at the charity stripe.
He was joined on the Rockets by a player much higher on this list. Like several others ranked here, they could be considered one of the great free throw shooting duos.
Newlin's free throw shooting would peak at 88.8% during the 1980-81 NBA season in which he spent with the New Jersey Nets. His free throw shooting remained steady throughout his career never fluctuating too high or low from his career average.
Career FT%: 87% (3464 FTM / 3983 FTA)
Initially drafted by the Clippers in the 1988 NBA draft, Hersey would then go on to be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nicknamed "Hawk", he was a true iron man throughout most of his career. He only missed seven totals games during his first 10 years in the league and managed to play 527 straight games before succumbing to his first injury.
His most memorable streak clocked in at 43 consecutive free throws made. This happened during the 1992 NBA season when he played for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hersey never shot under 83% from the line over the course of his career. Hawkins would record a career high 90.2% during his final season with the Seattle Supersonics.
Career FT%: 87.1% (2947 FTM / 3383 FTA)
This guard was drafted to Washington in1983 when they still were named the now ironic Washington Bullets.
He would go on to spend seven of his 13 years in the NBA with the Bullets.
Jeff was always known for his strong shooting touch and head-to-head match-ups with Michael Jordan. However, he was mostly limited to mid-range jumpers and daggers from the line. The rest of his game left a lot to be desired. The only time his defense came through was when he was motivated playing against Jordan.
Malone peaked at the line about midway through his career shooting 91.7%. While still impressive, his free throw percentage would continue to decline after his first year being traded to the Utah Jazz.
Career FT%: 87.2% (3484 FTM / 3997 FTA)
Drafted by Dallas in the 1980 draft, Kiki is infamous for demanding to be traded following the pick. A hated figure in Dallas, he would eventually be granted his wish and traded to the Nuggets; that was the first of several stops during his career.
While with the Portland Trailblazers, he would earn the honor of having the highest career free throw percentage for the franchise at 88.1%.
Kiki took over for Lawrence Frank as coach of the New Jersey Nets during the 2009-10 season. His stint as coach for the beleaguered Nets will probably be the aspect of his career in the NBA that defines him; they had a historically bad season and came close to having the worst record in NBA history.
Rather unfair since he was a solid player throughout most of his career in the NBA.
Injuries hindered his career and forced him to miss significant time during his final years as a player. He fought through back pains and continued to play despite the pain. It certainly did not affect his free throw shooting as he continued to have success from the line over the years.
Career FT%: 87.3% (1,784 FTM / 2,043 FTA)
Just barely reaching the criteria for this list is Terrell Brandon.
Drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Terrell would play backup point guard for the early part of his career. Eventually he would go on to replace another player on this list as the starting point guard for the Cavs. This would be the first of two great free throw shooting duos he formed over the course of his career.
A diminutive guard, Terrell was considered a short player by NBA standards measuring at 5'11". Despite his size, Brandon was regarded as a top flight point guard in the mid-90's. He was one of the most well rounded and complete players during his time. Of his many skills, his stroke from the line is one of the best in NBA history.
At one point during the 1996 NBA season, Terrell hit 67 straight free throws in a single month. This is the second longest streak for the Cavaliers and one feat Lebron James must have envied during his time there.
Career FT%: 87.5% (3,389 FTM / 3,871 FTA)
Originally drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1982 draft, Pierce would go on to play 16 seasons in the NBA. Throughout his career, he bounced around to several different teams.
As a shooting guard, he excelled at driving the lane and eventually developed a strong shooting touch from long range. However, his bread and butter would always come down to his free throws.
Oft-injured, Pierce's free throw shooting percentage would fluctuate from season to season. Perhaps some stability in his health would have allowed him to consistently improve and maintain stronger averages.
His best season will most likely be as a member of the Seattle Supersonics where he managed to shoot 91.6% from the line. That same season Ricky got into the record books by recording the second longest consecutive free throw shooting streak at 75 made.
Career FT%: 87.6% (5,284 FTM / 6,033 FTA)
This future Hall of Fame talent is the greatest German National to play in the NBA—which technically isn't saying much because of the competition, but an impressive accolade nevertheless.
Dirk is the first member of the 50-40-90 club on this list. For those unfamiliar with this club, it is an exclusive list of players to shoot at least 50% on field goal attempts, 40% from three point range, and 90% from the line in a single season.
While he is one of the best at the line, he may perhaps be best remembered for his misses at two crucial junctions during the 2006 NBA Finals. With seconds left in Game Three of the Finals, he missed one of two free throw shots that would have tied the game. Even though it was not the final nail in the coffin, that game was the turning point for the Miami Heat.
During Game Five, Nowtizki once again had the opportunity to send the game into overtime with late free throw attempts. He would repeat his Game Three performance and go on to miss one of his two shots failing to push the game into Over Time.
Like most active players on this list, Dirk's free throw percentage has progressively climbed over the course of his career. Peaking at 91.5% last season and still in his prime, there's no reason to think that he can't break into the top 10 when his career is all said and done. It has yet to be seen when his skills will begin to diminish, but until then Nowitzki is still going strong.
Dirk's free throw routine was at one point singing David Hasselhoff songs while at the free throw line.
Career FT%: 87.7% (2,973 FTM / 3,390 FTA)
Jeff was nicknamed "Horny" in the Jazz community—a rather awkward name to bestow upon a player. Luckily it wasn't a name that was too widely used around the league.
The original pick used to draft Hornaceck was traded three times; originating from the Suns, it went to the Clippers then to the Pistons and finally back to the Suns. That same pick was used by the Pistons to acquire Ricky Pierce—the player preceding him on this list.
At one point during his career he joined fellow free throw shooting great, Hersey Hawkins, on the Philadelphia 76ers. That experiment did not end well as the 76ers attempted to take him out of his natural position and make him a point guard; the 76ers would eventually trade him to the Jazz.
While Jeff split most of his time between Phoenix and Utah during his playing days, he was best known for his time with the Jazz. Playing alongside Stockton and Malone, he had a key role on the team and contributed largely to their run to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.
Like many players, Jeff had a unique routine before shooting free throws. He would stroke the side of his face three times in acknowledgement of his children.
Hornacek's highest consecutive free thows made totals at 67, which happened during his final season in the league. He would go on to peak at a 95% rate for free throws made that year; the only time he exceeded 90% for his career.
Career FT%: 88.3% (3,143 FTM / 3,559 FTA)
10 of Bill's 11 years in the NBA were played with the Boston Celtics. Playing alongside Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Sharman won four NBA Championships on the Celtics. During that span he led the league in free throw shooting percentage on seven different occasions.
Bill is the first player in the NBA to hit 50 consecutive free throws. He also holds a playoff record of 56 consecutive free throws made.
Career FT%: 88.6% (3,960 FTM / 4,471 FTA)
Continuing the countdown to No. 1 is none other than Celtic great Larry Bird.
Bird is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history. His three NBA MVP awards and three NBA Championships is proof of that.
One of the most well rounded players the NBA has ever seen, he ranks fifth all-time in triple doubles recorded. Along with the rest of his versatile game, his immaculate free throw shooting ranks near the top of his talents.
Aside from the ice running through his veins at the line, he is considered one of the all time great shooters. His inclusion in the 50-40-90 club frequently mentioned on this list is proof of that. Bird only trails one other player on this list with three seasons in that exclusive club.
Career FT%: 88.8% (6,237 FTM / 7,026 FTA)
While Reggie fights Jeff Van Gundy for top honors as the most annoying broadcaster to join a NBA booth, he has had a storied career in the NBA.
Miller—like many others on this list—is one of the best shooters the league has ever seen. He ranks No. 1 in three pointers made with 2,560 total makes.
Besides his long range, Reggie made a living off shooting from and getting to the line; he was easily one of the best at drawing fouls. Miller had a trademark move that he always used to get the attention of the referees—he would kick his legs out in order to force contact on the opposing defender. Whether or not you consider his method for drawing fouls cheap—which it was—it was effective nonetheless; it helped Reggie rack up over 7,000 career free throw attempts.
Career FT%: 89.2% (3,445 FTM / 3,864 FTA)
Calvin Murphy spent 13 successful seasons in the NBA with the Rockets; good enough to get him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
During the 1980-81 season, Murphy managed to set records—at the time—for both longest streak of consecutive free throws made and highest free throw percentage in a single season; records that have since been broken.
Coming in at 5'9", Calvin took advantage of his speed and size to cut into the paint and score while getting to the line.
Career FT%: 89.2% (3,972 FTM / 4,455 FTA)
Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot himself, earned that nickname through his clutch shooting in late game situations. However, it could also easily be attributed to his free throw shooting.
He joined Terrell Brandon—another sharpshooter from the line—on the Timberwolves from 2000 to 2002. They would be the converse of the inept free throw shooting duo of Ben Wallace and Dale Davis.
The most memorable moment of his career thus far was leading the Detroit Pistons in a huge upset victory over the L.A. Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals; he would go on to win NBA Finals MVP that year. His 92.9% free throw shooting during that series played a large factor in both his individual and team success.
Career FT%: 89.4% (3,863 FTM / 4,321 FTA)
Ray Allen—current member of the Boston Celtics—will always be remembered for his silky smooth jumper, deadly accuracy from the line, and role as Jesus Shuttlesworth.
An absolute nightmare to guard, Allen made his living running defenders ragged off of screens and nailing catch and shoot jumpers.
During his 2008-09 campaign, Ray broke Larry Bird's franchise streak of consecutive free throws made coming in at 72; that same season he peaked at a career high 95.2%. He continues to get to the line on a consistent basis and makes opposing teams pay dearly for sending him there.
Allen is closing in on the remaining players on this list with his steadily increasing free throw percentage. Despite his age—just recently turned 35—Allen still logs heavy minutes and hasn't missed many games since joining the Celtics; Ray also shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Career FT%: 89.5% (2,214 FTM / 2,475 FTA)
This Yugoslavian sharpshooter has made a career on his precise shooting touch. In his prime—and still to some extent—Peja was lethal from both the charity stripe and long range.
Just missing the cut on several occasions to make the 50-40-90 club, it was only his sub 50% field goal shooting that kept him from joining the list.
While Peja is still in the NBA, his skills have clearly diminished over the years. Still, his free throw shooting has remained strong. The only thing keeping him from moving too far up or down this list is the lack of trips he'll be making to the line over the course of his remaining career.
Career FT%: 90% (3,818 FTM / 4,243 FTA)
Having split time between the NBA and ABA, Rick has accrued a lot of time at the line. However, we'll only be counting his 10 years in the NBA.
Ricky Barry will always be remembered for his free throws. Possessing the most unique shot used in the NBA, Rick chose to sacrifice his personal dignity to shoot grandma style—underhanded.
While rather comical to watch, it was obviously a very effective approach. You can look no further than his 90% success from the line. There's no arguing against success.
Career FT%: 90.3% (2,577 FTM / 2,853 FTA)
This Canadian phenom is a two time NBA MVP.
He joins former teammate Dirk Nowitzki on this elite list along with several members of the 50-40-90 club. However, Nash tops that club having reached it a record five straight seasons. With his game still going strong, he may continue to add notches to his belt.
Aside from the rather unsanitary practice of licking his finger tips before shooting, he could always be counted on to make his free throws. Nash's form is impeccable and his demeanor unwavering.
Aging like fine wine, Steve still has the opportunity to move up this list to top the one player ahead of him. His best season from the line came last year—a career high of 93.8%. There's no reason to think he won't continue his supremacy at the charity stripe and eventually surpass the current No. 1.
Career FT%: 90.4% (2,135 FTM / 2,362 FTA)
Mark has spent the majority of his 12 years in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Price has had a memorable career aside from his pinpoint accuracy from the line; he's a four time NBA All-Star, two time three point contest winner, and member of the 50-40-90 club.
He gets the honor of being considered the greatest free throw shooter in the history in the NBA. However, he has Nash nipping at his heels with only a 0.1% point behind him.
Price will also go down as the one Cavalier to leave Cleveland and make his way down to Florida without being hated.