Free throws are at the root of the Orlando Magic’s problems

The Orlando Magic's Evan Fournier (10) battles between Miami Heat defenders Goran Dragic, left, and Derrick Jones Jr. (5) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The Magic won, 104-101. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's Evan Fournier (10) battles between Miami Heat defenders Goran Dragic, left, and Derrick Jones Jr. (5) at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. The Magic won, 104-101. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are the worst team at getting to the foul line this year by a wide margin. The team’s inability to get to the line is hurting everything.

Evan Fournier stepped to the free throw line against the Cleveland Cavaliers. His steal helped give the Orlando Magic this golden opportunity to take the lead in a situation that should easily have given the Magic a lead. Especially with Evan Fournier at the line. He is a career 80.3 percent free throw shooter.

Fournier made the first free throw to tie the game. But missed the second. It is the kind of moment Fournier likely kills himself over and over. It was a big spot to give the Magic the lead frittered away.

Nikola Vucevic made up for it with a block on George Hill on the ensuing possession. And that set up Fournier’s heroics that evening. His two-point shot at the buzzer delivered the Magic to win.

But those free throws sting. Not so much because Fournier had the occasional miss — or in a big spot — but because there were so few opportunities to make them. Each miss feels bigger than it is.

In that game against the Cavaliers, the Magic took only 15 free throws for the entire game. With 87 field goal attempts in the game, the Magic had a 17.2 percent free throw rate. And that gets to nearly historic low levels.

A big part of Orlando’s struggles on offense has to do with their inability to get to the foul line. The Magic are, by far, the worst team in the league getting to the free throw line. Their 18.6 free throw rate (free throw attempts over field goal attempts) is by far the lowest in the league. No other team has a rate of fewer than 20 percent.

On a raw number basis, the Magic’s 17.0 free throw attempts per game are 2.5 free throw attempts per game lower than the next worst team (the Boston Celtics).

This is near historically low levels.

The Magic set a league record for fewest free throw attempts in a season during the 2013 season. There they took 16.6 free throw attempts per game but had a 19.7 percent free throw rate.

Orlando is not a bad free throw shooting team at all — 74.5 percent — the team just cannot get there. The Magic simply cannot make those points up. The Magic’s attempts this year have not increased with the increased pace seen around the league. And that has put some undue pressure on the rest of the offense.

The free throws were obviously a big difference in the game against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards took 18 free throws in the fourth quarter alone (making 13). That on its own was more than the Magic took the entire game.

Why this is the case is hard to figure.

The simple answer is the Magic are not drawing fouls. Orlando is 29th in the league in drawing fouls at 19.6 fouls drawn per game. Only the Chicago Bulls are worse, but they do a better job getting the foul line — 25.4 percent free throw rate and 22.1 attempts per game. It is not merely drawing fouls that are the problem (it is), it is also drawing shooting fouls.

This to some extent is no surprise. The Magic have struggled to create free-throw opportunities throughout the last six years.

Even with Victor Oladipo, who has turned into a strong driver and free throw creator at 4.9 per game last year and 4.6 per game this year, struggled to create free throw opportunities with Orlando. In his final year with the Magic, even he was averaging just 3.4 attempts per game.

Is the problem then that the Magic have no pure creators who can drive successfully to the foul line?

That is not quite right either. The Magic have 41.4 drives per game (defined as going from at least 20 feet from the basket to 10 feet from the basket) according to’s player tracking statistics. That puts them firmly in the back end of the pack for the league. Orlando’s 38.8 percent shooting on drives is the second-worst in the league and shows the team’s difficulty in creating off the dribble.

Then there is Nikola Vucevic. One of the missing pieces to his varied offensive repertoire is his inability to get to the line. He tends to float out to the perimeter which takes away from his free throw attempts. But he also has one of the lowest free throw rates among high-usage big men in the league.

So far this year, Vucevic is averaging 2.1 free throw attempts per game. Among centers with at least a 20-percent usage rate and playing at least 24 minutes per game, Vucevic ranks last. The man Nikola Vucevic faces up against Wednesday in Joel Embiid averages more than 11 free throw attempts per game.

Drawing fouls has never been Vucevic’s strong suit. He has never averaged more than three free throw attempts per game (essentially two fouls drawn per game). And last year he had an abysmal 1.9 free throw attempts per game (essentially not drawing even one shooting foul per game).

As a team, no one is getting to the foul line. Aaron Gordon leads the team with 3.2 attempts per game, but no one else even approaches that number. And Aaron Gordon’s number is low for someone who is such a high-usage player.

There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of difficulties within this offense. A lot of things are working against the team.

They lack a fantastic driver — Fournier leads the team with 9.0 drives per game according to, but shoots just 41.5 percent on those drives and obviously is not getting to the line. And so the defense is making fewer mistakes to draw fouls.

There is a skill in learning how to deceive a defense and draw fouls. It was something Oladipo spoke about as he struggled with it in Orlando before eventually learning that skill with the Indiana Pacers. The Magic do not have any player how is as natural a driver as he is. Drawing fouls and getting to the foul line is going to remain a problem.

But it undoubtedly puts added pressure and stress on the offense. They need to shoot really well to make up for the lack of free throws. The defense has to be stronger and more disciplined without fouling to try and limit that deficit — the Magic are eighth in the league giving up 25.2 percent free throw rate, so they do a good job there generally.

Lacking these opportunities hurts the Magic and narrows an already small margin for error. That much was clear in the loss to the Wizards.

In a close game, the Magic played well throughout the fourth quarter. But the fouling early and the Wizards’ ability to get to the line eventually overwhelmed the team. They had no answer.

Next. Orlando Magic's bench continues to lose team's rhythm. dark

And for now, the Magic have had few answers on how to solve it and get some free throws to bolster their offense.