Superman challenged Houston Rockets teammate James Harden to a blind free-throw shooting contest according to a report from the Houston Chronicle and brought to us by ESPN.com. Howard apparently defeated Harden, hitting on 8-of-10 from the line with his eyes closed.
“I might have to start [shooting with] my eyes closed in games,” Howard said afterward, per the Chronicle (via ESPN). “I have a good percentage. I am 8 for 10 with my eyes closed.”
He isn’t kidding.
For most NBA players, 80 percent at the foul line is whatever. It’s not bad, but it’s not what you would consider magnificent. But for Howard, it’s nothing short of career defining.
The big man is shooting just 57.7 percent from the free-throw line for his career and has failed to eclipse 50 percent over each of the last two season. In 2011-12, he shot a career-worst 49.1 percent from the line. Last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he essentially duplicated that performance, converting 49.2 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Free-throw shooting has been like a what’s what of crappy basketball for the Howard. Teams readily employ the Hack-a-Howard strategy in the fourth quarter when the game is at stake, forcing Dwight to hit free throws at crucial moments. Some coaches have even put him at the line earlier than that, electing to foul him from the first quarter. They know he’s that bad.
Watching Howard take free throws with his eyes glued shot would no doubt be comical. We’re not used to seeing unorthodox tactics anymore. Not since John Barry shot underhanded have we bore witness to such an unusual free-throw process.
But for Howard, this couldn’t hurt. It’s not like he’s going to shoot much worse than 49.2 percent from the line, right? I’m pretty sure my neighbor’s pet turtle could drain 49.2 percent of his foul shots.
Anything that might give Howard an edge; anything at all. He’s that bad.
Only six players in league history have averaged nine or more free-throw attempts per game for their career—Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Pettit, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Alex Groza and Howard. Of those six, Howard’s 57.7 percent free-throw clip ranks fourth, putting him in the company of Shaq (52.7) and Chamberlain (51.1).
Better still, Howard is just the fourth player in league history to attempt at least 375 free throws in a single season and hit fewer than 50 percent of them. The other three are Shaq, Chamberlain and Karl Malone.
For all the things Howard does right—defense, rebounding, smiling—his free-throw woes are an insane liability. He’s so important that the Rockets won’t be able to take him off the floor late in games, yet so unreliable at the free-throw line he could cost them victories with his disgusting shooting.
Why not give this a shot, then? Once more, it couldn’t hurt. And Howard seems to be getting advice from the right people on how to approach the blind freebies.
“There is a guy who has the world record for most free throws made and he told me to do that drill and it’s good for trusting your form,” Howard said, according to the Chronicle (via ESPN). “You can’t see nothing, so you have to trust your form and trust that it goes in.”
Sounds good to be. Anything other than recurrent misses sounds good to me.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.