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It is no secret that Dwight Howard has been a really terrible free-throw shooter this season. He's been the target of Hack-a-Howard strategies, discussed and deflected questions about his woes from the line, and even attempted to alter his approach. Nothing has worked. Howard is shooting 48.3 percent on 8.9 attempts per game, the third-highest average in the league. It's a glaring issue for a player who has shot a less embarrassing 58.0 percent from the line in his career.
Throughout his struggles, the Lakers and Howard have claimed that he shoots quite well in practice — over 80 percent, in fact. For some observers, that has been difficult to believe based on Howard's in-game performance.
However, Beto Duran of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles was able to snap a photo of the Lakers' white board detailing the entire team's free throw marks in practice vs. their performance in games. After the jump, check out that photo for proof that Howard knocks down his freebies in private.
So, does this information illuminate why Howard struggles from the line in games? Not necessarily, although it does suggest that a significant difference in free-throw shooting between practices and games isn't rare for an NBA player. While Howard's gap is the most egregious given his large sample size, every single player on the Lakers shoots worse in games than in practice. On top of that, no one converts less than 80 percent of his attempts in practice.
There's reason to believe that Howard is not a special case. Outside of team-best shooters Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks, and Kobe Bryant, every Lakers rotation player has at least a 10-percent drop in free-throw shooting in the transition from practice to games. This evidence implies that any improvement from Howard would have to be relatively minor, because NBA players generally have trouble carrying over their level of free-throw shooting in practice to games.
It also shows that casual criticism of Howard's shooting might be unfounded. It's typical for basketball fans to claim that their own free-throw shooting suggests that NBA players can easily shoot better percentages than they do. However, if fans find that they shoot 80 percent during their own casual moments, then it's also no different than what the professionals do in their own free time. These athletes already do exactly what their critics claim they should be able to achieve without a problem.
Howard obviously has room to improve, and his 32.5 percent difference between practices and games is especially bad. Yet the overall team numbers show that any improvement might be relatively minor. In a league where each team employs dozens of people to identify and solve problems, it's possible that Howard and the Lakers have already looked into every available solution to improve his free-throw shooting. Maybe this issue can't be solved with logical analysis.
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