The 2012-13 NBA regular season has been none too kind to Dwight Howard, who is shooting a career-worst 46.9 percent from the free-throw line. As a result, opposing teams are employing the infamous "hack-a-Howard" strategy and forcing the big man to beat them with the weakest aspect of his game.
Even as the misses cost Lakers victories, Howard and head coach Mike D'Antoni are in denial about this free-throw disaster.
According to Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports, Howard does not believe that his free throw shooting is the reason the Lakers are losing games. This comes after he missed 5-of-10 attempts during a 107-105 loss to the Houston Rockets.
A game which the Lakers had been leading until the hack-a-Howard festivities began.
"We allowed them to get back into the game. It wasn't just about free throws. ... It wasn't just about me missing free throws toward the end. We've got to do a better job defending.
"That's fine. That's fine. People going to say what they're going to say. But at the end of the day, the reason we lost is not my free throws. That didn't lose us the game. Our defense was not there in the fourth quarter."
Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times reports that coach D'Antoni has taken a similar stance on the matter.
"...they have no clue what they're talking about," D'Antoni said. "It's pretty simple. You don't do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He's not the reason that our defense breaks down. He's not the reason that stuff happens. He's got to work through this.
"If you take him out now, then what are you going to do? Are you going to take him out all the time? You've got a player who's going to be your franchise player, you don't do that to him. And it's not him that's causing the problem."
The truth of the matter is, Howard and D'Antoni are dead-on with their evaluation. The Lakers allowed the Rockets to score 34 points during the fourth quarter, which is the primary reason that they faced defeat.
With that being said, Howard shooting 5-of-10 from the line played a major role in the Lakers' loss. It will remain that way until D-12 is able to improve.
Even if he and D'Antoni don't believe that to be true.
With and Without Measurements: Free Throws
In order to determine whether Dwight Howard's free-throw woes are playing a role in the Lakers' early-season struggles, we must evaluate two aspects of the game. Those, of course, are how the Lakers are faring with and without Howard on the floor.
So why not start with the obvious area of free-throw shooting?
Through 19 games, the Lakers are shooting 62.6 percent from the free-throw line with Howard on the floor. In that time, they're making 19.4 of their their 30.9 attempts per 48 minutes.
When Howard is not on the floor, they're shooting 78.5 percent from the line as a team. Contrary to popular belief, they're also attempting more free throws per 48 minutes when Howard is on the bench.
They're converting 24.4 of 31.1 attempts with Howard off the floor.
They're getting to the line all the same without Howard, so drawing fouls is not a bonus. His misses are simply a hindrance.
So how is it impacting the offense overall?
Without and Without Measurements: Per 48
How negatively are Dwight Howard's free-throw struggles impacting the Los Angeles Lakers? Contrary to what D-12 and coach D'Antoni may believe, quite significantly.
When Howard is on the court, the Lakers are averaging 98.5 points per 48 minutes. When he is on the bench, however, that number leaps to 108.7 per 48.
An increase which goes well beyond their 5.0 free throws more per 48 without Howard than with him.
Furthermore, the Lakers are averaging 54.5 rebounds per 48 without Howard and 43.5 with him on the floor. That includes 17.5 offensive boards with Howard on the bench and 11.1 with him active.
This has led to a net rating of positive-4.1 with D-12 and positive-12.0 without. So why is this all happening?
The Role of an Opposing Defense
The No. 1 reason that the Los Angeles Lakers are performing at a higher level with Dwight Howard on the bench is, in fact, his free-throw shooting. As a result of his inconsistency at the line, D-12 is enabling opponents to do one game-altering thing.
Abandon playing defense and focus all of their energy on offense by employing the hack-a-Howard.
The Lakers are not setting up possessions in the halfcourt or transition. Instead, teams are fouling Howard from the moment a rebound is caressed or a pass is inbounded.
Which is the primary reason L.A. is averaging 10.2 points less per 48 minutes when Howard is on the bench than when he's active.
As long as Howard continues to fail to convert his free-throw attempts, teams will foul him whenever possible. As a result, the Lakers will have no possessions to develop offensive chemistry and teams will close any gap that Howard can't protect.
Even if Howard and D'Antoni believe it to be a non-factor, D-12's lack of consistency at the line will be disastrous to the Lakers' title hopes.
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