Howard says improved free-throw shooting will stop Hack-a-Dwight

You better be able to make free throws or you can count on being intentionally fouled on the orders of Mike Budenholzer.

The Hawks coach has made a practice of the Hack-a-(Insert name here) strategy. It became a late-game option in the NBA when Shaquille O’Neal became the easy mark. In this three seasons, Budenholzer has done it in the middle of games to break an opponent’s flow or momentum. He has done it at the end of games to get a dominant player off the floor in crunch time. Some of those who have been on the receiving end are Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.

Wait? Dwight Howard?

The center is now a member of the Hawks. His poor free-throw shooting could be an issue at the end of games for the Hawks as it has for opponents in previous seasons.

The NBA did take a step to curb some of the deliberate away-from-the-play fouls but not eliminate the strategy entirely. This summer the league’s Board of Governors voted to alter the rule.

The current rule for away-from-the-play fouls applicable to the last two minutes of the fourth quarter and last two minutes of an overtime period will be extended to the last two minutes of each quarter. The rule calls for the fouled team to be awarded one free throw and retain possession of the ball.

In addition, a defensive foul at any point during the game that occurs before the ball is released by the inbounding player, including a natural basketball action such as a fighting through a screen, will be administered in the same fashion as an away-from-the-play foul committed during the last two minutes of any quarter. It will also presumptively be considered a flagrant foul if a player jumps on an opponent’s back to commit a deliberate foul.

“I don’t know about none of the rules,” Howard said. “I go out there and play and that’s my job. Obviously, that has been a strategy used to try to win games, just like any other strategy. But I think the way to stop that is by simply making the free throw. We know there is pressure but I hate talking about it so much to where I get in the game and I’m thinking ‘Oh, I have to make this free throw because if I miss I might sit down or they are going to talk about it on TV.’ If I miss a free throw, I miss a free throw. It’s just like missing a jump shot, missing a layup or missing a possession on the floor. It’s just not putting too much pressure on myself.”

Last season, Howard shot a career-low .489 (232 of 474) from the free-throw line. His career-best came as a rookie when he shot .671 from the line as a member of the Magic. It was the only in his 12 seasons that Howard shot better than 60 percent from the line.

“The league is taking a step toward reducing the intentional fouling away from the ball,” Budenholzer said. “When you have a player like Dwight who can have the impact that he does at both ends of the court, I think in an ideal world, Dwight is going to improve as a free-throw shooter this year. I think the time and effort that he has put in this summer and that he will put in daily, I’m going to enter the season with a lot of confidence in Dwight in a lot of different areas. He’s going to be critical to our success. We’ll learn to manage a game and make sure that he’s having as big an impact as he can.”

It remains to be seen once the regular season begins whether Howard can make his free throws should an opponent employ the Hack-a-Dwight strategy and hence remain on the floor. It’s worth noting that Howard went 1 of 7 from the free-throw line during the Hawks’ team scrimmage on Saturday.

As for the Hawks continuing to employ the strategy, Budenholzer said the new rule will be limit its use, especially on out-of-bounds and dead ball situations. However, players such as Drummond and Jordan will not be completely off the hook.

“If and when there are opportunities to take advantage of it, we will continue to do that,” Budenholzer said.

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