It’s become more than obvious, after an entire offseason spent away from basketball and the first significant injury of his career, that Dwight Howard is far from healthy. That sort of uncertainty and lack of confidence can affect all aspects of a player’s game, but when you couple that sort of trepidation with what could be charitably described as unimpressive effort, you have what could be an MVP-level anchor working as a saddening sponge instead.
What you can’t criticize is his approach to free throws. He works at it, repeatedly, in practice. In actual practice during games, though, Howard stinks. After perhaps his worst game as a Laker in a loss on Sunday, he’s at just over 51 percent on the season.
What if it’s the application, and not the effort, that’s due for a change? Howard recently started lining up a good six or seven inches behind the free throw stripe, and while the results haven’t turned him into a regular Jack Sikma from the line, things are turning up. Whether you can attribute that to the change in lineup or myriad other factors is up to you, but the percentages aren’t lying. From the Los Angeles Times:
The half-step back has resulted in some forward movement in precision.
Howard had made 56 of 91 (61.5%) free throws over the 11 games preceding the Lakers' game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
That's a considerable uptick for someone who had previously shot 46.9% from the free-throw line this season and is a career 58.4% shooter.
"The success can't be measured by numbers right now," Howard said Tuesday. "The success is measured by consistency, and for the most part I've been consistent."
Of course, utilizing his previous stroke from right on the line, Howard was consistent great at free throws away from games. Via several accounts, he hit for well above his averages routinely in practice bouts during off days.
As we talked about above this slight uptick in percentage could just be a random event, some reaction to better times (Steve Nash’s return, coaching permanence under Mike D’Antoni), or the bounce of the ball. Shooting just under 61 percent (counting Howard’s 5-10 work from the stripe on Sunday) in a career that has seen the big man shoot 58.4 percent can hardly be classified as a breakthrough.
Stepping back, so to speak, from his work in December is necessary. The unimpressive early returns shouldn’t preclude Howard from keeping this up.
Players line up on the free throw line because, legally, it’s the closest they’re allowed to shoot from while attempting those freebies. “Closer” doesn’t always translate to “easier,” though, as anyone who has had issues with their putting stroke and/or dart game can attest to. Toss in the height of these players, the fifteen feet worth of space between the line and the rim, and the ten-foot height of the goal, and you have a pretty tricky trajectory in spite of Kevin Durant’s career 88 percent mark from that angle.
Howard’s work isn’t unprecedented. Nick Van Exel tried the same thing, years ago, though his marksmanship was never in question. And one of Dwight’s predecessors, the late Wilt Chamberlain, attempted the same approach four decades ago. Watch: