Centers' Little Helper

Dennis Hans, unrenowned former adjunct professor of mass comm and American foreign policy, relentlessly exposed the Bush administration’s “techniques of deceit” BEFORE the Iraq war, when it could have made a difference (see links). For decades he has fought baseball’s discrimination against lefthanded infielders and promoted his ingenious clockwise solution. A lifelong advocate for a flowing, non-brutal, flop-free NBA, he now champions the cause of its second-class citizens: the centers.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Einstein declares Dwight Howard insane
Albert Einstein, widely regarded as one of the smartest cats of all time, is said to have defined "insanity" thusly: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Here is Dwight Howard, after missing 12 of 21 free-throw attempts December 2 in a humiliating Laker loss to his old team, the woeful Orlando Magic: "I'm going to continue to practice," he said. "That's all I can do, is continue to practice and they'll start falling."

Howard has now practiced his way to a career-low .465 from the line, surpassing last season's career low of .491, which surpassed his previous career low (.586 in 2006-07) by a whopping margin.

The poor guy is at his wit's end. Year after year he practices free throws more than anyone else on the planet, regularly making in the vicinity of 80 percent, but rather than seeing this translate to progress in games, he instead has gone from bad to worse. Six seasons of stagnant stinkiness hovering around 59 percent have been followed by last season's free-fall and more of the same in 2012-13.

Is there no one in the Laker organization, his management team or his family who can persuade him that making 80 out of 100 in twenty minutes while a coach or pal tosses you the ball does not make you an 80-percent free-throw shooter? You could just as easily be a 50, 60 or 70 percenter. A guy or gal who shoots 80 percent in games probably makes 85 or 90 in such an artificial, easy-to-succeed setting. This can mask flaws, because it persuades the player there's nothing wrong with his shot. Before he knows it, he's thinking it must be in his head and he's heading for the couch of the nearest sports psychologist.

As I pointed out last week, Howard needs to ask himself just what is it about the way he shoots that makes him such a poor free-throw shooter in games. Why, for instance, is it so easy for him to shoot way long or way short? Why such a wide range on his distance-related misses? And why does a player of such obvious grace and coordination look nothing of the sort at the stripe? The only exception, as I've stated many times (see the links here), was his rookie year, when he shot a career-best .671. He started listening to assistant coaches in Season 2, and he hasn't shot well or looked coordinated at the line since.

Howard also needs to face the fact that just because a retired player shot well doesn't mean he will be of any use as a shooting coach. He should realize this by now, having spent several seasons with Patrick Ewing, an off-season and shortened regular season (2011-12) with Ed Palubinskas (maybe the world's greatest contest shooter at the line and behind the 3-point arc), and that same shortened season with the magnificent Mark Price.

Let's not forget Stan Van Gundy, who shot .859 in college, including a perfect 33 for 33 his sophomore season. He's been a basketball coach his entire adult life, but if he had any useful shooting advice for Howard in their five years together, I haven't heard it and it definitely didn't stick.

Chuck Person, a Laker assistant coach who is Howard's current guiding light, was himself mediocre from the stripe (.723 for his career) despite being a deadly long-range shooter. Person seemed quite pleased with himself this preseason as he outlined the flaws he detected in Howard's form and how he ironed them out. The results have been downright amazing. But only in practice!

Bob McAdoo was, in my opinion, a better mid-range jumpshooter than Dirk Nowitzki. Yet Shaq went from bad to worse in the three-plus seasons they worked together in Miami. As a Laker, Shaq didn't seem to benefit from brief stints working with deadeye Dennis Scott and Magic Johnson (perhaps the most underrated shooter in NBA history), though the .527 career clunker did have a 100-game stretch of 62 percent amidst the three seasons he worked with the aforementioned Palubinskas. That was indispensable to the Lakers 2002 title run, for if Shaq hadn't got red hot with his illegal step-over-the-line delivery, Sacramento would have won the Western Conference Finals and, in all likelihood, the NBA crown.

Neither Price nor Dominique Wilkins, nor head coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — three really good shooters and a great one — have helped the supremely gifted Josh Smith develop a jumpshot or decent stroke at the line. (Price is a former Hawks assistant and Wilkins has been a Hawks executive throughout Smith's nine years in Atlanta.)

What most very good shooters have in common is this: Each knows how his or her shot works. That's really all they need to know as players, and it explains why perennial bricklayers don't improve despite being surrounded every day of their professional life by superb shooters. The sharpshooters around DeAndre Jordan or Andris Biedrins, for example, don't want to mess him up further by offering tips when they don't feel they have a good handle on what's wrong with his shot. So rather than risk making a bad situation worse, they leave it up to the coaching staff to address or ignore his shooting woes.

In conclusion, a former player might or might not make a good shooting coach. But Einstein would consider it insane to assume such would be the case, merely because he or she could light it up back in the day.

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