Hack-a-Shaq. … Dwight Howard: Clang! … Wilt Chamberlain trying underhanded attempts, failing, then planting himself two feet behind the line to casually flip up free throws, his face a mix of disdain and embarrassment.
Basketball, like most endeavors, has its share of stereotypes. And those that hang over this sport – white men can’t jump, Euros play soft, the last five minutes of an NBA game are all that matter – are like most in that they often contain some measure of truth but fail as generalizations.
So it is with the “big men are lousy free throw shooters” assumption. Many big men – Shaquille O’Neal, Howard, Chamberlain, Tim Duncan for vast chunks of his career – are or have been.
But then there is Marc Gasol, who is anything but. The Memphis center, in fact, is accurate enough from the foul line that he has a shot at making NBA history this season. He could become the first player to finish in the top 10 in both blocked shots and free-throw percentage.
It’s a weird combo on the order of the Olympics’ biathlon – skiing and shooting – but it is perfectly legit in Gasol’s case. As of Sunday morning, the 27-year-old from Barcelona ranked 10th in blocks (1.85) and 11th in free-throw percentage (.873).
He dipped a little in both Saturday night in Chicago after swatting just one Bulls shot and missing three of his eight free throws. But then, the Grizzlies did win, with Gasol scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime.
With 2:01 left in regulation, tied at 72-72, Gasol missed twice. That enabled the Bulls to grab a short-lived lead. But the big guy was back there 54 seconds later, and fans at United Center were disappointed when he snapped back to his accurate ways. ”The first set, I was thinking to myself, ‘What the hell?’ ” Gasol said. “But I got another chance and made both. Got back to normal.”
Gasol said his work at the line hasn’t fit the cliché of thousands of free throws in an otherwise empty gym. “It’s all in your head, really,” he said. “Concentration, keep the rhythm and just follow through. Keep your routine.
“My first three or four years, I was around the 70s, 75 [percent]. I never liked that. I always thought I had great hands, great touch, so I guess as you get older, you concentrate a little better.”
Even if Gasol doesn’t crack the top 10 in both categories – he was fifth last season in blocks – he could become only the third 7-footer in NBA history to shoot at least 88 percent from the foul line.
The others? Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki has done it seven times and Jack Sikma, who did it three times in his final four seasons with Milwaukee. Sikma hit 84.9 percent of his free throws over 14 seasons.
Gasol’s brother Pau is no slacker among the 7-footers, making 75.2 percent overall with a high of 82.3 in 2010-11.
Said Marc Gasol: “I’m not looking to any stats or anything. I’m just trying to play the game the way I see it and help my team win. It sounds like a cop-out but it’s the honest truth.”
Thwarts any Maul-a-Marc brainstorms, too.