Free thows are confusing.
Shaquille O'Neal was said to shoot a high percentage in practice, but couldn't make a lick in games. That changed the math for other teams, especially once Gregg Popovich decided winning brutally was more important than beauty.
Karl Malone was a great, poised competitor, but once let Scottie Pippen in his head and blew the title he and John Stockton probably deserved. "The Mailman' doesn't deliver on Sundays," Pip said. Hell of a line. Malone missed them both.
No one's ever been more offensively gifted than Wilt Chamberlain, who scored through double- and triple-teams, but couldn't put the ball in the basket when he was all alone and everyone was watching and waiting.
Point being: It's one thing to score within the rhythm of the game, and another to do it when everything stops and a ref tosses you the ball to stand alone and shoot. You should make it! You can practice them as much as you'd like, and you know they're important. But the mind's relation to its hands in high-pressure moments remains a mystery.
That's why you should probably forgive Andrew Wiggins for having a bad Friday night at the line. A career 74 percent free throw shooter, Andrew missed seven of 12 shots in the Timberwolves' loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Wiggins finished with 16 points, right in line with his average this year. He should probably score more, given that he sometimes goes off and beats a team by himself -- see: this 47-point highlight reel against the Lakers -- but Wiggins has displayed a severe lack of selfishness, deferring to ... almost anyone else, if they want the shot. He did do one pretty cool thing last night, sneaking up behind the Hawks' John Collins on a third-quarter possession and slapping the ball against the backboard as if it had tried stealing his mom's purse. (See the above video, around the 6:11 mark.)
Wiggins is shooting a career low 40 percent from the field this season, and is clearly still in search of his stroke. It happens.
Did you know a young Magic Johnson once shot 76 percent, two seasons in a row, before figuring out what was wrong with his shot or mentality? Did you know that a more mature Magic Johnson once shot 91 percent on his free throws in a season?
Do you think, in those early years, Magic's teammates wanted him traded, or the L.A. Lakers fans menaced him?
No. They wanted him to get better. They rooted him on. He got it back, and might be the most beloved player -- certainly by his own teammates -- since Bill Russell.
"That's fans for you," Wiggins said, after last night's mistakes. "We've got some shitty fans, and we've got some good fans. That's just how it works."
Clearly he's right, if Minnesota has the kind of fans who will cheer for a poorly dressed man who nearly heckled Blake Griffin into the stands, clearly a bad idea for anyone in the near vicinity.
Boo the other team. Or cheer for them if you want. You bought a ticket, those are your hands and mouth. But if you want Andrew Wiggins to get better at shooting free throws? Booing ain't it. Send him videos of Kevin Durant or Peja Stojakovic, tall, lanky dudes who shoot well, and see if there's something he can't pick up off their style.
And if you really don't like Andrew Wiggins, and want him out of town? Try emailing the Timberwolves' front office and letting them know -- though it's not like they'd (or should) trust the opinions of people who'd boo a promising young talent based on one night of shooting under his average.
Want Andrew Wiggins to get better? Try rooting him on, even on an off night. That, or stay home and yell at your TV like a normal person.