For Shaquille O’Neal, it was all about being the most dominant player ever. In his prime, when he was 100% focused on the game, there was no stopping him. It wasn’t just about size with Shaq; we’ve had a lot of big guys in the NBA. Shaq had tremendous feel and skill around the basket for a man his size. That combination made him deadly.
But the universe always gives the rest a chance. With Shaq, his kryptonite was his free throws. For his entire career, Shaq has a higher field goal percentage (58.2%) than free throw percentage (52.7%). Many of his teammates swear he would make 20-30 in a row in practice like it was nothing, but Shaq just couldn’t make them consistently with 20.000 people in the stands.
The 00/01 season was one of O’Neal’s best. Shaq averaged 28.7/12.7/3.7 per game and had 2.8 blocks per game. It was also one of his worst free-throw shooting season ever. O’Neal shot 51.3% from the charity stripe, and teams used it. That year Shaq had a personal high 13.1 free throw attempts per game. The percentage combined with the volume means he single-handedly made the best free-throw shooting team in the NBA, one of the worst.
Free throws are a fickle beast. A lot of great players have and had issues with the charity stripe. I mean, LeBron changed his routine more times we can count, trying to find a way to be comfortable shooting them. Yet, none of them were brave enough to try a style that is proven to work. Yes, the underhand shot, a.k.a. the granny shot.
The year he averaged 50 points a game, Wilt shot free throws underhanded and had his best percentage ever. He went from 50.4% in 60/61 to 61.3% in 61/62 – a 10.9% increase! Yet, the next year he went back to an inferior form, the overhand shot. As much as players claim they are ultimate competitors and would do whatever it takes to win, most of the time, that’s not the case.
“I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.”Shaquille O’Neal, Business Insider
The Lakers won the title that year despite Shaq dragging them from 1st to 29th in free throws. But with a better free throw shot, Shaq would’ve been as close to unbeatable as we ever had in the NBA. But then we wouldn’t have this.