Mark Price is the greatest free throw shooter in NBA history. Beginning with his rookie year in 1986, and for the next 12 seasons, Price was almost automatic at the foul line, making 90.4 percent of his 2,362 attempts.
Dwight Howard is the premier center in the NBA today, sure to go down in history as one of the greatest big men of all time. The only flaw in Dwight's game is at the free throw line, where in his eighth NBA season, he is shooting a career-low 49 percent.
Howard, meet Price. Price, now an assistant coach for the Magic, is assigned the task of helping Dwight Howard improve his foul shooting touch.
Price joined the Magic staff in December, just prior to the start of this shortened season, and after taking a wait and see approach with Howard early on, Price recently finds the superstar center most receptive to his shot coaching expertise.
"I've heard he's always shot them (free throws) well in practice, but it doesn't carry over into the games," Price says, "The old saying is true practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."
Mid-season is no time for a complete overhaul to a player's shooting mechanics. That work must be done in the off-season, when there's plenty of time to focus and get ample reps to make a difference. So Price is trying to make just a couple of small adjustments in Howard's free throw shooting approach that will help in the short run, and be a foundation to build on for the future.
"Good free throw shooters shoot the same way every time," Price says. "What we're trying to do is simplify Dwight's stroke."
Early in the season, Howard held the ball down low before beginning his shooting motion. The idea now is to begin the free throw routine holding the ball up higher, so there is less movement (and less room for error) before the shot commences. Then when the shot begins, Price says the release point is critical.
"We're working on Dwight releasing the ball higher, lifting his elbow so that he gets more lift on the shot. When he doesn't do this, he shoots it flat, and that's when he has problems."
Working with these basic concepts, Howard has seen recent improvement in his free throwing shooting. Over the last five games, Dwight has hit 62 percent at the line not a great number, but a significant jump from the first 21 games. And Price, the man who in 1993 hit 77 free throws in a row, took great pleasure in watching his star pupil knock down 10 consecutive free throws last week against Washington. Small steps.
Through the years we've seen Howard's foul shooting fortunes rise and fall and wondered what it would take to help the games greatest big man unlock the door to solving his one glaring weakness. It could be that the game's greatest free throw shooter has the key.