Herring is my favorite Knicks writer. Read his article in the morning. It's really good.
Hey Knicks: Why Is Kyle O’Quinn Taking Technical Foul Shots?And for that matter, why is Robin Lopez still the go-to guy for jump balls?
By Chris Herring
Nov. 3, 2015 7:13 p.m. ET
CLEVELAND—An odd thing happened late in the third quarter of the Knicks’ win in Washington last week, when Wizards forward Nene Hilario was whistled for a technical foul.
Several Knicks could have taken the resulting foul shot. Forward Lance Thomas wouldn’t have been the obvious choice, but his 75% career rate from the charity stripe made him a candidate. Rookie Jerian Grant made nearly 80% of his tries at Notre Dame. And guard Langston Galloway shot 81% during his rookie season of 2014-15.
But with the Knicks down 83-81 in the third game of a season that may not produce many victories, none of those players stepped to the line.
Instead, Kyle O’Quinn, the Knicks’ backup center, stepped up to take the free throw, despite his below-average 71% career mark from the line.
O’Quinn made the shot. But his mere presence, aside from confusing the casual fan, underscored something larger: The Knicks, and other NBA teams, make a couple decisions during each game that are rooted in antiquated basketball thinking and threaten to leave either points or possessions on the court.
Asked how he ended up taking the technical, O’Quinn smiled.
“I told Langston to move!” he said, adding that Galloway was already on the free-throw line, prepared to take the shot. “I told him to let me shoot it. He’s like, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘You just missed one.’ So that’s how it happened. He had just missed one. So I told him to let me do it. He’s like, ‘Noooo.’ But I told him to move out of the way, and I made it. So, whatever.’ ”
O’Quinn acknowledged that it’s rare for teammates to have an in-game debate over who will take a free throw. (Teams can choose the shooter only on technical fouls.)
“With a lineup like that, you usually look over at the coach to get a sense of who he wants to shoot,” O’Quinn said. “But if someone shoots like 95%—if you’ve got someone like Jose [Calderon] on the court—then of course he would shoot it.”
Just one problem there: Inexplicably, Calderon, one of the most accurate free-throw shooters in NBA history, is almost never the player who takes technical-foul free throws for the Knicks.
Despite holding the NBA record for the best free-throw percentage in a single season—98.5% on 154 attempts in 2008-09—Calderon has never attempted a technical foul shot when sharing the court with Carmelo Anthony, one of the NBA’s top overall scorers. On the flip side, Anthony has attempted nine technicals (making seven) when sharing the floor with Calderon, even though Anthony’s career rate from the line is about six percentage points lower than Calderon’s.
‘It’s just an NBA thing. Some guys, points are very important to them. Every opportunity to get an extra one, they take it. I played with some guys who think that way.’
—Knicks coach Derek Fisher
Calderon said there’s an understanding that Anthony will take the technical foul shots.
“If we are together, Melo will take the first one for sure” he said. “If he’s not there, then I’ll go. And if he maybe misses his first one, or he is having an off night and we have another free throw coming up, I’ll go up to him and say, ‘Let me take this one.’ But it’s no big deal.”
O’Quinn and Anthony highlight how these sorts of things are often handled. Generally, the player with the loudest personality or strongest desire to take the shot is the one who goes to the line.
The Knicks aren't the only team that has operated this way in recent years. For example, it was noticeable with Miami’s “Big Three,” when top scorer LeBron James would regularly take technical foul shots ahead of Chris Bosh, a better shooter at close to 80% from the line in his career.
James took 40 technicals with Bosh on the floor, while Bosh took six in their four seasons together. Also noteworthy: James has shot only 67%, as opposed to his usual 75%, when taking technicals, according to Stats LLC.
Carmelo Anthony will take free throws after technical fouls even when Jose Calderon—a much better free-throw shooter—is also on the court. Photo: Associated Press
“It’s just an NBA thing. Some guys, points are very important to them. Every opportunity to get an extra one, they take it. I played with some guys who think that way,” said Knicks coach Derek Fisher, when asked about the dynamic with Calderon and Anthony. “But we have one of the best free-throw shooters in history. So I think we should utilize that more, and we will.”
Perhaps even more confusing than the free-throw situation: the fact that 7-foot center Robin Lopez takes jump balls at the start of each game instead of power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who stands 7-foot-3 with a longer reach and a better vertical leap.
It’s a custom in the NBA for the center to take the opening jump, but conforming to it hurts the Knicks. Among players who have attempted at least 250 jump balls over the past five seasons, Lopez has won an NBA-low 39% of them, and has seen his success dwindle in recent seasons.
“I’ve actually thought about it in the back of my mind,” Lopez said. “I never did the jump at all until I got to the league, because I always played with [twin brother] Brook, and he always did it.
Meanwhile, Porzingis said this is the first level at which he hasn’t taken jump balls for his team.
They may have little impact in the grand scheme of a long season, but then again, that’s probably the reason these strange, counterproductive NBA habits are so hard to break.
Write to Chris Herring at email@example.com