Dwight Howard will once again dominate story-lines in the early part of the 2013-14 season. ‘D12’ endured a turbulent end to his time with the Orlando Magic and an awful year in LA with the Lakers. Now everyone is wondering whether Howard can finally settle down and find a happy home with the Houston Rockets, a team that he chose to sign with during the past free agency period. The latest report that Howard is shooting ‘blind free throws’ suggests that Howard may be comfortable, but that might not be a good thing for the Rockets and their championship ambitions.
Apparently Howard challenged teammate and excellent free throw shooter James Harden to a blind free throw shooting competition. The 27-year old came out on top sinking eight of 10 shots.
Now the point here isn’t whether Howard should or shouldn’t be shooting with his eyes closed. In fact, that strategy is a pretty well-respected strategy based on trusting form, technique and feel rather than focusing too much on the basket. If it is finally true, then it can only be a good thing if Howard is seriously attempting to address the issue of his free throw shooting this offseason.
The problem is that this all about showboating with Howard once again. He is saying ‘look at me, I hit eight out of 10 free throws with my eyes closed in one practice’. Sorry Dwight, but that isn’t anything to write home about given your career free throw performance. Howard has shot under 50% from the free throw line in each of the past two seasons. ‘Hack a Howard’ has even become a regular strategy for opposing coaches to utilize late in games. Star players have to be good enough to stay on the floor late in games. That is especially true when that player is such a valuable presence on the defensive end 0f the floor as Howard should be.
Howard has stated that he hopes to shot 75% from the line this season. Head coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets would probably accept an improvement to 65-70%.
The problem for Howard might be that his issue isn’t just technical, but also psychological. He clearly needs to adjust his technique and improve his form, but he will also need to become a stronger clutch performer and there are concerns about other aspects of his game in the big moments of matches.
As much attention as Howard will always attract. He might just be better saying less right now. He is in a good situation playing on a starting line-up where he has another superstar to lead the scoring in Harden, a very talented point guard in Jeremy Lin, some good scoring support from Chandler Parsons and decent inside help in Omer Asik.
Houston has a roster that is definitely capable of seriously challenging in the Western conference this year. Howard is a crucial piece in that puzzle and his ability to round out his game, find his comfort zone and mesh with his teammates, especially Harden, will be crucial in determining whether he pays off as an expensive gamble for Rockets or whether he is the centerpiece in a franchise that fails to get over the hump.
Howard starts the 2013-14 season healthy with a team that he has chosen and is presumably happy to play for. He has a line-up that he should be able to work with effectively, and is playing on a team that is deservedly being regarded as one of the major contenders in the West. He can hit blind free throws in practice as much as he wants. What Howard needs to do is start making free throws when his team needs him to step up. He can have as much fun as he wants, but Howard also needs to produce.