Last night against the Golden State Warriors, Dwight Howard shattered Wilt Chamberlain's 50-year old free throw record, shooting 39 free throws and making 21. The "hack-a-howard" strategy was quite deliberate, as Marc Jackson reportedly had players foul Howard even before he passed mid-court on many occasions. What caught my eye was the following bit:
What made the situation even stranger was that this was supposed to be the season Howard improved at the line and solved his shooting woes. During the lockout, he hired a personal shooting coach, and they have worked regularly at Rollins College in Winter Park to hone Howard’s mechanics.
Some within the Magic organization believe Howard is putting too much pressure on himself. For all his strengths, he doesn’t like criticism, and he’s heard plenty about his free-throw shooting.
But Howard improved as Thursday’s game entered its latter stages. He made eight of his 10 tries in the fourth quarter and helped the Magic outscore the Warriors 37-27 in the period.
Howard made 8 of his last 10? Is it possible, perhaps, that Howard's problems are just mental? That he really did improve his mechanics a lot in the pre-season? And that his problems this season are just from being nervous at the line in front of 20,000 fans? After all, that's a situation you can't practice.
And then I got to thinking about an interesting link that Dre (@nerdnumbers) sent around to the group yesterday. At Weak Side Awareness there's a fascinating look at aggregate data which suggests that as the season goes on, players get better at some things that benefit from more reps:
Well, some often repeated statements… are just true.
Players in the NBA do shoot better as season goes along… and that’s a hope for all of us in current season ;-)
Also thanks to this graph we can see that Christmas games are not your usual matchups…
Putting the two together...
Is it possible that Marc Jackson is helping Dwight Howard "practice" the nerve-wracking scenario of shooting in front of 20,000 fans with his new-found shooting mechanics? That Jackson is speeding this process along by getting him more reps? After all, how nervous can you possibly be the 25th time you step up to the line in a game? At some point it's gone so far into absurdity that you really don't care anymore, right?
What if those last 10 free throws represent Howard's FT rate when dictated solely by shooting mechanics, free from any nervousness? And if Howard is able to internalize this, and starts hitting around 70% of his free throws all the time?
That...well, that thought is just freaking scary if you aren't a Magic fan, so I'm going to chalk it up to sample size instead.