The greatest fright of the Halloween just gone by? My nomination is the sight of a near 7-foot man of impressive build, dressed in some very elaborate underwear, shooting free throws in Philips Arena.
When Dwight Howard is at the line, there is always the potential for the stage version of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to break out. It can be as ugly and wince-inducing as the season premiere of “The Walking Dead.”
You do not know whether to avert your eyes from the carnage, or stare in slack-jawed fascination.
The good Dwight showed up for his debut at Philips hitting 3-of-4 from the line. Philadelphia didn’t think to even put him on the line in Game Two. Then came Monday night, versus Sacramento. Howard hoisted 20 shoots from 15 feet. And made but eight. And the numbers began adjusting themselves for a career 57 percent free throw man.
It is one of the great mysteries of life how anyone who spends half a lifetime in a gym can shoot no better than this. Like the pro golfer who can’t make the five-foot putt or the hitter who can’t put down a sacrifice bunt.
And the more Howard has worked, the more his accuracy has suffered. As demonstrated by his declining percentage the last three-plus seasons: 55 percent, 53 percent, 49 percent and (through just three games in 2016-17) 46 percent.
Howard is not alone in this deficiency, of course. Some of the best of his position have been butchers at the line. Wilt Chamberlain (51 percent career), Shaquille O’Neal (53 percent), Bill Russell (56 percent). Howard also keeps company currently with the likes of Detroit’s Andre Drummond (50 percent this season) and the Clippers DeAndre Jordan (42 percent).
Mind-boggling, isn’t it, to think that there is even one single thing on a basketball court that you are I could do better than some of the most outrageously blessed of the human species. (Of course, that might change after you or I try to run up and down the court three times and request an air sickness bag before taking our free throws).
It’s a free throw. Emphasis on free. They’re giving you points if only you will reach out and pluck them from the giving tree. To not do so is a sin against basketball.
Thankfully, the NBA has partially addressed the soul-crushing strategy – one that Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has been only too ready to employ – of intentionally hacking these big guys who can’t shoot straight. Now, fouls away from the ball in the last two minutes of every quarter, and on in-bounds plays, are worth one free throw – plus you keep possession of the ball.
For the other 10 minutes of every quarter, well, there’s the rub. If Howard can’t make enough free throws to discourage the assailants, that puts all kinds of nasty side-effects into play. The Hawks offensive flow suffers. There come times Howard might be a liability on the floor. And so many, many free points escape into the upper atmosphere (where I believe they destroy the ozone).
We are not asking the world here, Mr. Howard. We’ve asked so much already – that you do the dirty work of rebounding, that you play well with others, that you lend a new identity to a team squarely lodged in the mushy midsection of the NBA.
One more thing if you please: Bend those legs. Loosen up those tightly wound shoulders. Clear the chipmunks from your brain. And just make half your free throws. Anything more than that is sausage gravy.