|Great form, Dwight. You always want to shoot the ball right out of your eye -- like lasers. (Getty Images)|
Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers lost by two points to the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were a very good team last year and are trying to figure out their way with Danny Granger sidelined for months, so it's not a horrendous loss by any means. However, the Lakers were at home against a struggling team and really should have pulled out this victory.
Even with Kobe Bryant battling the flu, the Lakers had more than enough chances to take control of this game and put themselves over .500 at 8-7. A big reason why the Lakers couldn't get anything going offensively or put points on the board was their atrocious free throw shooting. Los Angeles made just 23 of their 43 attempts against Indiana. That's a paltry 53.3 percent.
Bryant and Pau Gasol were off the hook in that respect, shooting a combined 17 of 19 from the line. Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Darius Morris and Antawn Jamison shot the rest of the 24 attempts, making just six of them. You can't even blame it all on Howard, even though he was 3 of 12 from the line. The other three players all went 1 of 4, respectively.
After the game, Mike D'Antoni seemed dumbfounded by their shooting woes. Via LA Times:
"That was not nice," D'Antoni said. "I haven't witnessed many times that you're one from 100 almost on the floor….it was awful, just bad shooting."
"We shouldn't miss 20 foul shots. Twenty is remarkable," D'Antoni said.
I did some digging on basketball-reference.com, and there have been nine teams since the 1985-86 season that shot at least 43 free throws and made no more than 23 of them. Five of those teams won their game but none of the teams came even close to shooting so poorly from the field. The Lakers shot 31.6 percent from the field in that game.
Since Howard turned 21 years old, his teams have never finished higher than 27th in the NBA in free throw percentage. The Lakers and their 66.8 percent from the charity stripe so far this season has them just above the last place Denver Nuggets (66.6 percent). Howard is shooting nearly one-third of the Lakers' free throw attempts this season, making his teammates' trips to the line even more valuable.
Even for Howard, his 47.8 percent from the line seems outlandishly low. He had a career-low last season of 49.1 percent and before that routinely shot at least 59 percent from the line (six of his nine seasons). There are plenty of psychological and physical explanations for why this abhorrent free throw shooting is taking place, but that's really on the Lakers and Howard to iron out.
Kobe, Gasol and World Peace all have had good years from the free throw line so far. Bryant's 87.1 percent from the line is his career best to date. Gasol has made 75.9 percent of his attempts (just above his career mark of 75.2 percent) and World Peace's 75 percent ties a career-high mark (if you throw out the 92.2 percent he shot in his seven-game 2004-05 season).
Everybody else on the team with a significant number of attempts is shooting 63.2 percent or worse. And even if Howard had connected on his career mark of 58.5 percent from the line so far this season, the Lakers' free throw percentage would still be 28th in the NBA. The question becomes, "can the Lakers make a title run and survive such disastrous free throw shooting?"
In the past 20 seasons, it's pretty rare that a poor free throw shooting team ends up winning the NBA title. The average free throw percentage rank of the last 20 NBA champions is 17th in the NBA. There were a couple of Tim Duncan-led teams and a couple of Shaquille O'Neal-led teams near the bottom of the league in free throw percentage and pulled off the feat, but Howard isn't exactly those guys.
And of the past five champions, the 2009 Lakers were the worst free throw shooting team of the bunch and they still ranked in at 14th in the league.
There's the idea that Steve Nash and his career 90.4 percent will come in and significantly raise the team's percentage. However, he's never attempted more than 4.1 free throws per game in a season and is under three attempts per game for his career. Nash will help but he certainly won't cure what is ailing the Lakers.
It's not impossible for them to win a title with such terrible free throw shooting, but the odds are certainly against them if they continue to struggle this dramatically at the line.