MILWAUKEE — Former Knicks shooting coach Dave Hopla worked the Garden during more prosperous times — two seasons with Mike Woodson during which the club won 54 games in 2012-13 and lost out by one game for a playoff berth the following season.
That playoff miss was considered a travesty back then, and former president Phil Jackson fired Woodson and his staff. The Knicks haven’t been heard from since and it looks like Steve Mills’ Knicks will be out of the playoff race by March 1 for a sixth straight season.
The only thing loud about the 2019-20 Knicks is the clanging of their free throws. They are not far away from breaking the mark for the lowest free-throw percentage in club history – a record currently held by the inaugural team, the 1946-47 Knicks, who shot 66.1 percent.
David Fizdale’s Knicks, after missing 25 free throws in their past two games, are shooting 67.5 percent from the line – by far the worst in the league entering their match in Milwaukee on Monday.
This weekend, Fizdale finally made a big issue of it, saying it is “mental” not “technical” and it’s cost them at least three games. On Saturday, they shot free throws with crowd noise pumped into their Tarrytown practice facility in an extended practice.
Hopla hopes Fizdale’s new attentiveness has them on the right track to correct a formerly under-publicized issue.
“Guys have to want to get better,” Hopla told The Post. “It doesn’t take you long to stay after practice and work on it. You shoot 100 and try to make 100. You have to want to take pride in it. I always said with gym rats you don’t see guys putting that time in (on free throws).”
Hopla cited a statistic which says 20 percent of a team’s points come via free throws. However, a made free throw won’t usually make the video highlights.
“That’s a lot of your points,” Hopla said. “How much time do you spend on free-throw shooting in practice as a point of emphasis?
“Put a clause in your contract that you don’t shoot 80 percent, you won’t make this much money. You’d see guys shoot better from the line. They’d make it a priority. The way it is, I’m going to get $8 million whether I shoot 40 percent from the line or 80.”
The worst Knicks offender is rookie RJ Barrett, who struggled from the line at Duke (66.5 percent) but has been a unmitigated disaster in the NBA.
The concern is he will draw a lot of fouls in his career with his driving ability. Barrett has shot 54 of 103 from the free-throw line – a 52.4 percentage. He was eight of 13 vs. Boston on Sunday.
Hopla has noticed a technical glitch yet to be fixed.
“He has his balanced hand or non-shooting hand on top of the ball, which can obstruct vision,” Hopla said. “When you shoot it, it adds movement to the right. His balance hand should be more on the side of the basketball for less motion and it is not involved in the shot. More motion decreases accuracy.”
After Hopla was fired by the Knicks, he joined Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons staff. After Detroit’s house-cleaning following the 2017-18 season, Hopla has spent time running shooting clinics and motivational speaking.
The central New Jersey native can’t understand how there aren’t more designated shooting coaches in this 3-point shooting era. Knicks assistant Keith Smart is considered their shooting guy.
“In baseball everyone has a pitching coach and hitting coach. Football have a coach for everything,” Hopla said. “You’d figure every team would have a shooting coach. In this day and age, it’s the most important part of the game. It’s 3-ball madness now. If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was playing now people wouldn’t know who he is.”