Dwight Howard: 'I Was a 90 Percent Free-Throw Shooter in High School'

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

For the Los Angeles Lakers to turn around what's been a disastrous 2012-13 season, they'll need to get their offseason coup, Dwight Howard, back on track.

And for Howard to elevate his play to that befitting an All-Star Game starter, he'll need to rid himself of the mental demons that have plagued his many trips to the free-throw line.

On the season, he has connected on just 49.6 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe. Of the qualifying players on NBA.com, he ranks dead last among the 124 who are eligible.

To make matters worse, that percentage actually represents a half-point increase from what he shot last season as a member of the Orlando Magic.

While his career 58.2 free-throw percentage may suggest otherwise, Howard claims his struggles at the line all stem from an all-too-involved thought process during his free-throw routine.

In fact, he told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that he was a 90 percent shooter during his high-school days.

If his claims are to be trusted, then those free-throw demons greeted him unceremoniously during his rookie season of 2004-05. The 90 percent shooter turned into a 67.1 percent shooter that season. 

He's never finished above 60 percent in the seven-plus seasons since.

With Howard slumping through another abysmal free-throw-shooting season, he's become (or continued to be) a late-game liability. The majority of his offensive chances come inside or near the restricted area. So, rather than afford him a point-blank look at the basket, defenders simply wrap him up and force him to beat them from the line.

In other words, it's not a coincidence that Howard holds the NBA record for most free-throw attempts in a single game with 39 (via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports), a record that stood for 50 years.

He doesn't have the worst shooting form the league has ever seen, and he's actively sought out help for improving his motion. During the lockout of 2011, he forged an agreement to secure free-throw-shooting coach Ed Palubinskas to help him refine (or reinvent) his delivery.

Palubinskas had previously worked with former Lakers big man Shaquille O'Neal to—shall we say—mixed results.

If the early returns are any indication, that partnership has yet to pay any tangible dividends for Howard either. Since the pairing was formed in 2011, Howard has put forth the two worst free-throw-shooting performances of his NBA career.

Perhaps the big man's claim that his struggles are mentally based does have some merit. It would certainly explain some of his unbearable late-game offerings at the line.

To be fair, his recovery from April 2012 back surgery and a nagging shoulder injury could not have made his trips to the line any less strenuous.

But for Lakers fans hoping to get a glimpse of a newfound free-throw proficiency anytime soon, history is clearly not in their favor.

Unless, of course, Howard's being truthful about his past successes.