The Stunning Number Of Free Throws Shaq Missed During His NBA Career

Despite his offensive dominance in the paint (and defensive dominance, too, at least in his early years in the pros), NBA icon Shaquille O'Neal had an Achilles heel so obvious you could see it from space. He was one of the worst free-throw shooters of his generation, and his deficiencies in this area became so evident to opponents that they adapted a catchily named strategy to exploit this weakness, especially when losing by a reasonable margin down the stretch. Hack-a-Shaq, of course, involved repeatedly fouling the big man in the closing minutes of a tight game, in hopes that he'd miss one or both free throws, with the other team scoring a quick two or three. It didn't always help teams come from behind to win, but Hack-a-Shaq strategies are still used to this day — just sub "Shaq" with the first name, last name, or nickname of any given free-throw-line bricklayer.

If memes were a thing in the 1990s and 2000s when O'Neal played the bulk of his NBA career, he'd have inspired a countless number of them through his terrible foul shooting alone. And that weakness of his still inspires interesting "what-if" conversations — for instance, what if Shaq missed all the free throws he attempted in the pros? Yes, we know that he did make his fair share of foul shots, but if you're wondering how many of these he missed, we've got the answer for you right below.

Shaq missed 5,317 regular-season free throws over a 19-season NBA career

Just how bad was Shaquille O'Neal at the foul line? According to his Basketball-Reference player page, O'Neal missed a whopping 5,317 free throws. That, in and of itself, is a lot of missed shots across 19 NBA seasons, but that only scratches the surface of how bad he was when it came to one of the easiest things you can do on a basketball court. If you divide those 5,317 missed free throws by 1,207 games, you'll get an average of 4.4 misses per game — many regular starters don't even get to attempt four free throws per game! And to simplify things, there's O'Neal's legendarily bad 52.7% free-throw shooting clip, which is significantly lower than his career field-goal shooting percentage of 58.2%.

As the NBA separates regular-season stats from playoff stats, you may also be wondering how well (okay, how poorly) Shaq fared from the charity stripe in the postseason. It's even worse for the Diesel, as it turns out, as he missed 1,149 free throws and had a laughable 50.4% clip from the line in postseason play, for which his teams qualified 17 times. And since Hack-a-Shaq tactics are usually turned up when the games matter more, O'Neal flubbed even more free throws per game — in 216 playoff games, the NBA legend missed an average of 5.3 foul shots per contest. "Ouch" doesn't even begin to describe how poor those numbers are.

Shaq made an effort to improve his foul shooting, but stopped short of shooting underhand

At least when he was in the prime of his career, free-throw shooting seemed to be Shaquille O'Neal's lone weakness. But it's not like he didn't invest any time and effort into improving his foul shooting. Early in his career, when he was still playing for the Orlando Magic, O'Neal enlisted the services of a team consultant named Buzz Braman, aka the "Shot Doctor," who taught him how to shoot with his right arm cocked in such a way that he'd be able to get his shot off faster and smoother; prior to that, Shaq had been shooting with his right arm at his waist (via the Tampa Bay Times). 

The Shot Doctor's "treatments" seemed to work at first, as the multiple-time All-NBA center sank 63.6% of his free throws in the first 11 games of the 1994-95 season — more than six percentage points higher than his career foul shooting clip at that time. Unfortunately, Shaq was soon back to doing Shaq things from the line, as his free-throw shooting percentage dropped to 53.6% some 13 games later. (He finished the season at 53.3%, per Basketball-Reference.)

Many years later, Business Insider asked O'Neal why he never tried shooting free throws underhand, or "granny style," much like his fellow NBA legend Rick Barry did in a career where he sank 89.3% of his foul shots. O'Neal told the outlet that he finds the technique "boring," and that he doesn't believe it's an inherently effective method of shooting from the line. "No, it's not. It's not proven. Just 'cause a couple guys did it doesn't mean anybody can do it," he told Business Insider. "I told Rick Barry I'd rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I'm too cool for that."

Shaq isn't the worst free-throw shooter in NBA history

No one will ever dispute the fact that Shaquille O'Neal was not a good free-throw shooter. But he wasn't the worst in NBA history, as a couple of other names – Basketball Hall of Famers, no less — stand out as being even worse. Ben Wallace established himself during his playing days as a ferocious rebounder and effective defender, but his offense (or lack thereof) was a completely different story altogether. Wallace, who is arguably best remembered for his play in the middle for Larry Brown's championship-winning Detroit Pistons of the early 2000s, averaged a measly 5.7 points per game and shot 41.4% from the line in 16 NBA seasons — the lowest percentage in league history for qualifying players. But since he averaged only 2.5 free-throw attempts per game, he wasn't hurting his team that much by laying bricks at the charity stripe.

Wilt Chamberlain was far more similar to Shaq as he was also a gigantic center who got a lot of touches and scored a ton of points. His free-throw shooting was also abysmal, as he retired with a 51.1% clip — perhaps if the NBA allowed him to dunk from the foul line, he wouldn't have had such a problem. But they didn't, and Chamberlain ended his career with 5,805 missed free throws in regular-season play, putting him comfortably ahead of Shaq despite the fact he played five fewer seasons.