November 18, 2017

By now, we’ve all gone through the Dwightmare of Dwight Howard’s decision to leave the Lakers and take his talents to Houston.

Dwight's Feeling Good About His Decision
Dwight’s Feeling Good About His Decision

On paper, this looks like a match made in heaven. with James Harden, Chandler Parson, and Jeremy Lin forming a talented nucleus. Let’s dive deep into some stats to see if Dwight Howard packs enough gas to launch the Rockets into space.

One reason Dwight wanted out of Los Angeles was because he didn’t get enough post up opportunities. What’s frightening about this notion is that he used half of all Lakers post ups, but only ranked in the 37th percentile. Interestingly, he was very balanced on his post ups from each side and shoulder turn. His biggest issue is with footwork and touch, as any move that didn’t result in a dunk became a struggle for him. He was a bit better on the right side of the floor, although he was most efficient when on the left block and turning over his right shoulder.

You have to factor in Dwight’s recovery from injury as part of his post up issues. Looking at his best offensive year in 2010-11, his ranking was in the 71st percentile and all his numbers were much better. It’s safe to say that, with enough healing, Dwight will be somewhere in between – which will definitely be an upgrade to the Rockets post up play.

Dwight’s best offensive option by far is when he sets a ball screen and rolls to the hoop. There isn’t a big man who can keep up with him, and the weakside rotation is always with someone too small to handle him. Last year, the Rockets relied on Asik on half of their Roll Man plays, and while they were above average, Dwight Howard will simply dominate this category, and will also increase the number of times the Rockets utilize the Roll Man.

Another key category is Offensive rebounds and putbacks. The Rockets relied mostly on Asik in this category, and while his offensive rebounding percentage was higher than Dwight’s, again you have to factor in Dwight’s back injury. Simply put, Asik is just not a good finisher at the rim. With the pace the Rockets will play at, and the number of shots they’ll get at the rim, Dwight will have a field day grabbing offensive boards and slamming them home.

Let’s move on to the defensive side of things, where the advantage of Dwight over Asik isn’t quite as clear. Asik is one of the top defensive centers in the league, excellent at blocking and pressuring shots, rotating to help, and grabbing tough rebounds in a workmanlike manner. Dwight Howard, when healthy, takes defense to a whole new level that transcends simple fundamentals. He has the sheer physical ability to alter shots no one else can, and grab the toughest of rebounds. He is a complete defensive anchor, allowing his teammates to gamble on the perimeter and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

While Synergy defensive stats are a bit dubious, we can use them as a starting point and on post defense, Asik isn’t even close to the defender Dwight is even with a bad back. Dwight can literally shut down an opposing center’s post game to the extent the offense won’t even try it.

Asik’s pick and roll defense on the ball handler had an excellent rating, and he is great at hustling to contain the dribble. This was an area Dwight struggled with, primarily because his mobility was compromised. At the height of his powers, he was even better than Asik at stopping this play.

One area the Rockets are going to clearly improve on is their defense against the pick and roll Roll man. Asik struggled mightily, although the team defense deserves the blame as well. Dwight Howard presents a big upgrade when he’s healthy, and last year’s rating actually matched his output from 2010 anyway.

Rockets Defensive Shot Distribution from 2012-13
Rockets Defensive Shot Distribution from 2012-13
Defensive presence and intimidation is not easy to measure, but one place to start is the number of shots opposing offenses get in the lane. You can see that the Rockets allowed about 40 percent of the total shots in the restricted area which was quite good.

Orlando Magic Defensive Shot Distribution from 2010-11 (The Height of Dwight's Defensive Presence)
Orlando Magic Defensive Shot Distribution from 2010-11 (The Height of Dwight’s Defensive Presence)
Dwight was in a tough situation with poor defenders all around him, but the Lakers only gave up 41% in the restricted area. At the height of his powers in 2010, the Magic only gave up 35.5% of their shots at the rim. When Dwight’s back allows him to freely roam the paint, he simply discourages even the best players in the league from attacking the paint.

Of course, no discussion of Dwight is complete without bringing up his god awful free throw shooting percentage. He simply has been a disaster the last 2 years, but perhaps settling in Houston, with a long contract and financial worries taken away, he can relax and get back to hitting 60% – which is what he averaged through the first 7 years of his career. Either way, the Rockets were dealing with Asik hitting only 56% of his free throws last year, so it’s almost even. Another thing to consider is that there is a positive effect to Dwight drawing lots of fouls – since it gets the Rockets into the bonus quicker, allowing guys like James Harden and Chandler Parsons to attack the rim and get their own free throws.

As long as the Rockets don’t move Asik, they have a terrific backup who can also share some minutes on the floor with Dwight. They’re going to need this option when facing teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, so getting them experience together is important.

In the end, what will Dwight Howard’s effect be on the Rockets? Certainly, adding a player of his talent will improve their record. It’s tough to say how many more games they’ll win. In a brutal western conference, any movement up the standings will be cause for celebration. If they get good enough play from Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley, they’ll be able to challenge the top teams in the West and cause some damage come playoff time. The biggest key to all of this, of course, is how Dwight Howard fits in both physically, provided his back has healed, and in the locker room, where grizzled veteran experience and leadership is at a minimum.

Coach Nick

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

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