Please bear with my scattershot NC State basketball thoughts this week; there’s not much going on. At least until Tennessee opens up a new football coaching search.
Lennard Freeman is clearly as good as he’s ever been in an NC State uniform, which is a great sign for a team that needs all the help it can get from its frontcourt players. Freeman’s year off was well spent, and now he is thriving in a more open system where his improved strength and quickness are making him a difference-maker.
But enough about that. Lennard Freeman makes free throws now. I’m not sure we’ve appreciated this enough so far. As a freshman, Lennard made just 44.9% of his free throw attempts. As a sophomore, he made half of his freebies. As a junior, he again hit exactly half of his free throw attempts. This year? He is at 80.5%. I guess when you suffer a significant leg injury, one of the first things you can do is stand around and shoot it from 15 feet. So it seems, anyway.
Coming into this year, Freeman had never made more than 31 free throws in a single season. He’s already made 33, and that’s with two-thirds of the season remaining. He will also obliterate his record for free throw attempts in a season (69 in 2014).
This is a really impressive progression for Freeman, and it’s made him an indispensable player for NC State. Freeman has always been good at drawing fouls, this year included, but there has been little advantage to that in the past. If free throws are a 50-50 proposition, a lot of value gets lost in the exchange.
Get you a forward who can draw fouls at a consistent rate and also knock down the majority of his free throws? That’s where you start to carve out a significant competitive advantage, and State has been lacking in that area lately.
This reverberates in a positive way for the entire team, because Kevin Keatts has a big he can trust will make free throws in crunch time, which means he doesn’t have to over-think his substitution pattern late in close games. And that also keeps a very good rebounder on the floor, which tends to be important in those late-and-close situations.