Remember how bad Shaquille O’Neal was from the free-throw line during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers? Remember how terrifying it used to be when teams would go to the hack-a-Shaq defense on him and how frustrating his responses would be on nights he shot poorly?
Little did we know there was actually another direction other than up from his ability at free points.
Lonzo Ball (43.6 percent) is a worse career free-throw shooter than Shaq (52 percent over his career). This season, Ball is considerably worse than O’Neal, shooting a frigid 41.3 percent from the line. Ball is a point guard.
Yet with all that as reference, Luke Walton doesn’t think Ball needs to change his form from the line.
“No, I’m not gonna speak on his form or routine. In practice he’ll sit there and he’ll make 25 or 30 out of 35. He sits there and he’ll hit ‘em,” Walton told reporters before Wednesday night’s win against Detroit.
Walton explained that making changes midseason can be tough, then added, “I think the more he continues to play aggressively and the more he gets to the line, he’ll get more comfortable there and he’ll knock them down.”
First thing’s first, it probably isn’t great when you’re bragging about your starting point guard knocking down 71 percent (25-35) of his free throws in practice. Even Shaq used this defense of his free-throw shooting and had the decency to
lie to us tell us that he would make nearly all his free-throws in practice. It’s really no wonder Ball is shooting so poorly in games if he’s this bad in practice.
Walton makes an altogether fair point when he says Ball needs to get to the line more so as to build comfort there, but even that is a somewhat ridiculous statement as Ball very obviously avoids getting fouled at all costs.
This idea that the problem will just fix itself is the type of thinking that’s put roadblocks in the development of several of the Lakers’ young players. It’s one thing to entrust a professional with a hands-off approach if they’re putting in efficient work that yields results.
It’s quite another when a player is quite literally the worst at his position at an important aspect of the game and has actually gotten worse over the course of his career and that lack of comfort in that aspect of the game has a ripple effect throughout the rest of his talents.
The definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and hoping it yields different results. Ball can attempt as many free-throws in practice as he wants but so long as he practices the same bad habits, he’ll continue to struggle. Does this mean Walton has to stand there and watch each attempt from over Lonzo’s shoulder? Of course not.
But for the love of God, Lakers, please hire a shooting coach who can at least steer Ball and his teammates in the right direction in what is a very important facet of the game. They’re literally giving away points. At least Ball’s teammates don’t allow their ineptitude from the line affect how they play, but he does. There’s just no reason to keep watching him struggle like this.
The rebuttal to hiring a team-wide shooting coach is that NBA players tend to have their own guy, which, fine. If they have their coach whom they trust, then they can continue working with them. But at least make a shooting coach available as an option. It’s maddening that something as elementary as a shooting coach is something we have to ask for.
Understanding and getting along with people is arguably Walton’s best talent, but in this case, his laid back approach is a disservice to the both Lonzo and the Lakers. Completely refiguring Ball’s shot is obviously out of the question, but someone has to step in and at least lay the foundation upon which Ball can start to figure this out.