Free throws are a big part of the game, and they signify the easiest chances players get to generate easy points. In the modern game, we are seeing superstar players get a lot of fouls called on them resulting in free baskets from the line. If a player can consistently get to the line and make his foul shots, his team is normally in a much better position at the end of a game.
But we have seen throughout NBA history that players struggle to make foul shots, and the vast majority of them are big men. For some reason, big men tend to struggle from the free-throw line on average. It might have to do with their massive limbs and inability to move around to generate momentum before shooting, but a ton of big men struggle to make foul shots. Here are the 10 NBA players with the most missed free throws in NBA history, and there will certainly be some recognizable names.
10. Moses Malone - 2,559 Missed Free Throws
The legendary Moses Malone is one of the most impactful players in his era, as he retired with an NBA title, a Finals MVP, and 2 MVP Awards. A dominant rebounder, Malone led the league in RPG 6 times and was an immovable force in the paint.
But Moses, unlike a lot of All-Star big men, did not seem to struggle from the free-throw line that much. Moses shot a career 76.9%, an impressive number considering he was 6’10” with long limbs. But Malone still missed over 2,500 free throws, mainly because he was constantly fouled with a career average of 8.3 attempts per game.
9. Tim Duncan - 2,572 Missed Free Throws
Tim Duncan was near perfection as a power forward, because he was able to dominate defensively and also lead the offense on the block. The Big Fundamental had a knack for impacting the game at a superstar level, which is why Duncan retired as a 5-time NBA champion with 3 Finals MVPs.
But if there was one weakness in Duncan’s game, it was his free-throw shooting. The Spurs legend shot a career 69.6% from the stripe, an unspectacular number for an all-time great player. It was always expected that Tim Duncan would miss at least one free throw when he was at the stripe, but thankfully it did not impact his success on the court.
8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 2,592 Missed Free Throws
The all-time leader in points scored, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a long career that spanned two decades. The big man did not need to do anything else besides let his skyhook go, because no defender had a chance in stopping it. There might have been one way to stop Kareem: foul him.
Abdul-Jabbar shot a career 72.1% from the stripe, pretty subpar numbers for a man who was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. Fouling him was often the best strategy for defenders because the center would put the ball in the basket anytime he wanted. Having missed over 2,500 free throws, it is amazing that Kareem still holds the all-time record in points scored.
7. Elvin Hayes - 2,643 Missed Free Throws
A 12-time All-Star with 6 All-NBA Team selections, Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes is one of the greatest big men in his era. Hayes is the 11th highest scorer in NBA history with over 27,000 points scored, and he did it without being able to nail free throws consistently.
Hayes missed over 2,600 free throws in his career, averaging a career 67.0% from the stripe. The big man was normally fouled by defenders because forcing him to make foul shots was the best strategy rather than letting him score at will. Hayes won’t be the last big man on this list, and there were certainly worse foul shooters throughout the league’s history.
6. LeBron James - 2,816 Missed Free Throws
Shockingly, LeBron James appears on the list as the only non-big man. The King is easily one of the top players to have ever played the game, but he is no stranger to criticism. In fact, perhaps the biggest criticism in James’ career has been his inability to make free throws consistently.
James has not let that get in the way, as he is a 4-time MVP with 4 NBA championships with 3 different teams. But shooting a career 73.4% from the stripe is not very impressive for a player of James’ caliber, and that has resulted in over 2,800 free-throws missed. There is no doubt that LeBron is chasing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s regular-season record for most points scored, and if he can make free throws more consistently, it will be easier for him to get there.
5. Walt Bellamy - 2,975 Missed Free Throws
A 6’11” star center who was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Walt Bellamy has a ton to be proud of over his career. The big man made 4 All-Stars and captured Rookie of the Year when he posted 31.6 PPG and 19.0 RPG in his first season. In fact, the first 5 seasons of his career were legendary as he put up an average of 26.6 PPG and 16.5 RPG.
As great as Bellamy was as an inside presence, he was not a reliable free-throw shooter. He shot 63.2% from the stripe, and that resulted in a whopping 2,975 free-throws missed. Bellamy ranks 38th all-time in points scored with over 20,000 scored, but he should have retired with a higher point total.
4. Karl Malone - 3,401 Missed Free Throws
The great Isiah Thomas once said that the reason the Pistons were able to win 2 straight championships was that Karl Malone’s free-throw shooting could not be counted on. In the biggest of games, having a below-average free-throw shooter as your best scorer was not ideal. That is probably why Malone never won a championship in his career.
But that should not take away from Malone’s greatness as a scorer, because he is currently ranked 2nd all-time in total points scored. An elite mid-range shooter with a powerful post-game, Malone dominated the league for two decades. But he still missed over 3,000 free throws over his career, despite holding a decent 74.2% shooting clip.
3. Dwight Howard - 4,078 Missed Free Throws
Yet another big man appears on this list, and it happens to be 3-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Dwight Howard. The big man is one of the most dominant defensive stars in NBA history because he combined strength and leaping ability with a very high basketball IQ.
But Dwight was often criticized for not being a more consistent offensive player since he hardly had a go-to move in the post as other superstar centers on this list had. A major criticism of Dwight’s game was his putrid free-throw shooting, as he missed over 4,000 free points over his career. With nearly 8 attempts per game, Howard was never able to make more than 4 on average, something that probably held him back a little bit.
2. Shaquille O'Neal - 5,317 Missed Free Throws
The most intimidating force in the modern era, Shaquille O’Neal had no answer in his prime. The big man literally forced the ball into the basket, and it often took players fouling out to stop him from scoring an easy two points. The game plan at all times was, foul Shaq and send him to the line. The reason? Shaq shot a career 52.7% from the stripe.
O’Neal himself admitted that his free-throw shooting was a disaster, and it was often funny to see the gigantic man throwing the ball to the basket. As bad as O’Neal was, percentage-wise, he was always known to make them when it counted. Missing over 5,300 free throws certainly did not stop Shaq from winning, because the big man retired with 4 NBA titles and 3 Finals MVPs to his name.
1. Wilt Chamberlain - 5,805 Missed Free Throws
Wilt Chamberlain is the original dominant physical force in NBA history, setting the standard for Shaquille O’Neal after him. Wilt was a 7’1”, 275 lbs beast of a man; and there was simply no answer for him. Not even 3 defenders could do enough to challenge Wilt’s shots, which is why the big man once scored 100 points in a single game.
But there was one glaring weakness that Chamberlain had: his free-throw shooting. Wilt shot a career 51.1% from the stripe, meaning he missed at least 5 free throws per game over his career. They say God is fair because if Wilt would have managed to make more free throws, he might have finished as the greatest scorer of all time with possible more unbreakable records to his name.