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Lakers' Lou Williams has a knack for getting to the line

Lakers' Lou Williams has a knack for getting to the line
Lakers guard Lou Williams is fouled by Knicks guard Sasha Vujacic, right, as Langston Galloway tries to help on defense on March 13. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

During his rookie year, Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell took note of veteran guard Lou Williams’ most infuriating  and reliable skill.  

That ability to get to the free-throw line, that skill that amused his teammates and frustrated opponents.

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So Russell studied film of Williams drawing fouls, then he asked for suggestions.

"A lot of guys are dominating this game from the free-throw line," Russell said. "I wanted to find out a way I could figure that out early in my career."

On Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls, Williams did it again, drawing a foul on Bulls guard Rajon Rondo late in the shot clock, with the Lakers leading by two and 20 seconds remaining in the game. It contributed to an unlikely, short-handed Lakers win on the second night of a back-to-back. It continued a trend.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, Williams ranks sixth in the league in free throws per 100 possessions among guards. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Houston’s James Harden, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Portland’s Damian Lillard are the only other guards who have taken more free throws per 100 possessions. Williams ranks 16th in the league counting forwards and centers.

"You just gotta laugh at it at this point," Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. said. "We see it so much in practice, for us it's hard to believe guys still bite on that. But sure enough, every time, he gets it."

Said reserve point guard Marcelo Huertas: "It's a gift."

Added Lakers Coach Luke Walton: "It's smart basketball."

This season, Williams has made 83.3% of his free throws, and he's a career 81.8% free-throw shooter, making it all the more valuable of a skill for the Lakers.

Learning how to draw fouls was a conscious choice for Williams. After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in January of 2013, he knew he could no longer rely on his quickness as much as he had before.

"Had to find other ways to score the basketball," Williams said.

His knowledge of defenses got him there.

"I understand coverages," Williams said. "I understand a lot of times teams are going to try to push me right, they don't want me to get to my left hand. So if I jab right and I go left you're gonna probably try to cut me off because your coach is gonna get mad. You're probably going to run into me, and I'm just going to shoot the ball."

Scorers are often adept at getting to the line. The Lakers have learned that the hard way a few times this season.

Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins shot 22 free throws on his way to 47 points against the Lakers.

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Butler shot 14 free throws during his 40-point game at Staples Center. Even Wednesday night in Chicago, when Butler struggled to score from the field, his free throws accounted for 13 of his 22 points.

"Butler shot eight free throws [Wednesday night] where we tried to go vertically and at the last thing we tried to reach down and block the shot," Walton said. "That's not what we teach. It's a foul when we do it. But we still do it."

Russell isn't the only Lakers guard to take note of Williams' free-throw-drawing prowess. Jordan Clarkson stays conscious of opportunities to catch opposing defenders slipping.

Huertas equated gambling in defending Williams to putting one's "hand in a cookie jar." He's never seen anything exactly like Williams' technique.

"He grabs the defender's arm before he even catches the ball," Huertas said. "So it's a different way. James Harden does it. He does it in a different way, he grabs the ball and tries to draw contact, but Lou he draws the contact before he even grabs the ball. So it gives him the chance of shooting or not. If the ref calls the foul or not, he gives them a fraction of a second to think about it. It's something unique."

Often, all anyone can do is laugh.

UP NEXT

AT TORONTO

When: Friday, 4:30 p.m. PST.

Where: Air Canada Centre.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 10-10; Raptors 12-6.

Record vs. Raptors (2015-16): 0-2.

Update: Raptors star DeMar DeRozan is familiar to many of the Lakers as he sometimes joined the Lakers at their practice facility during the off-season. DeRozan will pose a tough challenge for the Lakers, who are still finding their way on defense. He averages 28.9 points per game, which ranks third in the league behind New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

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