If you look at last season's league leaders in blocked shots, you'll find many sub-70% free throw shooters: Josh Smith, Emeka Okafor, Alonzo Mourning, Darko Milicic, Andris Biedrins, Andrew Bynum, Joel Przybilla, and Al Jefferson (all top 20 in blocks). This is nothing new: the majority of the league's top shot blockers have always been below average free throw shooters. Having a guy on your fantasy team who can block a shot a game without hurting your team's FT% (77% or better) is a very valuable asset, but there are only a handful of players who fit this mold. In fact, this club is even MORE exclusive than the 1+ 3-POINTER and 47% FG Club. Excluding guys who played in less than 10 games, only 9 players made the club.
The 56th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft (and the very LAST high-school-to-the-pros player to hear his name called) didn't officially make the cut with only 8 games played, but he's just 20 years old and could very easily attain PLATINUM CLUB status down the road (more on him later). Not surprisingly, this club boasts several superstars: 6 guys will be top 20 picks in your fantasy draft. Rounding out the club are 2 fading fantasy stars and 1 up and coming gazelle. Let's check out the '06-07 members and preview who may be joining the club for '07-08.
1+ BLOCK and 77% FT Club for 2006-2007:
Shawn Marion - 1.52 blocks, 81.0% FT (PLATINUM CLUB member - 8 times)
Marion has been a member of this club ever since he joined the league in '99-00. He's going into his 9th season and has been a rock solid fantasy performer year in and year out. He has blocked 1.5 shots or more 3 years in a row and has NEVER shot below 80% from the line (83.0% for his career). Just two more years in the club and he'll be elected chairman.
Yao Ming - 1.96 blocks, 86.2% FT (PLATINUM CLUB member - 5 times)
Yao has shot over 85% from the line 2 years in a row now, and has a career average of 1.9 blocked shots per game. When he is healthy, he's the most dominant fantasy center around and his stellar percentages (over 51% from the field the past 4 seasons as well) are the main reason why. Yao was the ONLY player to rank in the top 15 in both blocks (#11) and FT% (#15) last season, and he finished just .04 blocks away from achieving DIAMOND CLUB status: 2+ blocks and 82% FT. Since they started recording blocks (1973-74), a player has blocked 2+ shots per game in a season (40 games min.) 328 times. However, according to my calculations, there have only been 3 DIAMOND SEASONS!
1986-87, Kevin McHale = 2.23 blocks, 83.6% FT
Kevin Garnett - 1.66 blocks, 83.5% FT (PLATINUM CLUB member - 5 times)
KG's FT% was a career-best 83.5% last year and he's shot 79% or better from the stripe in 5 of the past 6 seasons. He hovered around 75% his first 6 seasons, but has been stellar ever since. His 1.66 blocks per game last year were right around his career average of 1.7, but I'm expecting an increase in '07-08. With a little more spring in his step this season, I'm projecting 2 blocks a game (he blocked 2.17 shots in '03-04, the same year Minnesota made it to the Western Conference Finals) and 82% free throw shooting. For more reasons why you should pick KG #1, see my article: 5 Reasons to Pick KG #1.
Chris Bosh - 1.30 blocks, 78.5% FT (GOLD CLUB member - 2 times)
Despite being only 23 years old, Bosh is now a GOLD member of the club after making the cut 2 years in a row. After shooting just 70% from the line his rookie year, he has hovered around 80% the past 2 seasons, which is superb for a big man. However, his career average of 1.32 blocked shots per game leaves a little to be desired. He swatted well over 2 shots per game in his only college season, and should be able to block at least 1.5 shots at the pro level. Bosh will be a PLATINUM CLUB member in no time.
Dwyane Wade - 1.22 blocks, 80.7% FT (CLUB member - 1 time)
D. Wade was the only guard to meet the club requirements, which shows how much of a B.A.M.F. he is. The last time a guard made the club was when Paul Pierce did it in '01-02, and the last time a guard blocked as many shots was Vince Carter in his rookie year ('98-99), when he swatted 1.54 per game. Wade's FT% has risen each year, a necessity considering he led the league in free throw attempts per game last season. He still doesn't make many threes, but D. Wade's ability to block shots while maintaining solid percentages (over 49% FG shooting the past 2 seasons as well) makes him the #1 fantasy guard when healthy.
Amare Stoudemire - 1.34 blocks, 78.1% FT (CLUB member - 1 time)
Amare's '05-06 season didn't really count because he only played in 3 games, but his free throw shooting has improved considerably each season. After shooting just 66.1% from the line his rookie year, he was up to 78.1% last season. Since Stoudemire gets to the line often, this is a definite plus for the Phoenix Suns and Amare's fantasy owners worldwide. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his FT% at 78+ while bringing his blocks back up to 1.5+ per game. If so, he'll be extremely valuable this season.
(2 FADING STARS)
Zydrunas Ilgauskas - 1.26 blocks, 80.7% FT (GOLD CLUB member - 4 times)
Big Z made the club for the 3rd year in a row and the 4th time overall! Ilgauskas has shot 80% or better from the line 3 seasons in a row, solidifying his spot as one of the best shooting centers in the league. He has a career average of 1.78 blocks per game, but that stat has plummeted in recent years. After erasing a career-high of 2.48 shots in '03-04, his average fell to 2.12, then 1.74, then finally 1.26 last season. While Big Z is still very talented and valuable, he is no longer a top tier fantasy center.
Rasheed Wallace - 1.57 blocks, 78.8% FT (CLUB member - 1 time)
The fiery veteran finally made the club! Rasheed has blocked over a shot a game throughout his career but did not shoot 77% from the line until last season. Despite the solid FT%, Wallace's FG% was a career-low 42.3% and his 12.3 points per game was his lowest average since the '98-99 season. His ability to block shots and make threes has long fancied fantasy owners, but at 33 years of age, his minutes and fantasy value are on the decline. His career average on free throws is just 71.5%, meaning you can't really count on him to shoot that well again.
(1 UP AND COMING GAZELLE)
Travis Outlaw - 1.10 blocks, 79.0% FT (CLUB member - 1 time)
Outlaw got a chance to prove himself last season and he made the most of those minutes, earning a 3-year contract extension from Portland. Known for being a 6'9 super-athlete who can run the floor and pronk like a gazelle, Outlaw proved that he can shoot the ball as well. His mid-range jumper was much improved and his FT% skyrocketed from 69% to 79% last season. Outlaw was on fire in April, shooting 46.8% from the field, 92% from the line, and 50% on threes while scoring 18.6 points per game. Despite playing less than 23 minutes, Outlaw averaged .91 steals and 1.10 blocks per game. With more minutes in store, he could very easily average 1.25 of each this year. Outlaw is a rising fantasy star, and if he continues to shoot free throws well he'll be a PLATINUM CLUB member in no time.
POSSIBLE 2007-2008 ADDITIONS TO THE CLUB:
Dirk Nowitzki - .80 blocks, 90.4% FT (PLATINUM CLUB member - 6 times)
The reigning MVP failed to make the club for the first time since '99-00 because he did not block enough shots. He blocked a career-high of 1.53 shots per game in '04-05, but he barely managed to swat half of that in '06-07. Perhaps the best shooting big man of all-time, Dirk's FT% will never be a problem. He's nailed over 90% of his freebies for two years in a row and over 85% for 6 years in a row. Last season also marked the first time since his rookie year that he did not make at least 1 three-pointer per game, which is somewhat disappointing. Fantasy owners had gotten used to a block and a three per game from Dirk, and they will have high expectations for him in '07-08.
Chris Kaman - 1.55 blocks, 74.1% FT (Previous CLUB member - 1 time)
Kaman made the club in '06-07, when his percentages were a very solid 52.3% FG and 77.0% FT (to go with 1.38 bpg). He increased his blocks to 1.55 per game last year, but his percentages declined to 45.1% FG and 74.1% FT. With Elton Brand out for most (if not all) of the upcoming season, Kaman is going to have to step up big time for the Clippers. He probably won't do enough to lead them back to the playoffs, but if he can just bump his FT% back up, he'll make it back into the club.
Amir Johnson - 1.62 blocks, 78.6% FT (Unofficial CLUB member - 1 time)
Amir Johnson didn't officially make the club because he only played in 8 games for Detroit, but he showed a glimpse of what he can do in those 8 games: 47 points, 37 boards, and 13 blocks in 125 total minutes on 54.5% FG shooting and 78.6% FT shooting. His NBDL stats were even more impressive. In 22 games, he averaged 35.1 minutes, 18.9 points, 9.7 boards, 1.18 steals, and 3.14 blocks on 62.3% FG shooting and 74.6% FT shooting. While it remains to be seen if Amir can shoot over 77% from the stripe over a full season, he will have no problem rejecting a shot a game. Johnson is only 20 years old and has just 11 NBA games under his belt, but has shown enough promise to earn a 3-year, $11 million contract this past summer. Keep an eye on Johnson this year, because if he can carve out 20 minutes per game, he will become a fantasy force and possibly the youngest player ever to make the 1+ block and 77% FT club.
The #1 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft came close to making the club in his rookie season. Despite playing only 25.1 minutes, he blocked .82 shots per game. He is very adept at using his length and mobility to block shots, so once he starts playing 30 minutes he should have no problem rejecting a shot a game. Bargnani has such a sweet shot he has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki. However, he really struggled with his 3-point shot his first 2 months in the league, shooting just 29.7% (27-91). But once he settled down and found his stroke he was lights out, shooting 41.2% (73-177) on threes the rest of the way. His FT% was a very solid 82.4% and there is no reason he can't shoot over 80% for his career. Bargnani will be joining the club in no time.
Josh Howard - .80 blocks, 82.7% FT
Josh Howard had a breakout '06-07 season, setting career-highs in minutes (35.1 up from 32.5), points (18.9 up from 15.6), rebounds (6.8 up from 6.3), threes made (1.3 up from .5), and FT% (82.7% up from 73.4%). His FT% improvement may have been legit, because he shot over 80% from the line in every month of the season except for February. His .80 blocks was just under his career-high of .81 blocks per game, which he registered his rookie year in just under 24 minutes per game. Josh Howard is a rising fantasy star, and if he can just block a few more shots he'll be a poor man's version of Shawn Marion.
David West - .73 blocks, 82.4% FT
West missed some games due to injury last season, but still put up some solid stats. He really poured it on in April, when his team was fighting for the playoffs: 41.3 minutes, 25.3 points, 8.0 boards, 2.6 dimes, 1.33 steals, and 1.00 blocks on 55.4% FG shooting and 84.0% FT shooting. West's sparkling FT% has been over 82% for 2 years in a row, so now he just needs to block some more shots. In '05-06 he erased .86 shots per game, meaning he is very capable of joining the club in '07-08.
Danny Granger - .74 blocks, 80.3% FT
Granger's minutes jumped from 22.6 per game in his rookie year to 34.0 last year, so naturally his points, assists, steals, and threes made all went up as well. However, his rebounds and blocks both declined, which is unsettling for fantasy owners. He totaled 384 boards and 62 blocks in 1762 minutes in '05-06, but just 381 boards and 61 blocks in 2789 minutes in '06-07. While he clearly spent less time at PF in his second season, he still needs to get those big man numbers up. I mean, we're talking about a guy who averaged 9.0 boards and 2.0 blocks per game in college. Indiana is going to be awful this season, but if Granger can boost his blocks and make the club, that will be a definite bright spot.
Jermaine O'Neal - 2.64 blocks, 76.7% FT
O'Neal has blocked 2+ shots per game for 7 years in a row now, but he's still waiting to join the club. He came awfully close last season, missing out by just .3 percentage points. His career FT% is only 70.3%, but he has shot over 75% on three occasions and may have finally found his best form from the line. While Jermaine's FT% is somewhat of a question mark, whether or not he gets traded and how many games he's going to miss are much bigger ones.
Kevin Durant - ROOKIE (1.91 blocks, 81.6% FT in College)
Durant probably has the best chance of any rookie at making the club. He blocked almost 2 shots per game and shot over 80% from the line in his only season at Texas and will get as many minutes as he can handle in Seattle. In the NBA Summer league, Durant was superb from the line, making 39-46 free throws (84.8%). Whether or not he can do that over 82 games remains to be seen, but Durant will get to the line often and help out your team's FT%. Surprisingly, he didn't block a single shot in summer league action, but with his incredible length and athleticism, you'd think he'll be able to block a shot a game. Despite Durant's upside, I'd rather have Josh Howard on my fantasy team this year, because Howard has already proven what he can do (although he still needs to prove he can make it through a full season).
I have just reviewed the 9 players from the 1+ BLOCK and 77% FT Club for '06-07 as well as 9 potential additions to the club for '07-08. Among them are many superstars, proving how valuable their versatility is to both their NBA teams and their fantasy teams. Guys who can block shots while making a high percentage of free throws are a rare commodity, and thus they should be treasured in fantasy hoops. If one of the superstars on this list falls to you in your draft, you'll be getting an immediate leg up on the competition in these 2 categories. Work hard to preserve this advantage! Just because you draft Yao Ming and his stellar 86% FT shooting doesn't mean that you now have the luxury to draft a bunch of poor free throw shooters. Instead, focus on drafting more 80% FT guys to team up with Yao, to ensure that your team finishes the season atop the FT% rankings.
Be wary of the fading stars (Big Z and Rasheed) and the hotshot rookie (Durant). Most likely they will be drafted too high due to name recognition. Go after the players entering their primes instead: Outlaw, Howard, West, and Granger. If you can get one of those young studs to team up with one of the superstars on this list, your fantasy team will receive a big boost. Think about it: the average fantasy league has 12 teams, but there are only 18 players on this list. This means that no more than half of the owners will come away with 2 players from this list: make sure you are one of those! And if you have a chance to draft 3 or 4 of these guys without overreaching, by all means go ahead. The 1+ BLOCK and 77% FT Club is a great club to belong to, so pay attention and your fantasy team will be headed in the right direction.