The stars align to pit Dwight Howard against two of his biggest weaknesses: the Detroit Pistions and free throw shooting, not necessarily in that order.
File photo by Paul Sancya, the Associated Press
Sportswriters wore out the Dwight Howard/Superman puns several months ago, but that won't stop me from making the obvious assertion that the big fella's Kryptonite is his lack of shooting touch, especially at the foul line. Over his four-year career, Dwight has shot 60.3% from the stripe, a number buoyed by his (relatively) stellar rookie campaign, during which he connected on 67.1% of his freebies.
Is there any hope for Dwight? Can the Magic ever hope to turn him into a reliable free throw shooter? We tackle these questions and pose a few more after the jump. Stick with us.
In a word (per answer), yes. And for a great recent example of a center dramatically improving his free throw shooting mid-career, we only need travel up the Atlantic coast to our nation's capital, where Mr. Brendan Todd Haywood mans the pivot for the Washington Wizards. From his rookie season in 2001/2002 to the 2006/2007 season, Haywood made 794 free throws in 1334 attempts, for a Howardian 59.5%. But last season, under the tutelage of Wizards shooting coach Dave Hopla, Haywood made 216 free throws in 294 attempts, or 73.5%, a figure which bests his previous career-high by more than 10 percentage points. He wasn't the only Wizard to improve from the foul line last season. Bullets Forever, SB Nation's Wizards blog, covered the whole story in this post last month.
Which brings me back to Howard. If Haywood improved that much at age 26 and after six professional seasons, certainly Howard can at age 22 and after four professional seasons. All it takes is plenty of practice with a shooting coach. Dwight has Olympic obligations this summer, but he'll still have all of September and most of October to hone his stroke before next season starts. Finding a shooting coach for Howard shouldn't be too difficult a task for the Magic, and hiring one should be a no-brainer. Why wouldn't the Magic want to invest in their future by helping their franchise center improve?
There is a possible "catch" to this idea. With a finite amount of time for one-on-one training, the Magic might rather Howard work with Patrick Ewing, the assistant coach they hired specifically to improve Howard's post game, than with a shooting coach. After all, field goals are worth more points than free throws. But they can little afford Dwight plateau or -- Seikaly forbid -- regress at the line. Although they finished 52-30 last season, good for a division title and the third seed in the conference, their Pythagorean record was 56-26, which indicates they caught some bad breaks in close games that could have gone either way... but should have gone theirs.
To drive the point home a bit, I'll note that in the Magic's embarrassing, season-ending loss to the Pistons in May, Dwight shot 6-of-15 from the line. That's 9 wasted points in a game they only lost by 5. Sure, we can't attribute that loss solely to free throw shooting -- the 21 turnovers (to Detroit's 3) certainly played a role -- but it still indicates that, with the right tutoring, Dwight might be able to keep this team afloat in games in which the opponent doesn't play well, either; the Pistons shot 36.1% from the field in that contest.
How do you think the Magic should address Dwight's free throw shooting? How important is it, really, that Dwight improve in that area?