Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers Fall to Jazz

Jared Newman, CineSport—Kobe Bryant's 34-point effort wasn't enough to keep the Lakers from losing to the Jazz on Sunday night, 117-110. Jordan Hill added 17 points and Jodie Meeks contributed 16 points off the bench.

With the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard during the offseason and the hiring of Mike D’Antoni five games into the season, it seemed like Showtime was going to return to Los Angeles.

However, the Lakers have been struggling to win games let alone dominate as was expected and two of their stars, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, are out with injuries.

Hack-A-Howard hasn’t helped matters either.

This season, Dwight Howard has been shooting a career-low 47.7 percent from the charity stripe, so the strategy has been used often in games where the Lakers are leading in the fourth quarter.

Howard’s back problems are probably the main reason why he has fared so poorly, but he has regressed from the free-throw line since the beginning of his career and his back problems can’t take all of the blame for that.

Based on repetition alone, it would make sense for his free-throw shooting to have gotten better (if only mildly) over the years, but Howard’s best season from the line came when he was a rookie and he made 67.1 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Chances are Howard hasn’t made fine-tuning his form on his free-throw shot a priority since joining the NBA, but Kobe Bryant thinks America’s current system of developing young basketball talent should be held responsible for Howard’s struggles.

What he points out is that his coaches “wanted (Howard) to play inside the paint his entire career, ever since he was 12 years old...If you contrast that with some of the European players growing up, they're taught at an early age how to play all aspects of the game.”

What Kobe said makes sense despite the fact that Howard lacks a reputation for being a hard worker.

There’s less thinking when you’re a kid learning something new. Everything is just absorbed. So perhaps if Howard were taught the proper mechanics for shooting free throws early on, he wouldn’t be shooting this poorly from the line.

It’s unrealistic to think that Howard would be a 90 percent free-throw shooter if he had just happened to have been born in Europe, but playing the what-if game isn’t going to change the fact that Howard can’t make free throws at an efficient rate.

David Stern must understand as well as anyone that Howard probably won’t vastly improve from the free-throw line anytime soon and there will be players who struggle from the free-throw line like him for years to come.

As a result, what he may try to do is alter the off-the-ball rule to extend it from just the last two minutes of the fourth quarter to the full game, and it looks like he is already in the process of trying to instill that change.

On Wednesday night, as a guest on the New Orleans Hornets’ broadcast, he implied that is what he plans to do, saying, “I would have liked to have seen the rule changed to make the last two-minute rule the whole rule.”

The question is whether or not the rule actually should be changed.

Basketball purists may say that fouling off-the-ball is part of the game, and that it should stay. But their argument doesn’t change the fact that the NBA is a product and Stern’s priority is to make the league as entertaining as possible.

As much as a rule change would seem to favor the Lakers, most fans would probably be in favor of it since it is a letdown to watch Dwight Howard shoot one free throw after the next at the end of close games when the excitement should be at its highest level.

For those who think Howard should be taken out of the game in the fourth quarter to avoid being fouled, Mike D’Antoni has made it clear that he is not going to bench one of his best players when the game is on the line.

Fans watching the game would surely agree with D’Antoni’s approach.

Upon closer examination, this rule change would not help the Lakers as much as it would initially appear.

Howard will always have to shoot a lot of free throws since he operates so close to the basket, so it isn’t as if the Lakers would never have to deal with their star center’s poor foul-shooting if Hack-A-Howard came to an end.

Whenever Howard goes up for a shot within three feet of the basket, which is where approximately 70 percent of his shots have come from this season, there’s a good chance that he’ll get fouled because defenses are never willing to give a player (let alone a superstar who struggles to make free throws) such an easy look at the rim.

In fact, Howard has averaged at least 10 attempts from the line per game since the 2007-08 season and he actually shot more free throws in 2010-11 than he does now. Yet he shot the best free-throw percentage of his career since he was a rookie during that season, which means teams weren’t even using Hack-A-Howard then and he was still getting to the free-throw line more often than he has been in 2012-13.

Overall, changing the rule would make Laker games more watchable this season, but it would also protect every team’s fan base from having to watch one of their stars getting hacked in the future. The rule change would ultimately be better for everyone in the long run.

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