Howard, The Offseason & His Free Throws

It was no surprise the news that came out last week about Dwight Howard’s latest summer plans. Yes, Dwight Howard is seeing a free-throw shooting guru. Yes, he has been working on his free throw shooting just about every summer since he got in the league — and has somehow gotten worse, at least statistically.

Dwight Howard’s game is constantly evolving. It seems like every summer he adds something new to his game. First it was dominating the rebounds and becoming the best rebounder in the league. Next it was patrolling the paint and becoming the league’s biggest game-changer defensively. Next it was developing confidence in his offense and post moves, turning simple post moves into counters and a variety of maneuvers in the paint.

Howard’s evolution has been accompanied by goals — from being hte No. 1 draft pick in high school to averaging a double double his rookie year to being the best defender in the league. Yet the free-throw shooting goal has been the one that has eluded him most — he has come closer to winning a championships than achieving his goal to shoot 75 percent from the line.

Howard now is working with free-throw-shooting gurur Ed Palubinskas, who is the career free throw percentage leader in LSU history and played for Australia at the 1976 Olympics. Palubinskas previously worked with Brandon Bass, helping Bass raise his free throw percentage from 63.2 percent his rookie year to 75.0 percent in 2007. Bass has not been below 80 percent free-throw shooting in any other year of his career.

“I will completely change his numbers in less than one week and you won’t recognize him,” Palubinskas told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

It is no secret that poor free throw shooting has held Howard back statistically. Howard, despite leading the league free throw attempts in three of the last four years, is a 59.8 percent free throw shooter for his career. His rookie year he shot 67.1 percent from the line, but since then he has not shot better than 60 percent from the foul line.

That has been a source of concern for the Magic especially late in games. Orlando has seemingly always lacked a go-to perimeter scorer. With Howard’s poor free throw shooting, the team has been unable to reliably go to him down the stretch. The Magic’s offense revolves around Howard throughout the game… except in the fourth quarter. In effect, Orlando loses its best player because of the fear of him going to the free throw line and has no other options to create offense from.

This is a problem Howard needs to correct to help this version of the Magic improve.

I have always been in favor of going to Howard late in games, perferring to lose with Howard on the line rather than not go to him at all. But that strategy was pain-stakingly revealed as flawed in Game Four of the NBA Finals. Just one free throw that night and it is a 2-2 series with one more game in Orlando. Even if the Magic lose that series, at least the Lakers are not dancing and celebrating on our floor.

Think of it another like Alex Raskin of HoopsWorld did. Think of it like Howard was leaving five points at the free throw line every game. How many more wins — how much longer is Orlando’s season — if he picked those points up?

If Howard bumped himself up to 65 percent free throw shooting for his career, he would score approximately 266 more points in his career. His career average would go from 18.2 points per game to 18.7 points per game. If you increase his free throw shooting to even just 62 percent last season, he would have scored 22 more points over the course of the season and increased his career-high scoring average to 23.2 points per game.

Take the playoffs. If Howard increased his career playoff free throw percentage to 62 percent, the Magic would theoretically have 18 more points. It should be noted that Howard shot 63.6 percent from the line in the team’s run to the Finals in 2009 and 68.2 percent in last year’s Playoffs.

Howard has good free throw streaks in him. But, as we saw in the Playoffs, Stan Van Gundy does not have complete trust in Howard making free throws all the time. He has to earn that trust for sure. And the only way he is going to do that is to really raise his free throw shooting.

Those are little differences. But they make a big difference over the course of the season.

One of those little things very much is how Howard is perceived. Howard can shed some labels the media has unfairly placed on him and get the adoration he seemingly desires so much.

Howard’s free throw shooting has very often been analyzed and scrutinized. Everyone seems to become an expert when it comes to Howard’s foul shooting.

For Howard to reach the next level of superstardom, he has to start hitting his free throws. He has plenty of time to get to work on that.

Photos via DayLife.com.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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