Has Dwight Howard Finally Learned How to Shoot Free Throws?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets take a free throw during the game against the Orlando Magic at Toyota Center on December 8, 2013 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Go outside and check for flying pigs. 

Dwight Howard has turned into a sharpshooter, meaning that the apocalypse is nearly upon us and the world will suddenly be plunged into an eternal state of darkness where down is up and left is right.

In a 116-112 victory over the Golden State Warriors, D12 managed to not only knock down a three-pointer, much to the delight of the Houston Rockets bench, but he also drilled all seven of his free-throw attempts. 

First, the triple: 

That was clearly a novelty act.

It's not suddenly going to become a large part of Dwight's repertoire, and it was only the third make of his career in 43 attempts. Howard has never made two three-pointers in a single season, but now he has a whole bunch of games left to change that. 

More important is the free-throw shooting, as this was the continuation of a season-long trend. But before we get into the progression of his performance at the foul stripe, let's talk about just how unique this particular outing was. 

Prior to the victory over the Dubs, Howard had been perfect at the charity stripe only 32 times in his professional career, per Basketball-Reference. Just once had he done so for the Houston Rockets, knocking down both of his attempts on Nov. 29 against the Brooklyn Nets

This was only the seventh time that D12 had ever made all of his attempts while taking at least five foul shots, and it's the first such game since March 8, 2009, back when he was playing with the Orlando Magic. In fact, the only time he'd ever topped this outing was in 2005, when he went 8-of-8 against the Sacramento Kings

Going into this game, he'd shot exactly seven free throws 35 teams in his career. Only four times had he missed only once, and he'd never made all of them. Until Dec. 13. 

Not on Friday, Dec. 13. You definitely don't want to do that. 

Beating the Dubs in such fine fashion also allowed Howard to get a little goofy, as he was clearly proud of his performance at the line: 

But this is about so much more than the historic nature of his night, as it's the latest step in the positive direction. Free-throw attempts are about form, but they also depend on confidence. No shot in basketball is more exposed, as the action literally grinds to a halt and requires the attention of the arena—and the viewers of the television broadcast—to hone in completely on the shooter. 

Lately, Howard has been shooting the ball with—gasp—confidence. 

It's hard to remember, but D12 was actually a decent free-throw shooter at the beginning of his career. Well, even that might be a bit hyperbolic, but he wasn't always completely awful: 


Notice when the drop-off occurred? 

It came during his final season with the Orlando Magic—one that was plagued by injury and unhappiness—and continued during his one go-around with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now it's trending back up. 

That final data point actually comes before factoring in the historic 7-of-7 performance. Once it's included, Dwight's percentage rises up to 57, which would be up in that pre-unhappiness portion of the chart. 

But don't expect it to stop rising. Here's one more trend for you: 


Howard keeps getting better this season, and the same is true if we break down his season into smaller chunks: 


In the above graph, each data point represents a four-game set. During his past four, he's actually made 66 percent of his shots at the charity stripe, and that's true for the four-game set just prior as well. 

Though the trend is no longer on an unbroken rise when broken down like this, it's still a positive one. 

All of a sudden, Howard is turning into a competent shooter at the charity stripe, a development that shouldn't shock anyone who has seen the big man loft up practice shots when the score doesn't actually count. 

There's no doubt that he has the technique necessary to look good at the foul line.

Need video evidence? Fine, we've got it: 

But making the transition from practice to real-time action has always been the problem for D12. And what is that if not a mental problem? Also supporting that is this quote from The Wall Street Journal's Jordan Teicher

While the Hack-a-Howard strategy may work once or twice, opposing coaches who use it repeatedly have faced diminishing returns. Entering Thursday's play, when Howard attempts 15 on more foul shots in a game, his percentage improves to 59.2 percent. The winning percentage of Howard's teams also rises from 57.9 percent (356-258) in games when he shoots fewer than 15 foul shots to 61.9 percent (65-50) in games when he takes 15 or more foul shots.

Once you see 'em go down, it's easier to make 'em go down. That applies to games in which he's shooting a lot, and it also applies to streaks that span multiple games. 

That's why it's so encouraging to see Howard knocking down free-throw attempts with consistency. It's always been in his head, but it was in a negative way during the past. What if he now convinces himself that he's a quality shooter and shores up his biggest weakness? 

It could happen. 

This 7-of-7 outing was the cherry on top of a delicious sundae, one comprised of plenty of makes during the 2013-14 season. All signs point toward him adding some fudge and sprinkles during the rest of the season. 

If that's the case, look out for the Rockets.