No team in NBA history struggled as badly to reach the free-throw line as last season's Orlando Magic.
The problem wasn't making foul shots.
The problem was generating opportunities to take them.
The 2012-13 Magic averaged just 16.6 free-throw attempts per game last season, obliterating the all-time league record for fewest attempts.
That needs to change.
"It is a priority for us," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "When you can get to the free-throw line, it puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team. When you can have guys break down the defense and cause havoc at the rim offensively for you, that's a good thing."
Although it's dangerous to put too much credence in preseason statistics, it appears that the Magic are improving. The team has attempted 22.7 free throws per game in its six exhibitions this month.
Coaches are emphasizing getting to the line, players said.
If an opposing team already has committed four personal fouls in a quarter, Magic coaches are reminding their players to try to draw a fifth foul to reach the bonus and automatically go to the line. Sometimes, all it takes is a hard cut away from the ball to draw a foul.
Instead of settling for jumper after jumper — as the Magic did too often last season — coaches are advising their players to attack the basket.
The heightened emphasis has paid dividends.
Maurice Harkless, who rarely put the ball on the floor as a rookie last season, is averaging 4.2 free-throw attempts per game this preseason after he averaged just 1.7 attempts last season.
Rookie Victor Oladipo also has set a tone. He's tried 3.8 foul shots per exhibition.
"You can be the greatest jump-shooter in the world or the greatest shot-maker in the world, [but] it's not going to be there every night," swingman Arron Afflalo said. "You have to find ways to manufacture some points to kind of get your rhythm a little bit. All the great scorers do it.
"Vic's great at penetrating. Moe's been getting better at penetrating. I've been trying to play more of an efficient game, but I also have to find ways to maybe once a half or once a quarter just kind of put my head down and hopefully draw a foul."
The news isn't all good for the Magic, who will play their next-to-last preseason game Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio.
Orlando's opponents have averaged 30.2 free-throw attempts per game this month.
That's an astoundingly high number.
No team in the NBA has averaged over 30.0 free-throw attempts during a regular season since the 2009-10 Denver Nuggets, who tried 30.6 per game.
So, although the Magic have improved on the offensive end of the court, Vaughn will become concerned if the free-throw differential extends into the regular season.
Vaughn wants his players to play smarter on defense.
Sometimes, it makes sense to commit a hard foul, especially if an opponent has the ball close to the hoop or if that opponent is a horrid free-throw shooter.
What Vaughn dislikes is when his players commit half-hearted fouls that don't alter opponents' shots. That type of ill-advised foul too often leads to three-point plays.
"Hopefully, we'll get that corrected," Vaughn said. "But the fact that we are shooting over 20 free throws a game? We'll take that. Would I love to get to 30? Yes."
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