Dwight Howard Must Gain Late-Game Confidence to Fix Free Throw Shooting

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent IDecember 30, 2012

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Dwight Howard's poor free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter will continue to be a real problem for the Los Angeles Lakers unless the star center gains some late-game confidence from the line.

According to ESPN, Howard has had more trouble making free throws in the fourth quarter than any other NBA player this season:

Look out for Hack-A-Howard in last 3 minutes. Dwight Howard has missed 47 fourth-quarter FT, No one else in NBA has missed more than 18

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 25, 2012


J.A. Adande of ESPN points out the real problem with Howard's free throw troubles:

Dwight Howard's the last 1 on court after Laker practice, making free throw after free throw. Purely a mental block during games.

— J.A. Adande (@jadande) December 24, 2012


Free throws are almost all mental. Being able to forget about previous failures, the crowd noise and the pressure of the situation all have a bigger impact on making free throws consistently than physical aspects such as the shooting form used.

Howard cannot let his critics bother him. He will likely never be a good free-throw shooter, and that's fine, because centers aren't expected to shoot a high percentage from the line. However, shooting 51.3 percent from the line is unacceptable for anyone as talented as Howard who plays a lot of minutes per game.

Unless he gains some late-game confidence from the line, Howard could become a very small part of the team's offense in the fourth quarter.

Teams will foul Howard whenever he attempts a shot in the final minutes of a game if he continues to struggle with his free throws.

If he fails to improve in the late stages of games, the Lakers will not be able to go to him in the low post in the fourth quarter or use pick-n-roll plays with point guard Steve Nash, and that would make the offense so much weaker than it needs to be.

Howard must be on the floor when the game is on the line, because his defense is so impressive and his rebounding is crucial to the Lakers' success. But if he cannot hit free throws at a higher rate in the fourth quarter, head coach Mike D'Antoni may have to ignore Howard at the offensive end during the final minutes.

That's not the ideal situation for a superstar player making a huge amount of money.

For Howard to gain some late-game confidence in his free-throw shooting, he must focus and relax while at the line. The worst thing he can do is put pressure on himself and worry about what people will say if he misses too many fourth-quarter free throws.

If Howard becomes a more consistent free-throw shooter in the fourth quarter, the Lakers will be a much harder team to beat. To become more consistent, he must build some late-game confidence.