NBA PM: Howard Begins MVP Campaign
What if one of the best players in the NBA left nearly five points on the table every game?
This guy is good for at least a dozen boards and two or three blocks per night; he can hit nearly 60% of his field goals; but for some reason, he can’t seem to cash in all of his chips.
That’s the situation Dwight Howard finds himself in, thanks to his 59.8% career-mark from the free throw line. Despite being a worthy MVP candidate last season, the Magic star averaged 4.7 misses per game at the free throw line. The good news is, as Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel reports, Howard has taken the initiative to hire famed shooting coach Ed Palubinskas.
The former LSU Tigers guard is an Australian-born former Olympian who holds the Guinness Book of World Records‘ high mark with 1,206 made free throws in one hour. Incredibly, he sank over 95% of his free throw attempts while setting the record. Palubinskas has already helped transform Magic forward Brandon Bass from a 63% free-throw shooter as a rookie to an 81.5% free-throw shooter last season, but he had less success in his brief stint with Shaquille O’Neal. Of course, Howard’s work ethic away from the court is among the best in the game, so Paluninksas definitely has an eager pupil to work with.
Normally a basketball player hiring a shooting coach wouldn’t be particularly big news, but Howard isn’t normal in any way (and it’s a slow news day, so back off). The guy led the league with 11.7 free throw attempts per game last season—three more per game than Kevin Durant, who ranked second in the category. Of course, Durant still made 7.6 free throws per game to Howard’s 7.0.
For the sake of argument, had Howard made 70% of his free throws last season—an achievable mark by most standards—he would have made 641 free throws as opposed to his actual tally of 546. So instead of averaging a career-high 22.9 PPG in 2010-2011, Howard would have a 24.0 PPG average, the Magic would have won more than six of the 13 games in which they played that were decided by less than three points, and maybe we’re talking about Howard as MVP instead of Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Remember, the Magic finished only four games behind the Celtics for the third spot in the East; so even a minor swing could have propelled Orlando to a higher seed in the playoffs, where they may have advanced past the Knicks (as the Celtics did) as opposed to their ultimate fate: losing to the Hawks in six games.
Obviously nobody can say for sure just how much better Orlando would have been had Howard made 10% more of his free throws, but it’s easy see how much room for growth exists for him as a player and the Magic as a team.
But the real value of Howard becoming a better free throw shooter will be felt in the paint.
Right now defenses have no motivation to defend Howard honestly: He’s too fast, too strong and too big. So opponents have dusted off the old Hack-a-Shaq to shave a handful of points off Howard’s total every night. But if Howard had the ability to penalize teams at the line, they’d only be wasting fouls by continuing to hack the big man. Could we see his already impressive field goal percentage move past 60, 65 or even 70%?
That’s what makes Howard such a memorable player. He pushes fans’ imaginations, making us all reconsider what is and what isn’t possible. Yes, his skill set revolves around his size and athleticism, but every nuance he picks up brings him that much closer to becoming the best player in the NBA.
MVPs are won in the offseason, and Howard might be working on his first right now.
Wall Follows Trainer to Vegas League
Wizards point guard John Wall has already studied under Joe Abunassar, and now he’ll play in the legendary trainer’s all-NBA Las Vegas League, Michael Lee of The Washington Post reported. The two-week league, which will start on Sept. 12, will include nearly 70 NBA players, as HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy originally reported earlier in the week.
The project was an obvious choice for Abunassar, who trains many top players at Impact Basketball during the offseason. One such player, Phoenix’s Jared Dudley, suggested that he would be the perfect candidate to set up a pro league in Las Vegas, which has been pining for an NBA team for quite awhile.
“I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Abunassar told Lee of his conversation with Dudley. “Once we did that, I’ve been getting calls from agents, players, saying, ‘I want a slot. I want a slot. I want a slot.’ It should be great.
“Our business is training players and getting them ready for the season, even though we don’t know when the season will start,” he continued. “This will be a great tool for them to play at a high level and get themselves in good shape.”
And of course, there will be plenty of peer pressure involved. Wall, for instance will be recruiting other Wizards to join him in Vegas.
“A guy like John, he’s going to get on the phone and get a couple of his teammates here, so they can play together,” Abunassar said. “The guys in Vegas, they are already dividing their teams. ‘I’ve got this guy, I’ve got that guy.’ Because I’ve been with Chauncey for 14 years, so we kind of defer to guys like that, with how what do you think is the best way to do it. We’re really looking at how to divide the guys up. We’ve gotten more and more calls with higher and higher level players. There is a reason they are in the NBA, they love to play hard and compete.”
Audiences may not get to see the games, but if Abunassar does decide to sell tickets, proceeds will go to charity.
“We do what we’re doing now anyway,” Abunassar said. “We’re expanding it now and had a tremendous response to guys wanting to come. It’s not a bad thing for them to come to Vegas, if they don’t mind coming. We’ve got the court. We’ve got the setup. It’s going to be great games and it’s going to the best of the best competing against each other. It’s going to be competitive and I think it’s going to be fun and a service.”
Coach K Takes a Side
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke squad beat the UAE National Team on Thursday, 86-66, but it was his comments to reporters in Dubai that grabbed headlines. According to Ashley Hammond of the Gulf News, Krzyzewski said he believes that salary caps and pay reduction are the only way to solve the NBA’s financial losses, and added his belief that the lockout will not prevent Team USA from taking gold at the 2012 London Games.
“I hope there’s at least some part of a season then it won’t have any affect,” he said. “In fact it would make our team fresher because they don’t have to play an entire NBA season. If they have any part of a season they’ll be fine. If there wasn’t an NBA season then it’s a matter of insurance and who will play. But we’ll tackle that later on.
“There’s no sense of urgency on our part—the US and Great Britain are the only two to have qualified. The rest of the countries are trying for the final ten spots.”
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