'Hack-a-Howard' strategy in full effect

January, 13, 2012
On Thursday night, the free throw line took center stage in the NBA in two very different ways.

In Oakland, the Warriors decided to rely on the "hack-a-Howard" strategy to the point that Dwight Howard obliterated the record for free throws attempted in a game with 39, passing Wilt Chamberlain's mark of 34 back in February 1962. It's impossible to know what would have happened had the Warriors opted not to foul Howard at every opportunity, but it certainly seemed to keep them in the game; they were ahead by one with less than three minutes to play.

If you have Howard on your fantasy squad, this is obviously a disaster. He already takes way too many free throws given his atrocious shooting from the line, and a 21-for-39 night will be difficult to recover from in most leagues. If you own Howard, you already know he's a terrible free throw shooter; just be glad if this is as bad as it gets.

Something entirely different went on, though, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Thursday night. In a game that doubled as Scott Skiles' 400th win, the Bucks and Pistons combined to attempt 41 free throws without missing a single one. Considering the fact that Howard took fewer free throws by himself and missed nearly half of them, this is pretty remarkable, but it's even more remarkable when you consider that Greg Monroe (a 64 percent career free throw shooter coming into the game) went 8-for-8 and Andrew Bogut (57 percent in his career) made both of his attempts as well. I'm not sure you can read into this much in fantasy leagues other than Monroe's improvement at the line, but it was certainly a good night to be interested in free throw shooting in the NBA.

Looking Back

• Following the news that the Hawks' Al Horford is going to miss 3-4 months because of a shoulder injury, Zaza Pachulia managed 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in a win over the Bobcats. Pachulia is the primary candidate to fill in for Horford, at least until the Hawks sign someone better. He's not someone you should own in fantasy leagues under most circumstances (don't expect him to block shots, for example), but if you need rebounds, he should be a good option for the time being.

• Horford's injury could also mean some extra playing time for Vladimir Radmanovic, and while Vlad didn't have a great night against the Bobcats, he's averaging 2.6 3-pointers made over his past five games, and that alone might make him worth picking up in certain leagues.

• Meanwhile, if you lost Horford and are desperate to add another power forward or center in his stead, you might want to consider Charlotte's Byron Mullens (more on him below), Phoenix's Markieff Morris (13 points and eight rebounds against the Cavs on Thursday night), San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard (14 points, seven rebounds and two steals over his past three games) or Washington's Trevor Booker (13 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks over his past three games).

• Byron Mullens got his first start for the Bobcats on Thursday, and while his four rebounds in 33 minutes were a disappointment, his 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the floor was about all the Bobcats had going for them. Mullens is still available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, and he's definitely worth picking up now that he's starting.

• Speaking of new starters, Jon Leuer has worked his way into the starting five for the Bucks, and made the most of his opportunity Thursday, putting up 15 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Pistons. I'm not ready to tell you he's worth adding in all formats, but as long as he's starting, he should provide points and rebounds while helping you a bit at the free throw line as well.

Carmelo Anthony left the Knicks loss to the Grizzlies because of a sprained left wrist and a sprained right ankle. He wasn't certain about his status going forward, so this is certainly something to keep an eye on, although x-rays were negative. The game was a blowout most of the way, so it's hard to judge who would step in if Anthony missed time, but a good bet is Bill Walker, who scored 14 points (including four 3s) in 21 minutes of action Thursday.

• The Cavs' Kyrie Irving continued his hot shooting against the Suns, and had his best game as a pro with 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go along with six assists and two steals. I'd still like to see him get more assists, but given his supporting cast, I'll take what I can get.

• The Suns' Grant Hill left Thursday's game because of a sore left quad after playing just seven minutes. At Hill's age, any injury is a concern, but he also has been remarkably durable over the past few seasons. If Hill does miss time, it should mean even more action for Jared Dudley, who led the team with 37 minutes in Hill's absence (and was already leading the team in minutes per game coming in).

Nate Robinson had another productive night for the Warriors, finishing with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes off the bench. Robinson has a pretty solid resume of being a good fantasy option when he gets minutes, so he's definitely worth adding in most leagues.

Looking Ahead

• I mentioned Trevor Booker above as a possible replacement for Al Horford in fantasy leagues, and he's going to have a great chance to contribute with Andray Blatche listed as doubtful against the 76ers on Friday. Philly has a great defense, so it'll be a chance to see just how good Booker can be. On the other side, Spencer Hawes might be unable to go, which could mean more action for promising Philly rookie Nikola Vucevic, who is averaging five points and five rebounds in just 13 minutes per game this season. It'll be good to see what he does with more playing time.

• If Andrea Bargnani can't go for the Raptors against the Pacers, I'll be watching to see if Ed Davis can establish himself in the rotation in his place. Obviously, Bargnani is not going anywhere long-term, but Davis has serious potential as a rebounder/shot-blocker if you need help in those categories.

• It's looking like Derrick Rose might not be able to play for the Bulls against the Celtics, but I'd be pretty reluctant to play any of the Bulls backups, especially the wildly inefficient John Lucas, in all but the deepest leagues.

• With Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson both listed as questionable for the Nuggets and Rudy Fernandez coming off a great fantasy performance (15 points, eight assists and four steals), I'd be pretty eager to get Fernandez into my lineup if I had him on my fantasy team. He's certainly capable of laying an egg, but he's a good fit alongside Andre Miller.



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