Statistical analysis: can the Rockets improve Dwight Howard's free throw percentage?

So I'm sitting here with nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon, and I got to thinking about the impact of a potential Dwight Howard acquisition on the Rockets' wins and losses. In particular, by adding Dwight, we'd be severely limiting the minutes of Omer Asik, who began the season as a terrible FT shooter but showed consistent gains, with the exclamation point of the great game 4 'hack-a-Turk' performance. Dwight, on the other hand, has established himself as a terrible FT shooter and would make it difficult to close out games with him on the court.

I know Dwight overall provides more than Omer, but comparing Dwight's max contract to Omer's 8 million or so (I didn't look it up), you have to know that with Dwight the Rockets can compete for a championship without adding any other major pieces, whereas with Omer we could presumably add a power forward with the salary cap room. I know this isn't good reasoning (assuming there's a PF out there that could actually help us on the free agent market is shaky at best) but it got me thinking... I know anecdotally that the Rockets have helped several players improve their free throws, but is this really true, or the product of selective memory?

To analyze, I took the FTs made by all the players in a given year that were also on the roster the next year, and compared the same players FT shooting in back-to-back years. This strategy means I ignored all players that left the team or joined the team from one year to the next, focusing only on players that had a whole off-season with the Rockets training staff and a baseline to compare to. I did this with every pair of seasons, going back to the beginning of the Daryl Morey era (since I know how much he values free throws). This was a semi-arbitrary choice, since it spans the JVG, Adelman, and McHale years, but I had to pick something.

Here's the results:

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Year 1 Stats Year 2 Stats
2006-2007 - 2007-2008 1214 1631 74.43% 992 1341 73.97% -0.46%
2007-2008 - 2008-2009 1143 1545 73.98% 1176 1439 81.72% 7.74%
2008-2009 - 2009-2010 741 930 79.68% 1026 1292 79.41% -0.27%
2009-2010 - 2010-2011 1103 1398 78.90% 1410 1754 80.39% 1.49%
2010-2011 - 2011-2012 1336 1642 81.36% 833 1029 80.95% -0.41%
2011-2012 - 2012-2013 89 143 62.24% 280 409 68.46% 6.22%

Remember that each comparison of two season only compares players who were on the Rockets during both seasons. This chart shows that overall, the Rockets have improved its own players' shooting in 3 out of 6 pairs of seasons, although in the improving years the total gain is much more than in the regressing years. However, this data is somewhat misleading because the players responsible for the most free throws shifted from year to year, shifting the statistics. For example, Kevin Martin had a monster year in 2010-2011, meaning that even though his FT % did not change much from year to year, the sheer volume of shots he took made 2010-2011 look good since he's always been a good FT shooter.

We can also look at some individuals who stood out. Chuck Hayes (in 6 seasons with the Rockets) saw his FT % decrease along with his total workload from 61.8% to 35.8% over his first 3 seasons, then increase again as he got more playing time and more total free throws back to 66.2%. Jordan Hill generally went nowhere and got slightly worse from year 1-3. Everyone is familiar with Chandler Parsons going from 55.1% to 72.9% in one season. Shane Battier is a funny example - he peaked in 2008-2009 with 82.1% FT shooting, but bottomed out before he left for the Heat with a paltry 64.5%.

I think in all, there's not enough of a sample size - especially of similar players in similar stages of their careers - to be certain whether we can make Dwight a passable FT shooter. There is, however, cause for optimism as most players have made some incremental gains throughout their careers with the Rockets (Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Courtney Lee all being examples I didn't mention earlier). I guess time will tell.

No cursing in title. No pirated material, such as links to online game streams. Do not cut/paste entire sections of content from other websites. Thanks.

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