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Dwight Howard’s Free Throw Shooting

Earlier this season, Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan tried to explain, and make excuses for, Dwight Howard’s inability to shoot 60% from the free throw line, and they mentioned Patrick Ewing’s frustration. Collins blamed Howard’s weight lifting, while Harlan blamed his size.

I never believed either of these excuses. Dirk Nowitski is as tall as Howard and he shoots 90% from the free throw line. Yao Ming is much taller than Howard and shoots 80% + from the line. As for lifting weights, I am not sure there is an NBA player who does not lift weights. I know Kobe Bryant lifts heavy weights and he usually ends the season around 80% from the line.

Instead, Howard has a problem with his form. More to the point, he has a problem with his consistency. In the first video, with Team USA, Howard’s mechanics look pretty good.

He has a little hitch as he brings the ball to his set point, but it’s not the shot of a 50% free throw shooter (of course, it’s not the shot of a 90% free throw shooter either). In the following video, there is a difference:

In the second clip, which is somewhat tough to see, Howard has a tendency to rotate his shoulder and then extend his elbow. He raises his arm as high as it goes, and then extends his elbow. When shooting like this, he eliminates most of the vertical force and flings the ball at the basket with his elbow extension. When I work with kids who shoot like this, I tell them they are “shooting darts,” as it is a similar motion to throwing darts.

To fix the problem, he needs his elbow extension to account for some of the vertical motion. Basically, he needs to eliminate the hitch at the top. However, even with such a high set point, he should make sure that his elbow moves higher as he extends his elbow rather than remaining at the same height as the elbow extends to the basket.

Also, with such a big player, I would use a wider stance.  I worked with a high school player who made less than 30% of his free throws  as a freshman. As a sophomore, he shot 60%. We worked on the same two things: a wider stance and more vertical push. He had a high release like Howard, and when he shot the ball up, then out, (like shooting out of a telephone booth) he improved his shooting percentages. And, he did so even while lifting weights religiously (he plays college football).

Howard’s form is not terrible. He takes his time. He has good hand placement. He relaxes. However, rather than rotating the shoulder and extending the elbow as one continuous motion, he rotates the shoulder, pauses and then extends the elbow. In this motion, he loses the vertical energy and shoots the ball at the basket. If he creates a more seamless transition between the shoulder rotation and elbow extension, he will shoot the ball with more arc and shoot with a softer shot, leading to more success.

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