Free Throw Shooting Pro Tips for Dwight Howard on His 28th Birthday

David Nurse@@davidnurse05Special ContributorDecember 8, 2013

Free Throw Shooting Pro Tips for Dwight Howard on His 28th Birthday

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    As Dwight Howard turns one year older today (28), his quest of becoming the first player in NBA history to have his age mirror his free throw shooting percentage takes another step closer.At the rate Dwight is currently on, a few more birthdays and he might just reach that unfortunate landmark.  

    To celebrate his 28th birthday, we asked NBA shooting coach and consultant David Nurse to break down the top 10 tips for Dwight to follow in order to fix his free throw shooting woes. Nurse has worked with many top NBA players to refine and fix their shot and now will attempt to help Superman rid himself of his kryptonite. 

    Follow David Nurse on Twitter and his website.

The Hitch

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    One of the main keys that all great shooters know is that they must have a smooth, fluid motion involving no hitches or pauses in their shot.  So why do so many players, when at the free throw line, pause mid-motion before they release their shot? 

    As a professional shooting coach, it’s a question that has always driven me nuts. Why put yourself at a disadvantage before even actually shooting the shot?  Howard is no different. Instead of the ideal fluid motion, Howard pauses directly before he releases his shot, causing a hitch in his entire motion.

    It’s very simple, the need for a fluid motion is based on the scientific principle, Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia - an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and fluidity unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. The "unbalanced force" in this equation is Howard’s pause before his release. Should have went to college, Dwight. You might have learned a thing or two about free throw shooting in Physics 101.

The Release

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    If I could choose the single most important "physical" aspect of the free throw, it would be the release.  Once again, this is an area in which Howard struggles mightily. 

    The perfect release is one that finishes high, elbow locked out directly above the shooter’s ear, wrist snapped, shoulder pointed directly at the hoop, follow-through held. I wish I could say Howard does one of these five steps correctly…but he doesn’t. 

    Instead of controlling his shot with the five essential steps of the release, Howard instead is just hoping his shot goes in. His arm trajectory is flat, his elbow is not locked out, he does not snap his wrist and hold his follow through, and his shoulder is not slightly quarter-turned so that it finishes directly lined up with the hoop. Essentially, he does everything incorrect in his release. 

    Perhaps, he can put part of the blame on his ‘cartoonish’ wide shoulders, or his skin-tight frat-boy ‘I just did bench press for an hour’ uniform. But until he meets the five key points of the release,  he will continue to struggle from the line. 

The Routine

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    The problem in Howard's routine isn’t so much that it is flawed, but instead, it is his lack of consistency in his routine that is the flaw. 

    Last year with the Lakers his routine was – spin ball, three dribbles, shoot.  This year with the Rockets it is primarily – deep breath, spin ball, one dribble, shoot.  Neither routine is what I would consider a ‘bad’ routine, but the fact that he doesn’t stick with a routine is a glaring problem.  This just screams ‘lack of confidence’ and ‘I don’t trust myself at the line.’ 

    Two thoughts that undoubtedly are going through Howard's head when he steps to the line. In an interview with Ken Berger, Howard even admits, “In the game, I’m thinking so much that when I start missing, I start thinking about missing again — or if I miss, what people are going to say.” 

    Every great free throw shooter has his own routine that he sticks to no matter if he makes or misses.  Confidence and consistent routine, two staples for a great free throw shooter.  After studying the greats for many years, the ideal routine is – deep breath, three dribbles, shoot – all one smooth motion. Now if Howard could just stick to a routine like he sticks with the same team…oh wait. 

The Hands

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    An excuse I hear far too often is, “Dwight’s hands are too big, that’s why he can’t shoot free throws. And the same is true for Shaq and Rondo.”  I don’t buy it. 

    What about Kawhi Leonard who is a career 80% free throw shooter with 11 ½ inch hands?  To put that in perspective, the average length of a brown bear’s paw is 11 inches. Dwight Howard’s hands: 10 ½ inches.  Career free throw percentage: 57.6%.  

    Sure, the ball probably feels similar to what a pop-a-shot mini ball at the arcade would feel like to the rest of us, but remember how well you shot last time you played pop-a-shot? Ok, so maybe you’re girlfriend beat you, but you thought you were on fire. 

    A shooter with larger hands actually has more control over a ball than does a shooter with smaller hands.  So to say that hand size is what prevents Howard from being able to consistently make free throws is a blatant excuse, as Leonard is a prominent free throw shooter.  I just hope that in Howard's best interest that he doesn’t challenge the brown bear to a free throw shooting contest.  (See step 7) 

The Head

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    Ninety percent of free throw shooting is mental. Basically everything at the line takes place between the ears. And I’m here to tell you the mental aspect is a huge factor in Dwight Howard’s free throw shooting woes. 

    Focus, mental toughness, maturity – three words that you never hear associated with Dwight Howard.  Instead, he is far better known for his clowning around in the locker room and with reporters than he is for his killer instinct; just ask Kobe. This might also explain his 36% from the line at home this season compared to his 63% on the road. 

    Admittedly, Dwight has said that he feels more pressure at home than on the road – a sign of immaturity and lack of confidence.  Every time a great free throw shooter steps to the line, all they are telling themselves is that the free throw that they are about to attempt is an automatic basket.  That’s the mindset of a great free throw shooter. 

    Dwight’s mindset at the line is much closer to free-throw-phobia than it is to being automatic.  It’s been reported that Dwight shoots nearly 90% from the line at practice (I’d like to question those sources), but even if he shoots anywhere near 90% that proves that his biggest downfall is his head.  Need further proof that the mental factor plays a major role in his free throw shooting miseries, read his quote on free throw shooting:

    "I always thought of it as like being in love. If you grasp at sand and you hold it too tight, you tend to lose a lot of the sand. But if you hold it just right, then you never lose it. It's just like a free throw. If you're too uptight, you're gonna miss. If you're too loose, you're still gonna miss. You've got to be just right."  Confused? Yeah, so am I.  It appears Dwight is thinking of the beach and love when he’s at the line.

Embrace Hack-a-Howard

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    It’s widely known that in Dwight Howard’s only season with the Lakers he missed more free throws in that one season alone than his teammate Steve Nash has in his entire career.  And if any of you were wondering, Steve Nash is currently the oldest player in the league.  With this type of catastrophic free throw shooting statistic, why not foul Howard late in games and put him on the line?  Oh wait, nearly every team in the league already does. 

    It’s what is known as the phenomena  ‘Hack-A-Howard.’  Instead of running away from the ‘Hack-A-Howard,’ Dwight needs to learn to embrace the opportunity and more importantly make the opportunity count for the Rockets. 

    Houston is currently ranked second in the NBA in offensive efficiency at 107.8, which means they are scoring 107.8 points every 100 possessions.  That equals 1.078 points per possession.  To equal 1.078 points per possession, Dwight would have to shoot 53.9% from the free throw line.  This season from the line he is shooting 53.3%, virtually the equivalent of the Rockets offensive efficiency rate. 

    If Howard can realize that he isn’t hurting the Rockets as much as he thinks he is from the free throw line, then Howard will actually be able to embrace ‘Hack-A-Howard’ and start turning the perceived negative into a positive.  However, Dwight better figure this out quick before it’s too late.  Through Dwight’s first 7 years in the league he shot better than 60% from the free throw line.  The last two seasons he has shot below 50%.  If this trend continues, the next word voted into the American dictionary will be ‘Hack-A-Howard’ instead of ‘selfies.’ 

Don't Ever Lose to a Mascot

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    Rule #1 in life – NEVER LOSE AT ANYTHING TO A MASCOT.  

    Tuesday November 27th, 2012 - a day that will live in infamy for Dwight Howard. 

    At a the Lakers' shoot around, Dwight boldly challenged Baily, the L.A. Kings mascot, to a free throw shooting contest…and lost.  Not to mention Baily was in full mascot gear and could barely see the rim through his enormous lion head.  Howard contested that he missed on purpose to boost the mascot’s confidence.  Yeah, doubtful. 

    For Howard to challenge anyone to a free throw shooting contest is a bad idea, especially a mascot.  Or a housewife.   Just ask Kelser Simers, a Houston housewife, who beat Dwight in a free throw shooting contest this past summer.  Howard has even been used as a pun on Jeopardy, a game show not known for its comedy.  Word of advice to Dwight – stay out of the media as much as possible when it comes to your free throw shooting prowess. Unless you are going to challenge Steve Nash or Mark Price and beat them, it’s best to lay low. 

    Does anyone remember that the great Wilt Chamberlin was a career 51.1% free throw shooter or that rebounding beast Ben Wallace holds the record as the worst free throw shooter in NBA history at 41.5%?  No, because they were never out in public challenging mascots or housewives to free throw shooting contests.  Until you can beat a furry feline mascot, keep your free throw challenges behind closed doors, Dwight. 

Stop Trying to Be Like Shaq

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    There’s not too many things that get under Shaq’s skin quite like the public comparisons of himself and Dwight. 

    It could be the fact that Howard followed in Shaq’s footsteps as the next great big man leaving Orlando for Hollywood and the Showtime Lakers. 

    Or it could be due to Dwight hijacking Shaq’s nickname and insisting that he is the true ‘Superman.’   Be it as it may, Shaq has never been Dwight’s biggest supporter. 

    Dwight isn’t quite in Shaq’s fan club either.  Dwight has even went as far as impersonating Shaq in public on multiple occasions (which he’s quite good at it).  However, the one aspect of Dwight’s game that he impersonates Shaq far too closely is his free throw shooting deficiency. 

    Over the span of Shaq’s career he missed an astounding 5,317 free throws.   Dwight has missed 2,804.  Dwight might not be on pace to miss more free throws than Shaq, but when his career is all said and done it will be a close race for the not-so-coveted award.  If Dwight can learn anything from Shaq, it will be that missing free throws will continually leave him on the bench in crunch time.   

Hire a Shooting Coach

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    Before Dwight checks into a visit at a sports physiologist clinic, he needs to first re-evaluate the advice he is receiving.  Shooting coach Ed Paluninskas boldly stated that he could get Dwight to 95% from the line.  Wait, come again?! 95%? 

    There’s a better chance the lion mascot Baily starts an NBA game before Dwight Howard is shooting 95% from the free throw line. 

    No knock on Ed, but Dwight needs some realistic expectations.  Dwight’s personal goal, as he says is 90%, another unrealistic goal that he has fabricated in his head due to the false confidence from outside influences. 

    Let’s be serious Dwight, the highest percentage you have shot in your career from the line is 67% during your rookie season in Orlando.  Since then, it’s been all downhill.  A realistic goal for Dwight should be to shoot 67% from the line every season from here on out.  He has done it before, so there is proven evidence that he can actually do it. 

    And maybe, just maybe, one day he will be able to enter the ever-so-elite 70% free throw shooting club.  A club that contains legendary names such as…well basically everyone who has ever played in the NBA.  Dwight needs to set his expectations and goals at a reasonable level instead of shooting for the moon.  And, he might need to look into acquiring a new shooting coach.

Is the Stripe Too Close?

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    In the past, players who have struggled from the free throw line have attempted a variety of different things to rid their free throw shooting woes. 

    A few have even gone to the extent of moving back a couple feet behind the free throw line to attempt their shot.  Just ask former NBA sharpshooter Nick Van Exel, “I just tried it one day in practice and it seemed to go well, so I told the coaches I was going to try it in a game.”  Maybe Dwight needs to follow Nick’s lead and move a couple feet back and shoot a 17 footer instead of a 15 footer. 

    Maybe that’s it, maybe the free throw line is just too close for Dwight.  To further back up that claim, let’s check his career 3pt percentage :  2-40, 5%.   5%?!!  Ok, I take that back.  Dwight doesn’t need to move a couple feet back, he needs to petition the NBA and David Stern to let him move closer.  Perhaps he could try a different style and bring back the ‘granny shot,’ famed by legend Rick Barry. 

    After all, Barry was a career 90% free throw shooter.  If I’m Dwight, I’m trying anything that I possibly can to see the ball go throw the net on a consistent basis.  There’s one thing that hurts pride more than reverting to ‘granny shots’ form – shooting 57.6% from the free throw line.  To be honest, I think Dwight needs to skip shooting all together and just dunk it from the line. 

    He’s done it before in the dunk contest, he can do it again.  It’s either that, or figure out a way to fake an injury every time he gets fouled so the Rockets can get a sub in for him.  Or just learn how to make a free throw, that works too.