Free throws per game have gone up slightly more thisáseason to 19.8 per team, which doesn't square with the conventional wisdom that players would adjust to the rules by backing off, allowing more room for offenses to operate. However, effective field-goal percentage (which improves on field-goal percentage by properly counting 3-pointers as 1.5 times as valuable as two-pointers), which went up from 47.1 percentáto 48.2ápercentálast season, has made another slight improvement to 48.6 percentáthis year.
None of these metrics, however, are sufficient to explain the league-wide shift in style of play that has been caused by the rules changes. That's much subtler.
To begin to understand how the new rules interpretation has changed the game, check out a comparison of the leaders in free-throw attempts per game from this seasonáto 2003-04, the season before the change:
2003-04 Free-throw attempt leaders
2005-06 Free-throw attempt leaders
Notice anything about those two lists? The free-throw attempts are higher, yes, but the bigger issue is that only one player in the topá10 in attempts per game this year is a big man, Toronto's Chris Bosh. This hardly squares witháthe stereotype of post behemoths making their living at the free-throw line. While there were plenty of perimeter players on the leaderboard in '03-04, fully half of the players played either power forward or center. And while Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan have both been hobbled by injury this year and AmarÚ Stoudemire has yet to play, this still appears to be indicative of a change in the way the game has played.
Another way to look at it is to break down free-throw attempts by position. Positions are admittedly very subjective, but the results -- using my own position definitions -- are revealing. The best way to look at this issue is not with free-throw attempts per game, because some positions take more shots than others, but free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt. Here's how those numbers break down by position in '03-04 and this season (through last week):
Free-throw attempts per field-goal attempts
While free-throw attempts are, again, generally up, power forwards are actually getting to the free-throw line relatively less frequently and centers have seen only a modest increase. Virtually all of the increase has come at the three perimeter positions, with shooting guards seeing the most benefit.