Why are Big men so Bad At Free-Throws?


Big men in basketball are not known to be the greatest of shooters but are often found on the free-throw line after being fouled to underperform statistically. When the center gets the basketball in the low post there is a high probability compared to any other position that this player may be fouled. With that being said you think they would be a lot better from the line.

Why are big men so bad at free-throws?  The big men position also known as the center in basketball is the worse position statistically when it comes to made free-throws among all other positions. This can be due to a number of reasons, big hands due to stature, fatigue, and arc are just some of the variables that a center has to combat when it comes down to shooting from the charity strike.

Although there is no straight answer, throughout the year’s big men were just known to be bad shooters in general from the free-throw line. It may be obvious to some who will say they just don’t practice enough and that’s why they suck. But this could be further from the truth.

Why are Centers bad at free throws?

Are centers bad free-throw shooters because they don’t practice? Or is it more mental? I am going, to be honest, there is no one answer and I don’t claim to know it all, and am going to suggest that if these players change this or that they would be much better at the line. But what I will do is ad some insight into the topic and we can evaluate what are all the variables that are going on when they step to the line.

Below are 21 players who played the center position in the NBA during the 2019/2o season. If you notice at the top of the list, Lopez, Aldridge, Jokic, and Embid as far as their rankings and percentages go something they have in common is they are decent mid-range to three-point shooters as well.  This to me says something about their ability to make free throws, their range in a game is 15 feet, and beyond chances are they will do well from the charity strike.


Now if we take look at the players at the bottom of the list, players like Dwight Howard, Drummond, Adams, and Gobert who all shoot poorly from the line, it’s clear they don’t have an effective mid-range game. There is a strong correlation between players who do not have mid-range shots and those who struggle from the line. This may not be the case for every single big man, I am still searching for the anomaly.


Why else do centers suck at free-throws?

Now I think we need to break down the center or big man position and see why they are missing free throws more than any other position. Is it a lack of practice? I really doubt that. I think all big men know the importance of free-throws when it comes to their position.

Besides if all you needed to do was increase your free-throw percentage because it would boost your points per game you would do it as an NBA player. Your value as a player increases along with your bank account.

But it is a possibility that big men don’t practice enough compared to someone who shoots in the 85%+ range. So if it’s not the case then what? Let’s take a look.


The taller you are the bigger your hands are going to be, Biology 101. Having big hands when it comes to basketball can be good and can be bad. It’s easier to palm a basketball and catch the ball but much more difficult to shoot it. The bigger your hands are the smaller you make the ball while holding it.

Have you ever played with one of those novelty basketballs that you win at the fair? Or a size 3 basketball, one made for children? Think about having to shoot that basketball at the free-throw line. You might think it is easier because the ball is much smaller than a regular size basketball. Sure.

This allows for a lot more error for the small basketball to enter the rim. But, try shooting the small basketball like a normal size ball and you will tend to have a lot more difficulty. This is what it must feel like for some big men who have freakishly big hands.

Now take the rim and shrink it down to two and a half times the small ball which is equivalent to a normal size hoop and ball. Now you get what the big men and centers are up against when they have to shoot free-throws in the NBA.

But not all cases of big hands means that you will shoot poorly, there are many players that have big hands and shoot well from the free-throw line. Kahwi Leonard for one who shoots 85 percent from the field for his career. Clearly, he has a lot of control of the small basketball in between his hands when he shoots.

Another player who I am willing to bet has the biggest hands in the NBA and shoots 76 percent from the line. Boban Marjanovic who plays for the Dallas Mavericks as I am writing this. Boban has taken a total of 461 free throws and has made 354 of them for his career. You could make an argument that he hasn’t shoot enough free throws to justify that percentage but I disagree. This percentage is over a course of 6 years in the league and he has had an up and down 5 percent fluctuation from year to year




I believe height is overlooked when it comes to shooting free-throws, most big men can are 4 to 10 inches just from touching the rim from a standstill or tippy-toe. Why does this matter? When your this tall almost eye level with the rim, you are not putting enough arc on the shot when you shoot, allowing for that soft touch on the rim. A good arc allows the basketball to softly touch the rim and keep the basketball on the cylinder with a chance of the ball becoming a made basket.

When a center appears to be eye-leveled with the rim the necessary arc isn’t there and the player will not get the shooter’s touch that they need to make more baskets. A shoot from a center with poor arc will look like a flat and a hard shot that hits the rim will have a much lesser chance of going in.

Some players will have a higher release as if to think they are going to drop the ball into the basket, that’s what it appears to look like anyways.

Tall basketball player holding the ball underneathe the basket while other players watch him


Fatigue is another factor for big men, unless you have never played post you may not understand what it takes to get position down low. The level of fatigue and body to body contact jockeying and fighting underneath the basket, both on offense and defense will have you feeling like you were just in a fight. Now go shoot some free-throws. Give it a try, within one possession of playing defense on a big man you will understand quickly.

Add that type of fatigue which feels like you been in a street fight compare it to the fatigue of running up and down the court and I am sure you much rather have the fatigue of running up and down the court to shoot your free throws than that of a center playing post.

You get 10 seconds to shoot a free throw. I would be taking 9 of those seconds to rest and 1 second to shoot the ball. Fatigue of the muscles is the reason a shot will be short or long for over or under compensating for your tiredness. 


The NBA is evolving with Centers shooting more threes and outside shots than ever. I do suspect in the future that we will be seeing much better free-throw percentages. Like we discussed earlier, there is a correlation between big men who can shoot outside and free throws. Generally, they will have a much better free-throw percentage than those big men who can’t shoot outside. That is just an observation. If you look down the list of the worse free throw shooters in history they all have one thing in common they were not good shooters when it came to a mid-range set shot or jump shot. Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Ben Wallace, Chris Dudley, and Dennis Rodman to name a few.


The mental side may or may not be the issue, how can we tell really? I think a player like Shaq who has 30 points by half rarely goes to the free-throw line and thinks his shot is not going in. But who am I to know what someone is thinking, as the opposite could be very well true.

Missing your first out of two free-throws for a poor free-throw shooting has to mess with you. Knowing your a terrible free-throw shooter as it is and now you have to shoot a second one and the game is on the line. Telling yourself, you just need this one to go in so you can at least get the game into overtime.

I am willing to bet that most centers or big men shoot very well in practice, but then when they step on the court this is a different story, so maybe it is all mental or a combination of the two. You decide.

Why do NBA players miss free throws?

Looking at the last 40 years in the NBA the league average has hovered around 74 to 76 percent. When I researched this I realized that this is much better than I thought it would be. When you compare college basketball to the NBA we’re looking at around 69 percent in the NCAA.

I always wondered this, what’s the first thing you do when you pick up a basketball for the first time? Give it a couple of bounces then shoot it. These players in the NBA are no stranger when it comes to shooting baskets, it amazes me how the percentages are so low compared to what we as fans think it should be. Basketball is just not that easy.

What is a good free throw percentage in the NBA?

Since the league average is 75 percent I would say shooting anywhere in the 80% + would be a good free-throw percentage. Something to think about is that players who are known as shooters in the NBA, such as Gordon Hayward, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry rarely ever have a terrible free-throw percentage. Players that can shoot always seem to shoot in the 80 plus percentile range.

Why don t NBA players jump on free throws?

Shooting a basketball is a very technical skill, and the less you have to do on a shot the better. All NBA players in the NBA are strong enough to shoot a basketball without having to jump. So there would be no need for anyone to jump and shoot a free throw. The reason is the less you do in a fundamental skill like shooting the lesser chance for more technical error. As long as you can get the basketball to the rim there is absolutely no need to jump on a free throw.

Jumping would be difficult especially if you were just running hard for the last 5 minutes and you get fouled and are now at the line. You would have to focus on how tired your legs are, how high you need to jump, and shooting the basketball at the same time. If Jumping and shooting free-throws were a good idea they would be doing it in the NBA especially if it was an advantage. If you want more on Jumping to shoot free-throws click here!

Does practicing free throws help?

Now, what kind of question is that? I know where you’re going with this you want to know as you are probably practicing free-throws yourself and are not experiencing any progress. Let’s compare a free-throw in practice to a game.


In practice, it’s pretty quiet, you hear a ball bouncing and a friend chatting and that’s about it. In a game, you can hear the other team, the fans, and all other noises that are associated with a basketball game.

Pressure Free-throws

In a game do you feel any pressure at all to make the free-throws? I bet, and a lot of it. Doesn’t even compare to when you are practicing alone as you probably don’t feel any pressure at all. See where I am going with this. Yes you can make 50, 75, or even 100 free-throws in a row but when the pressure is on to make a game-winning free-throw how will you stand.


Are tired at all when you shoot free-throws in practice? Are you shooting them after playing pickup games and practice drills? During a game, you will shoot a lot of free-throws in which you are tired, which will involve a lot of mental and physical strength. It is literally a different way to shoot and feels completely different than the way you are shooting right now during practice.






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