Trips to the foul line are the currency of the NBA star. Check the list of who leads the league in free-throw attempts, and you essentially round up the All-Star teams:
Kevin Durant…Kobe Bryant…Carmelo Anthony…LeBron James…Ramon Sessions…
Ramon Sessions? Yes, the Charlotte Bobcats’ backup point guard has a remarkable knack for getting himself fouled. The top nine names in free-throw attempts per game this season are all superstars. Then there’s blossoming Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. And then there’s Sessions at No. 11, averaging 5.6 attempts per game.
There’s something telling about that.
“It’s a talent,” said Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap. “What’s extraordinary is his minutes played relative to his attempts at the line. A lot of those guys ahead of him play a lot more minutes.”
Sessions averages a free throw every 4.75 minutes. He’s eighth in the NBA in free throws made (4.7 per game) and 28th in foul-shooting percentage (83.9 percent).
All this because growing up in Myrtle Beach, he didn’t always have the ideal target for his jump shot.
“We were never really jump-shooters in my family. We were always going to the hole,” Sessions recalled.
“As little kids it wasn’t really rims we were driving on. We were playing with crates and tire racks, and it’s hard to shoot on those things when you’re little. The older I got, the more I kept playing that way.”
Monday the Bobcats host the Houston Rockets in a 2 p.m. MLK Day matinee at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Rockets have guard James Harden, second in the NBA in free throws attempted (9.8 per game) and first in makes (8.4). Sessions says Harden’s strengths are a “herky-jerky dribble and he likes contact – that makes a difference.”
Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, a former NBA point guard, said it’s obvious Sessions loves getting right up into big men once he drives by a guard. That’s relatively rare, that a 6-foot-3, 190-pound guy would so frequently initiate those collisions.
“He’s not reluctant to go into tall timber. He’ll get some shots blocked, but he’s egoless,” Dunlap said. “He’ll get knocked down, but he’s fearless about it.”
A big part of that is work off the court. Sessions is sturdier than he might appear.
“I take care of my body in the weight room,” Sessions said. “I don’t fear contact. I don’t run away from it.”
Yet this isn’t just daredevil stuff, it’s more nuanced and cerebral. Sessions’ natural talent is foot speed, but he plays at different tempos. That’s one of the things Dunlap hopes will rub off on starting point guard Kemba Walker: Sessions’ ability to size up situations and exploit them.
Before he enters the game, Sessions always checks with the scorer’s table to confirm the other team’s foul situation. Are they close to being in the penalty? Do the Bobcats have a foul to give without being in the penalty? How close is it to two minutes left in the quarter (when any two fouls place a team in the penalty)?
The calculations continue once he enters the game. Sessions is very conscious of time and situation. If there are five seconds left on the shot clock, he’ll go right at it. If there are 14 seconds left, he’ll probe left and right.
“He has such patience in the pick-and-roll,” Dunlap said. “It’s a gift. (Allen) Iverson had that gift, to wait. He knows how to strike.”
Consciously or subconsciously, referees know it, too. Over his first 40 games as a Bobcat (Sessions was signed in July as a free agent), he’s been awarded 232 free throws. There’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that you’ve made it once the refs recognize what you do best.
“When I was younger, those calls weren’t the same,” Sessions concluded. “I think they’ve adjusted to how I play. It definitely builds a reputation.”