There's been a lot of talk about Dwight Howard's mediocre free throw shooting lately -- which is perhaps understandable, given that he doesn't have a lot of other weaknesses to worry about. Some people are worrying that opponents might exploit it by deliberately hacking Dwight and sending him to the line, in much the same manner as has been done with Shaquille O'Neal at various points throughout his career. Is this a valid worry?I say no, and here's why: Shaq's career free throw shooting percentage is 52.8%. So if you foul Shaq, you're giving his team an average of 1.056 points for that possession (discounting the possibility of an and-1 situation, an offensive rebound, being called for a flagrant, etc.) There are times when you will gladly give your opponent a 105.6 efficiency -- that is an efficiency you can hope to beat in the long run. (And note that there have been times when Shaq's free throw percentage was worse than that -- he didn't average over 50% once in his four years with Miami, for example.)
Now, Dwight -- .601 career, .594 in '08-'09. So now you're talking about giving up 1.2 points on the possession. The fact is, if you're giving a team 1.2 points per possession, that team will beat you.
Last year, the Magic scored 1.1 points per possession, and gave up 1.02 -- note how Shaq's free throw numbers fall pretty much directly between those two, and how Dwight's are way up there above both of them. This, to my mind, is why we've never seen some kind of Dwight-hacking strategy employed systematically, and -- assuming his free-throw shooting ability doesn't suddenly deteriorate massively -- why we probably never will. (And if we do, it'll do us more good than harm.)
I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice if he improved this aspect of his game, but the 7% difference between the two players is a huge one on a practical level. A possession in which Dwight gets to the line is still a good possession for the team... the same can't necessarily be said for a guy like Shaq.