OKLAHOMA CITY — Dwight Howard was last man standing at the free-throw line following Friday morning’s shootaround. As the big man shampooed, rinsed and repeated, so to speak, Steve Nash looked on and at one point motioned his hands as if shooting an invisible basketball, presumably giving Howard a tip to follow through.
“He was just suggesting some things,” Howard said. “It’s not something we already talked about or anybody else has suggested, but my mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw. I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up with what everybody else is saying because that’s when I miss.”
Howard is the league’s most scrutinized foul shooter and having been the victim of a recent string of Hack-a-Dwight or Hack-a-Howard or Hack-a-whatever, the heat’s been jacked up on his wretched 46.9 percentage — and falling — from the stripe.
And boy, whether it’s Los Angeles Lakers assistant and designated Dwight free-throw coach Chuck Person, a 72.3 percent free throw shooter in his day, or Nash, who rarely misses unguarded from 15 feet, Howard seems to be ready to shut it all off.
He seems so frustrated by a virtual encyclopedia of mechanical adjustments and ever-changing deliveries fogging his mind that he feels like a 6-foot-10 pretzel when he tries to implement it all at the stripe.
Teammate Kobe Bryant suggested that Howard must face this daunting issue and take it on “head first,” as in, “This is something that I have to conquer; this is something I have to master.”
Kobe expressed confidence that Howard will figure it out, just as he said Shaquille O’Neal worked hard on his free throw struggles: “It really meant a lot to him and he took on that responsibility.”
A gentle message to Dwight? There’s more. Kobe delivered the next passage to the entire Lakers team, whose collectively poor foul shooting, 66.7 percent, ranks dead last in the NBA and has cost them at least a couple of games.
“I think it’s taking a responsibility when you’re at the free throw line: ‘I’m bearing the responsibility of my team on my shoulders at this moment,’ ” Kobe said. “It’s holding that significance when you step to the free throw line every single time.”
Kobe also provided an interesting take on the root of Howard’s miserable, career sub-60 free-throw percentage. It hardly goes down as law, but it’s as good as any other theory:
“I think it all depends on how you were raised, how you’re taught the game from the beginning,” Kobe said. “That’s why it’s such a critical thing in how we develop our players growing up, whether it’s AAU and all these other camps. I think they pretty much wanted [Howard] to play inside the paint his entire career. Ever since he was 12 years old they wanted him to dunk everything and finish everything at the rim; didn’t want him shooting because he was bigger than everybody. As a consequence they left out the shooting aspect of his game.
“That’s in contrast to some of the European players who are taught at an early age how to play all aspects of the game, the ball handling, the shooting. I think it’s really just about our system here in the States and how we teach kids how to play.”
For now, Howard, 27-for-66 (40.1 percent) from the free-throw line in his last five games, will step up tonight in OKC determined to shoot ’em his way.