Breaking Down What's Wrong with Dwight Howard's Free-Throw Mechanics
When I criticize NBA players, I'm usually casting stones from a glass house. I cannot play anywhere near NBA level. This is the one exception.
The free throw is the odd NBA sub-genre wherein otherwise incredibly coordinated superstars can be inept.
Blake Griffin is a deft dribbler and skilled passer, but he looks like a klutz at the stripe. LeBron James is nearly the perfect basketball player, save for his .659 free-throw shooting this season.
The same goes for Dwight Howard, the subject of our study. He moves swiftly and intelligently on defense but can hardly make an unguarded 15-foot shot.
Free-throw shooting does not improve for the average player. There are those who made great strides over a career (Karl Malone comes to mind), but they are the exceptions to the rule.
Even if Dwight Howard were to dramatically change something about his approach, the odds are in favor of that change not mattering. So these are merely observations, as there's likely nothing to be done here.
First, let us take a look at how Dwight's been shooting free throws under the tutelage of Chuck Person (via Los Angeles Times):
This is less a free throw than it is a shot put, as Dwight doesn't demonstrate much arm mobility. Here, he fails to extend his limb during the release, and he actually finishes with it crooked in something of a "J" shape.
I've taken a slide from another angle on another Dwight air ball and highlighted the "J" shape in green:
Now take a look at how a much better free-throw shooter does it. For this example, we'll use Steve Nash. Look at the arm extension on the follow-through:
Extending your arm allows for a certain predictability of release. When the arm is crooked into a "V" shape, controlling the bend is another variable on top of everything else.
I likened Dwight's form to a shot put for its lack of arm mobility, but there's another reason for the analogy. Dwight gets into a crouch and gathers the ball at his face before he begins his motion. You can see this in the video I spliced the arm extension shot from:
Good free-throw shooters generally start their fluid motion from below their waist, ending at the aforementioned arm extension. The below Stephen Curry slide is intentionally blurry—it's like that because the shooting motion began well before the ball got to his face:
If Dwight Howard adopted the reform of beginning his motion sooner and following through completely, there's no guarantee it would help. Dwight likely takes these shortcuts because a whole shooting motion is difficult for him to control.
Still, those shortcuts go a long way toward revealing why Howard is a poor free-throw shooter. It's hard to stay pure from the line when you hurl the ball like a shot put, minus proper arm extension.
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