Wizards Cash In on Some 'Free' Advice

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Even when he misses a free throw this season, which is not nearly as often as in the past, Wizards center Brendan Haywood doesn't worry too much about it. He simply waits for a chance to consult with assistant coach-player development Dave Hopla and makes the necessary adjustment the next time he steps to the line.

Haywood, who is shooting a career-best 73.3 percent from the free throw line after making a career-worst 54.8 percent of his attempts last season, credits much of the improvement to work he's done with Hopla, a super-energetic shooting expert who joined Coach Eddie Jordan's staff over the summer.

"The key was developing consistency. He came and worked with me this summer in Charlotte and even now in games, he's always reminding of little things like keeping my balance or keeping my elbow locked in the right position, and that has made a difference," said Haywood. "When I miss now I know why. In the past when I missed or went into a bad slump, I was up there just hoping and wishing."

Heading into tonight's game against the Toronto Raptors, Haywood is hardly the only Wizard who has improved as a shooter at the free throw line and at other spots on the court.

Seven Wizards have raised their free throw percentages this season, and as a team the Wizards rank fourth from the stripe (79.5 percent) after finishing last season ranked 11th (76.5 percent).

No player has been more effective at the line than Caron Butler, who is shooting a career-best 91.5 percent and has made 70 consecutive free throws. Butler -- a career 85 percent free throw shooter -- is within striking distance of the single-season record of 78 consecutive made free throws set by former Houston Rockets guard Calvin Murphy during the 1980-81 season.

The NBA record was established by former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Michael Williams, who made 97 straight spanning the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.

Like Haywood, Butler has worked extensively with Hopla, a 50-year old Baltimore native who played college ball at Chadron State (Nebraska) and spent eight seasons playing professionally in Europe, South America and the CBA before embarking on a career as a shooting coach.

Hopla, who worked for the Raptors last season as a consultant, breaks down a basketball shot the same way baseball hitting coaches break down a player's swing.

He pays attention to technical matters, like how a player gets his legs into a shot, foot placement, elbow position, release point and follow through. But regardless of an individual player's shooting style, he believes that documenting success and failure is one of the keys to developing a consistent shot.

Hopla keeps a color-coded chart on each player's shooting patterns by quarter. When reviewing tape of a given game, Hopla sees a player miss a shot and jots down something like: DLH (dropped left hand), BS (bad shot) or TQ (too quick).

"The idea is that a picture is always worth a thousand words," Hopla said. "It's one thing to tell you that you are developing a bad habit, it's another to be able to show you what you are doing and how you can correct it."

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