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Magic set to make free-throw history the wrong way

Unless the Magic raise their average free-throw attempts per game from 16, they'll set an NBA record for the fewest attempts in an 82-game season.

Gustavo Ayón
Gustavo Ayón

Free throws have long bedeviled the Orlando Magic franchise. Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal, arguably the two greatest players in team history, could never make them consistently. Nick Anderson's four clutch misses in the first game of the 1995 NBA Finals changed the tenor of the series, which the Houston Rockets won in a sweep. Howard and Hedo Türkoğlu combined to miss six in the fourth quarter of the Game Four of the 2009 Finals, which game Orlando lost in overtime and which series it lost three nights later. Trailing by three points with 31.9 seconds to play in Game Two of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, Vince Carter missed two freebies as Orlando went on to lose the game and the series.

And even after all those players have moved on--Anderson's with the Magic as a Community Ambassador and studio analyst, but his playing days ended long ago--free throws continue to be problematic for Orlando. The Magic's 78.7-percent mark on foul shots ranked fifth in the 2012/13 season through Wednesday's games, but accuracy isn't the problem for Orlando. Not anymore, anyway.

No, the real problem is that the Magic don't draw fouls.

Through Wednesday, the Magic's average of 16 free-throw attempts per game ranked last in the league. Not just for the season, but ever. Prior to 2012/13, no team in the history of the NBA had ever averaged fewer than 18 free-throw attempts. Orlando is one of two teams--the Philadelphia 76ers are the other--now under that threshold.

That Orlando is struggling to draw fouls shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise, given that it never managed to pair another foul magnet with Howard before dealing the future Hall-of-Famer to the Los Angeles Lakers. But the team's inability to earn trips to the line explains some of its offensive ineptitude.

It's possible to put together an elite offense without attempting many free throws. In fact, the seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns of 2005/06 led the league in offensive rating despite shooting just 18 foul shots per game, the same league record-low Orlando is poised to shatter. But that Suns team also took care of the ball (committing turnovers on just 12.2 percent of their possessions, the second-best figure in the league) and by shooting threes at high volume and high accuracy (the Suns led the league by converting 39.9 percent of their triples, and tried 25.6 per game).

As anyone who's watched the 14-31 Magic can attest, they are not the run-and-fun Suns. Orlando's a middle-of-the-pack team with regard to turnovers, committing 16 per 100 possessions, while it shoots only 19.6 three-pointers per game at 35.3 percent.

There's no easy fix for the Magic's lack of free-throw attempts. Orlando's best bet to return to respectability in that facet of the game is to add a player, via free agency, the Draft, or trade, who can break down a defense and draw fouls. None of its incumbent players seems up to such a task.

If there's an upshot to the Magic's aversion to free throws, its that their games go smoothly with few interruptions. Orlando fans just biding time until the NBA Draft Lottery can take solace in that fact as they continue to scout NCAA prospects.

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