By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
Every worker in every profession has skills which could be improved. For NBA players, the flaws in their games are much more apparent with thousands of fans watching them work each night.
The following eight players have clear holes in their games which, if cleaned up, could elevate their play to a new level.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets … Free throws
It would be one thing if Howard had always been this bad at shooting free throws. But he hasn’t. He shot 67 percent during his rookie season and averaged 59.8 percent over his first seven years in the league. In comparison, over his last two seasons he’s shot an average of 49.2 percent from the charity stripe (on 9.9 free throw attempts per game). That’s almost five points a night he’s leaving at the free-throw line. He can’t continue to shoot this poorly if he hopes to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers … Mid-range jumper
Griffin is as dominant as they come within five feet of the basket, where he shot 72 percent last season. Problems arise when he takes a few steps away and fires up his signature jumper — which he made at only a 34.5 percent clip. He must improve this shot to help the Clippers’ half-court offense, which was abysmal toward the end of last season. The addition of shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley somewhat lessens the importance of this facet of Griffin’s game.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves … Jump shot
Rubio is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league because of his court vision, his passing and his defense. But he continues to struggle — badly — with his shooting. The Spanish point guard shot a paltry 36 percent from the field last season, just 24.6 percent between 5-14 feet. His 3-point shot was equally bad at 29.3 percent. It’s obviously a giant hole in his young game and he will need to improve it quickly or defenses will be able to play away from him to cut off more of his passing lanes.
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans … Avoiding turnovers
This may have just been a product of a young point guard handling the majority of ball touches for the first time in his career. But the spike in turnovers for Holiday should be a focus of his offseason. He gave up the rock 3.7 times per game last season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Now a member of the Pelicans, Holiday will have a lot more backcourt talent to handle the ball and it would be a shock if his turnovers don’t decrease now that he’s no longer the No. 1 option.
Josh Smith, Detroit Pistons … Shot selection
Oh, Josh. So much talent. So little self-control. The incredibly athletic Smith is an elite finisher, converting on 70.3 percent of his shots within five feet last year with the Atlanta Hawks. But when Smith decides to attempt 2.6 3-point attempts per game, and hits at an ugly 30.3 percent clip, that kind of negates the good. Now teamed up with big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in Detroit, Smith may see extended playing time at the small forward position … which means he’ll be farther away from the basket more often. That’s probably not a good thing.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks … Finishing
Jennings is an explosive point guard with enough quickness to blow by most players, but his inability to finish makes his speed a whole lot less useful. The main reason Jennings struggles around the hoop is his strong preference to use his left hand. Many times during last season, Jennings would pass up an easy right-handed layup for a more difficult left-handed attempt. This maddening decision-making played a part in him connecting on only 39.6 percent of layup attempts, according to NBA.com/stats. This flaw is a likely reason why he is still a restricted free agent.
Andrea Bargnani, New York Knicks … Rebounding
Fans in Madison Square Garden will now get the chance to witness Bargnani, the former No. 1 pick and one of the worst rebounding big men in the league. Last season, Bargnani recorded a guard-like rebounding percentage (which measures how many available rebounds he grabs) of 7.4 percent. That number is bested by players like Greivis Vasquez, Ricky Rubio and Alec Burks. For comparisons sake, teammate Tyson Chandler grabbed 19 percent of his available rebounds. Knicks fans may be surprised to see how little he brings to this particular aspect of the game.
David Lee, Golden State Warriors … Interior defense
Lee is scheduled to return for the beginning of the 2013-14 season after he suffered a torn hip flexor near the end of last season. Upon his return, the offensively skilled big man will need to shore up his interior defense which was beautifully exposed by Kirk Goldsberry for Grantland. A healthy Andrew Bogut should be able to help Lee some, but Lee will need to improve if the high-powered Warriors expect to make a deep playoff run.