SHAQ tired of Hack-a-Shaq

Who says you can’t teach an old Shaq new tricks? Every time the Suns center questions opponents’ Hack-a-Shaq tactics, he sounds like someone making excuses for not hitting his free throws.Forgive me, Mr. Supersized Saguaro, but please don’t turn into a purveyor of fine whines and flambéed excuses. Your history as one of the NBA’s more dominating and entertaining players doesn’t mean it’s OK to shoot from the hip but not from the line.On Tuesday, Shaquille O’Neal called a team’s decision to intentionally foul him when it has a 10-point-or-more lead “cowardly.” His frustration is understandable. The tactic walks the fine line of sportsmanship and mocks the spirit of the game. It’s also well within NBA rules, and every time O’Neal reacts to it he sounds like someone with an accountability issue.Does 16-plus years in the league mean there’s no room for improvement?”No,” said Ed Palubinskas, a well-known shooting coach and former Olympian. “Shaq’s a great guy, but I just don’t think it matters to him anymore.”Doesn’t matter? That sounds a bit harsh. O’Neal cares. He often would stay after practice last season with then-Suns assistant Phil Weber and work on free-throw drills. But it does seem he’s given up going that extra mile because he feels all the coaches – and words of wisdom – over his long NBA career have done him little good.Palubinskas helped O’Neal during the 2000-01 season when his free-throw percentage with Los Angeles had dropped to 38 percent. It appeared to work, and he shot 68 percent over the last 15 games of the season. When O’Neal was left to his own devices, his struggles continued.His free-throw progression is a study in erraticism. Last season’s 50.3 percent mark is worse than his rookie effort of 1992-93, when he hit 59.2 percent.He incrementally shot worse Seasons 2 through 5, stayed around 52 percent Seasons 6 through 10 and hit his career high in 2002-03, when he shot 62.2 percent. He’s remained below 50 percent since, until last season. That number was the worst percentage in the NBA for those who qualified for league rankings based on participation. This preseason, he’s missed 8 of 12 attempts.It’s a curious phenomenon that many athletically gifted athletes – O’Neal certainly isn’t the only one – can stand 15 feet from their target with no one in their faces and miss. Sometimes badly.”The athleticism really has nothing to do with their shooting technique,” said Florida State assistant basketball coach Andy Enfield, the former NCAA record holder in free-throw percentage. “Some of it is hand-eye coordination, judging distance, things like that, but most of it is technique.”Enfield, who has worked with more than 100 NBA players, said one of his better pupils was the Suns’ Grant Hill. Early in his career, Hill, with Enfield’s guidance, changed his form from shooting from the left side of his face with a low release, to the right center of his body with a higher release point. It paid off. Hill steadily improved and last season’s 86.7 percent effort was the best of his career.”I’ve never worked with someone who worked as hard as Grant did,” Enfield said. “He was determined to get it right.”The Suns had two players rank at the top of the league last season in free-throw percentage. Steve Nash finished fifth (.906) and Hill 13th.It doesn’t take a physicist to see what O’Neal is doing wrong. He often delivers on an arc that’s almost flat. Over the years he has offered a variety of explanations for his struggles, including a short tendon in his shooting hand, a product of a childhood injury that did not heal properly.Others have suggested that his hands are too large to be successful at the line.”Nah,” Palubinskas said. “It’s simply a mastery of physical and technical techniques.”He believes if O’Neal could average just. 2.5 more free throws per quarter “he’d score 10 more points per game, be one of the NBA leaders in scoring, sit more and add two more years of playing time to his career”.


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