Free throws are probably the simplest part of the game of basketball. It is just the player and the basket from 15 feet away with nobody trying to stop you. Still, a handful of players in the NBA history just never seemed to figure them out. Some of the greatest players ever feared the charity stripe, and the most infamous free-throw misser ever, Shaquille O’Neal, never managed to master them in his illustrious 19-year career.
If you watched Shaq in his prime, then you know the league has never seen a more dominant player. His size and strength made him impossible to contain, causing him to get buckets with ease. The best example of that is that Shaq led the league in scoring twice, a feat very rarely achieved by big men. He was a scoring machine, but the question remains. Could Shaq have scored even more? That’s where the free throws come into play.
Shaq was such a poor free-throw shooter that coaches designed a new strategy famously named the “Hack-a-Shaq.” A strategy in which they would foul Shaq on purpose just to send him to the line where he would more than usually miss. How good could Shaq have been if he only managed to become an average free throw shooter? The answer will shock you.
During the first 11 years of his career in which he was arguably the best and most dominant version of himself, Shaq found himself at the line 10.5 times per game, amongst the most frequent shooters in the NBA. Unfortunately for him, he was making only 50% of those attempts. If he managed to shoot at the rate of the average NBA player(75%), his averages would have upped tremendously.
His points per game would go up by 3 points, making him a 30.6 ppg player for his first 11 years in the league. It may not seems that drastic of a change, but it would give him five additional scoring titles. A crazy feat for a center. And if he managed to shoot 75% for his whole career, his ppg average would have been 2.2 points higher. That would boost his total career points from 28 596 to 31 251 and make his dominant legacy even more impressive. Not to mention a few more MVP awards would have been more realistic in that scenario.
But unfortunately, Shaq was never known as the hardest worker, leaving that part of his game a liability and the only thing teams could do to stop him. The moral of the story: practice your free throws, kids!