The Magic, of all teams, kicked off a debate that has been plaguing the NBA since Gregg Popovich started fouling Shaquille O'Neal, or maybe the strategy even dates back to Wilt Chamberlain and his famous clanking ability from the so-called charity stripe.
From a strategy perspective, it makes sense. If Howard is shooting only 49.2 percent from the foul line, the risk that he will make only one of two free throws and you can score two or three makes the gamble worth it. Maybe enough of it will discourage Howard and take him out of his game defensively or force Howard to the bench or else risk throwing the offense completely out of whack.
That is what Orlando did in scoring 40 points in the fourth quarter during the team's win a few weeks ago. The Rockets successfully bogged the game down too in securing a win over the Lakers following that Magic victory.
It frustrates Howard to no end. And it might be beginning to frustrate David Stern who cares about one thing probably more than anything — the show and product on the floor.
A broken rhythm and a slowed down game can only make that product more difficult to sell. It is obvious where he might stand as Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk notes:
I would have liked to have seen the rule changed to make the last-two-minute rule the whole rule. It was getting to a point last year where, [in the] first period, they were just grabbing players. I think that’s ludicrous.
We tried to change it to any time in the game because last year I guess it was everyone was fouling Tiago Splitter early on and the committee didn’t want to do it. And so that’s just the way it is. Because the reality is that there are a lot of basketball purists — and I understand that point of view — who say, ‘Hey, why don’t you learn to shoot foul shots? You’re supposed to be a pro.
The NBA has done something already. With two minutes left in the game a foul of a player off the ball results in a a free throw and the ball rather than two free throws. It was done to prevent the strategy from being used late in games. That has not stopped Popovich from doing it at the end of the third quarter. It was a wild strategy and it worked against Shaquille O'Neal for his Spurs.
And it continues to spread.
Henry Abbott of TrueHoop suggests giving teams the option to shoot free throws or take the ball out of bounds (maybe with a fresh shot clock?) to make the decision worthless.
Of course, the simple solution is for Dwight Howard to make free throws. That is what he is not doing this season. His 49.2 percent free throw shooting this year is just a tenth of a percentage point ahead of his 49.1 percent from last year. Howard has been getting worse at free throws, making the strategy useful to his opponents.
However, Howard is shooting 58.3 percent (42 for 72) from the foul line the past eight games and he has shot at least 50.0 percent from the foul line in those eight games. The last game he failed to shoot at least 50 percent was the loss to Orlando.
For now, the issue seems quiet. It should remain so until Howard hits a cold streak.