Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard has hired free-throw shooting coach Ed Palubinskas to improve his accuracy at the foul line, reports Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Howard, a career 59.8 percent free-throw shooter, "conducted interviews with at least several potential hires" prior to deciding on Palubinskas, LSU's all-time leader in free-throw accuracy, at 87.5 percent.
Palubinskas has sought to work with Howard before, writing to the Sentinel last May to say he had contacted Howard's representatives but received no response.
As a rookie, Howard connected on 67.1 percent of his foul shots, but has shot between 58.6 percent and 59.6 percent in each of his six subsequent seasons.
Notably, during the NBA's experiment with a synthetic basketball in October, November, and December of the 2006/07 season, Howard shot 66.7 percent from the stripe. The league abandoned the synthetic ball on January 1st and Howard shot 53.9 percent the rest of the season.
Howard's poor foul shooting--which, as Sebastian Pruiti illustrated in February, might be due to a hitch in his release--is a problem for Orlando because of the sheer volume at which he draws fouls. In the last five seasons, Howard has taken 4144 foul shots, nearly 500 more than any other player. On a per-game basis, he also leads the way, taking 10.3 free throws per game at 59.2 percent.
How much will Palubinskas help Howard? We won't know for sure if and until the NBA season begins. However, we can quite easily project the impact improved free-throw shooting would have on Howard's scoring.
Had Howard shot 65 percent from the foul line instead of 59.2 percent in the five-season sample mentioned above, he would have scored 242 more points, or 0.6 more per game. At 70 percent, those figures increase to 449 and 1.11, respectively.
There is precedent for big men improving their free-throw shooting by hiring a specialist to work with them. After shooting 59.5 percent from the line in his first six seasons, then-Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood worked with shooting coach Dave Hopla to improve his form. The next season, Haywood connected on 73.5 percent of his free throws. Hopla worked extensively with several Wizards that year, and almost every one of them improved dramatically at the line.
There's no guarantee Howard's partnership with Palubinskas will result in significant gains, and it's worth noting that Haywood's accuracy at the line faltered after Hopla left the Wizards, culminating in his shooting 36.2 percent (!) for the Dallas Mavericks last season. But it's clear--and it's been clear for years, really--that free-throw shooting is among Howard's few remaining weaknesses as a scorer. That he's taking serious steps to improve is a positive sign. One hopes the lockout ends in time for him to demonstrate his new form in Magic pinstripes.