Back In My Day

by A.J. Coltrane

Excerpts from Ken Pomeroy:

I’ve tweeted about this a couple times, but it’s worth documenting in a more permanent location: This season, free throws were shot at a better rate than in any previous season in the history of college basketball. To date, my calculations indicate that D-I teams have made 69.82 percent of their attempts from the free throw line. According to the NCAA record book, the previous best was the 69.7 percent made in the 1979 season.

It’s an odd phenomenon, but analysts, journalists, and coaches appear to be programmed to bash fundamentals. That’s another subject deserving of its own article, but criticizing modern free-throw shooting has always been a dubious exercise within that realm. After all, that’s one fundamental we can measure, and free-throw percentage has essentially been constant for the last 50 years.

But my perception is that most people in the game feel like free-throw shooting was better way back when. And if people can’t get that right, one should be skeptical when other fundamentals are criticized. Are players really worse at setting screens, or scoring with their off hand than they were 30 years ago?  I think it’s reasonable to wonder whether we’ve been lied to all along about those things as well.

At least in one respect, the modern player is more fundamentally sound than he’s ever been. And that might be the one subject that’s more boring to write or talk about than random variation. Even in the short time we have left this season, we may hear someone else lament about the state of free-throw shooting. This is one case where that person will not just be wrong, but as far from the truth as one could possibly be.

Bold emphasis mine.


My feeling is that college players execute fundamentals as least as well as they once did, when they choose to. Given the free throw shooting numbers, I’d think that jump shooting is as good or better than it’s ever been too. It’s just that today’s defenses are now way more athletic and sophisticated. The court is only so big, the athletes playing on it have gotten bigger and longer over time, and it’s hard to shoot well with a hand in your face all the time.

This may be old fogeyism, but I think the player development system (read: AAU ball) encourages the best players to look for their own shot, and doesn’t reward things like setting screens, blocking out, or sharing the ball. There are more “combo” guards today than there have ever been — primary ball handlers who are programmed to shoot first and think about distributing the ball (or anything else) second.

I think the change in emphasis is what’s bothering the fossils.

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