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The free throw factor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Swishing a free throw won't get you on the highlight reels.

Air-balling one might.

Just ask Dwight Howard. A clip of Howard bricking a crucial free throw against the Miami Heat this season has already generated nearly 250,000 views on YouTube.

You'd think for $19 million a year, the guy could at least hit the rim once in a while.

By now, Howard's free throw woes have been pretty well-documented. Howard, who has sat out the Lakers' last three games because of a shoulder injury, has missed 201 free throws this season.

To put into perspective just how dismal that is, listen to this. If we erase all of Howard's free throw attempts from the record, the NBA's total free throw percentage rises by nearly half a percent (75.2 percent with Dwight, 75.6 percent without him).

Considering that 436 NBA players not named Dwight Howard have attempted at least one free throw this season, that's pretty remarkable.

Howard (league-worst 49.6 percent from the line) has been like a hurricane of free throw awfulness this season. And the storm is starting to hit fantasy owners.

There's no denying Howard's incompetence from the free throw stripe (though Howard tried to convince ESPN's Stephen A. Smith that he was a 90-percent shooter from that distance in high school). But is Hurricane Howard a category five storm or more like a tropical disturbance?

Let's pretend Howard was an average free throw shooter. The league average from the line this season is 75.2 percent. Seventy five percent of 399 free throws is 300. That would increase Howard's point total for the season from 709 to 811. Add it all up and Howard's ppg average rises from 16.5 ppg (his lowest average since 2005-06) to a sparkling 18.9 ppg, which is actually 0.6 ppg higher than Howard's career average.

Howard enters Wednesday ranked as the 16th highest scorer in fantasy (49.7 fantasy ppg) and the seventh-highest scorer with center eligibility. If we replace his ugly 49.6 percent success rate from the line with the league average 75.2 percent, Howard becomes fantasy's eighth-highest scorer (53.2 ppg) and the third-most productive center.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Of course it does, but it's just not realistic. Centers aren't expected to shoot the league average from the free throw line. Take a gander at the league's average free throw percentage by position this season.

Point guards: 80.7 percent

Shooting guards: 80.5 percent

Small forwards: 75.2 percent

Power forwards: 71.6 percent

Centers: 67.1 percent

Based on this data, centers and power forwards shoot below the league average, guards shoot above it and small forwards shoot exactly the league average. So if "average" is what fantasy owners want from Dwight, the bar should be set at 67.1, not 75.2.

That's still a 17 and a half-percent improvement for Howard, so the change would definitely be noticeable for fantasy owners. By shooting 67.1 percent from the line, Howard's ppg average climbs to 18.1 ppg while his fantasy ranking leaps from 16th to 10th. He also jumps one spot ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge in the center rankings (Aldridge has eligibility at center and power forward in ESPN leagues).

As painful as it's been to watch Howard approach free throw shooting like a game of beer pong, you could make the argument that he's actually not the league's most disappointing free throw shooter.

As I said earlier, our expectations are much lower for centers. It's the guards and forwards we expect to cash in from the line.

Denver's Andre Iguodala (60.2 percent) and Atlanta's Josh Smith (49.7) have been almost as bad as Howard but they don't have the "I'm a center, I'm supposed to be bad at free throw shooting" excuse to fall back on. Iguodala is shooting 20.3 percent below the league average at shooting guard while Smith has disgraced his position by shooting 25.5 percent worse than the average small forward.

Flip a coin and you'll find Memphis center Marc Gasol on the other side of it. Pau's bro is hitting a phenomenal 87.8 percent on free throws this season. That's practically unheard of for a player his size (7-foot-1, 265 pounds). The last center to shoot that well from the charity stripe was Danny Fortson for the Seattle Sonics back in 2004-05 (88 percent).

If Gasol shot the league-average (67.1 percent for centers), his 13.5 ppg average would fall to a much more pedestrian 12.7 ppg. Also, his fantasy ranking would drop from 38th to 41st (either way, he'd still occupy 13th in the center rankings).

Notice that Gasol only falls three spots by shooting the league average. Remember, Howard hopped from 16th to 10th in the rankings when we upped his success rate to 67.1 percent. That's because Howard has gone to the foul line more than twice as often as Gasol (181 attempts in 47 games).

This illustrates the major point I'm trying to make. Poor free shooters won't totally sink your team, especially if they don't go to the line that often. But they do add up after a while, especially if you're a Howard owner.

Who knows why Howard, a 58.2 percent free throw shooter for his career, is struggling so mightily this season. It could be his aching shoulder or maybe it's all mental.

Fantasy owners don't care what the reason is. They just need him to do better.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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