The DNA of an Elite Scorer in Basketball

The DNA of an Elite Scorer in Basketball

This article was written by Tennessee State University Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Russ Willemsen


Elite Basketball Scorers

When we think of guys who are elite scorers in basketball, we think of guys that can flat out put the ball in the bucket. This usually consists of scoring from the three-point line, the mid-range game, and finishing at the rim. One area that separates good scorers from elite scorers is the ability to get to the free-throw line.

You can argue that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. This season he ranked third in points per game, averaging 25.3 ppg. However, this season’s output was actually the second-lowest of his career. Only his rookie campaign of 20.9 ppg was lower. What also sticks out about his production this season is that he had his second-lowest free throw percentage of his career at 71%.

Another area to look at is his free throw attempts per game. He came in at 7.7 attempts per game, which is the fourth-lowest since he’s been in the league. If you go back to his 05-06 season where he averaged 31.4 ppg, you will see that he shot 10.3 free throws per game, which ties a career-high. It is no secret that there is a correlation between scoring increases and free throw attempts.



Personal Basketball Experience

At South Alabama, we had a sophomore this year that increased his scoring as he got to the FT line more. Through the first 10 games of the year, Ken Williams was averaging 12.5 ppg, attempting 1.8 free throws a contest, shooting an abysmal 31% FG and 32% 3FG. He was not aggressive enough attacking the basket. Something clicked midway thru the season, and in the last 21 games this year, he averaged 17.1 ppg and increased his FTA per game to 4.8 a game.

As his FTA per game increased, so did his scoring. Ken “Juice” Williams finished SunBelt Conference play fourth in scoring at 18.0 ppg, ninth in free throw percentage at 79%, first in 3-point field goals made at 56, and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage at 40%.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Below is a chart of the top 10 scorers in the NBA this season and the NCAA. It shows their points per game, free throws made, free throws attempted, and what percent of their overall scoring comes from the FT line. If you look at the top five scorers in the NBA combined, they average 8.7 FTA per game, while the next five only average 4.8 FTA per game. That is a HUGE discrepancy!

If you look at the percentage of points that come from the FT line, 21.3% by LeBron James is the lowest in the top five. That still ranks higher than 21% by Blake Griffin, who is the highest in the next five. These numbers do not lie! The two outliers in this group are Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Their FT numbers are the lowest in the top 10.

They are also talked about as one of the best shooting duos in NBA history. Not many players shoot the ball with their precision, which is why I consider these two outliers.  If you look down at the NCAA numbers, there is only one player in the top 10 in scoring that has less than 20% of their overall points per game coming from the FT line. This is no coincidence. Guys that get fouled more score more.







1) Russell Westbrook 28.1 8.1 9.8 28.8%
2) James Harden 27.4 8.8 10.2 32.1%
3) LeBron James 25.3 5.4 7.7 21.3%
4) Anthony Davis 24.4 5.5 6.8 22.5%
5) DeMarcus Cousins 24.1 7.9 9.2 32.8%
AVERAGE 25.9 7.1 8.7 27.4%






6) Steph Curry 23.8 3.9 4.2 16.4%
7) LaMarcus Aldridge 23.4 4.3 5.1 18.4%
8) Blake Griffin 21.9 4.6 6.4 21.0%
9) Kyrie Irving (tie) 21.7 4.2 4.9 19.4%
9) Klay Thompson (tie) 21.7 2.9 3.3 13.4%
AVERAGE 22.5 4.0 4.8 17.8%






1) Tyler Harvey 22.9 4.7 5.6 20.5%
2) Zikiteran Woodley 22.6 4.7 5.8 20.8%
3) Denzel Livingston 22.0 7.0 8.7 31.8%
4) Tyler Haws 21.9 6.0 6.9 27.3%
5) Damion Lee 21.4 6.4 7.2 29.9%
6) Saah Nimley 21.2 6.0 7.3 28.3%
7) Amere May 21.0 4.0 4.9 19.0%
8) D.J. Newbill 20.7 4.6 6.1 22.2%
9) Chavaughn Lewis 20.6 5.1 7.7 24.8%
10) Corey Hawkins 20.4 4.6 5.6 22.5%



Added Benefits of Shooting Free Throws

Getting to the free-throw line does a lot to increase scoring. If you shoot a high percentage from the FT line, getting fouled and seeing the ball go through the net on your FTs can give you confidence as a shooter. This can become the catalyst for a big scoring outbreak. This can also help a scorer get into a rhythm.

So much of scoring is being in the flow, and getting fouled can assist that. It also helps your team’s offense out. The more you get fouled, the quicker your team gets in the bonus and double bonus. It can also help get one of the other team’s players in foul trouble. Lastly, it gives your team an aggressive mindset. It puts your team in attack mode.



Your Basketball DNA

DNA is the core of who someone is. Great scorers have the mindset of being aggressive and getting to the free-throw line. There will always be fluctuations in shooting percentages, but the fundamental key to becoming an elite scorer is getting to the free-throw line. As your FTA increase, so will your scoring!


Follow Us On Social

Latest Content

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

4 Responses

  1. I came across this post on Facebook. I enjoyed this article and the stats to back it up. It was eye opening to see the numbers for LeBron this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

How to Coach Basketball

  If you want to learn how to coach basketball, then it’s important to remember that not everyone (and in fact, no one) starts as

Individual Basketball Workout Keys

This basketball coaching article was written by Dale Layer, head men’s basketball coach at Liberty University (Big South Conference). Coach Layer was previously at Colorado