It's still up in the air whether or not Dwight Howard is set on coming to Houston, but while we wait for his decision let's identify what Dwight Howard can bring to the Rockets on the court and off the court. In this mini-series, I will be exploring Dwight's offensive game, defensive impact, rebounding, and intangibles off the court to show what he can bring to the Rockets if he decides to sign with the team. Today, we discuss Howard's offense.
Dwight's offensive game has been described as leaving "a lot to be desired" and that representation is true to a certain extent. He can't score outside the restricted area, can't shoot free throws during games (remember, he's the best free throw shooter in practice), and he turns the ball over at an alarming rate. However, what Dwight does excel at is scoring within 5 feet of the basket and as a roll-man in the pick and roll. By looking at his effectiveness in both plays and shot distance as well as other facets to his offensive game we can find out where he does his best work on the offensive side of the ball.
1) The Pick and Roll: This is the Rockets' bread and butter, a play they run almost every time they take the ball down the floor. Howard's strengths in the pick-and-roll align nicely with the Rockets' dependence on this play, but unfortunately Dwight has made it known that he is not a fan of running the pick and roll, preferring to play in the post each possession. To me, this makes no sense at all.
As the rollman on pick and rolls, Howard averaged 1.29 PPP (points per possession) last year, good for 8th in the NBA. Last time I checked, that's not bad for a guy with a bad back. The year before, he averaged 1.36 PPP (2nd in the NBA) while shooting an astronomical 74%. These are elite numbers and there's no denying that Dwight Howard is an elite pick and roll player, but the real question is whether he will change his game so that he plays towards his strengths or whether he'll keep revolving it around his weaknesses.
If Dwight decides to come to Houston, the Rockets' pick and roll attack will most likely be one of the best, if not the best, in the league. Lin or Harden paired with Howard presents so many problems for opposing defenses, as they would have to focus on Dwight, the ball handling guard, and the shooters outside the arc. There will almost always be a play to make, it's just the matter of making it. As much as we all love Omer, he's no Dwight Howard on offense. If Dwight comes to Houston, the Rockets' pick and roll and overall offense would take a huge step up from last season.
2) Working in the Post: In the post is where it gets ugly for Howard and I'm not only talking about visually. Last season he averaged a very sub-par 0.74 PPP on post ups, good for 122nd in the NBA. 122nd! If you think about it, that means that there are at least 3 players on each NBA team who are better in the post than Dwight. That's not very good for a guy who is being looked at as being the best center in the league.
It gets worse, however, as post ups counted for 45.2% of his offensive plays. That's nearly half! In comparison, pick and rolls only counted for 11.4% of his offensive plays. Not only is Dwight terrible at posting up (he shot 35% on hook shots last season), but they accounted for almost half of his possessions! As well, that's 4 times as many post ups at pick and rolls! This is literally mixing inefficiency with volume, and the results aren't pretty.
The Rockets, on the other hand, are a team that don't utilize the post up very much, due to the reliance on ball handlers and the lack of legitimate post-up threats in the lineup. Howard may be an average post presence, but opposing teams will still have to respect his presence, much more so than they would any other player on the Rockets.
This would force defenses to move a step or two closer to the paint when Howard gets the ball, opening up the three point line for shooters. If Motiejunas takes a step forward or the Rockets find another stretch four to play with Howard, that lineup could be deadly.
3) Free Throws:
Shaquille O'Neal's career average: 53%
Dwight Howard's career average: 58%
Point blank, he's bad at free throws. This allows for lots of missed points at the line and for opposing teams to implement the Hack-A-Howard to get themselves back in the game. But none of this matters since he's a great practice shooter right? That's what I thought.
4) Passing: Dwight has never WOW'd anyone with his passing over his career that reputation is well-deserved. This last year he averaged a mere 1.4 assists per game, a very poor number for a guy who had the ball in his hands as much as he did. Even in Orlando, his highest average for assists per game was 1.9 in 2011-2012. If he can just find find the happy medium between those two figures, it would put him in line with guys like Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert in AST%. More importantly, however, is for him to make the right pass, whether it be when he's posting up, at the elbow, or after receiving the ball on a pick and roll. His ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly and make the right pass will be of major importance if he joins the Rockets.
5) Turnovers: Turnovers are also a major problem for Howard. He averaged 3 turnovers a game last year, a mark that was good for 17th overall and 2nd among centers in the NBA. The Rockets already had a problem with turnovers last year, so adding a player to the mix who turned the ball over on 16.6% of his possessions is a dangerous proposition.
For every basketball team, one of the biggest priorities is to cut down turnovers and maximize shots taken. More turnovers lead to less shots for your team and more for the other and can have a huge impact on who wins the game. Last year, Harden was 2nd, Dwight 17th, and Lin 20th in the league in turnovers. If the Rockets want to be the championship team they aim to be, the turnover problem will have to be fixed.
Restricted Area: This is where Dwight is at his best. There are few players who demand the kind of respect that Dwight does when he's within the restricted circle and it's obvious why. Dwight took more than two thirds of his shots in the restricted area last season, converting 68.8% of them (388-564). Daryl Morey has always said that the best shots are 1) layups 2) free throws and 3) three pointers. By doing most of his work in the restricted area, Howard is taking some of the best shots in the game and he finishes them at a great clip. That type of efficiency is what Daryl wants in a player and Dwight brings that to whatever team he joins.
The Rockets haven't had a presence down low like Howard since they drafted a really tall guy from China (editor note: important video here). I forgot his name, it should come back to me later. As mentioned before, Howard brings a presence down low that will force defenses to be a step or two closer to the paint than before. So, not only is he effective and efficient when he has the ball down there, he also allows for the guards to have more space to work with the ball and makes the defense honor him in the paint allowing for more open shots.
In the Paint (Non-Restricted Area): Around 25% of Dwight's shots came from this area of the court. This isn't good when he's only shooting 35.6% from the area. It proves to be a problem when a player, even if he's Dwight Howard, is only effective from one zone on the court. Because Dwight is so ineffective outside of the restricted area, they can ignore him elsewhere, forcing him into bad shots. Speaking of areas of the court Dwight doesn't excel in.
Mid-range and beyond: He went 9-44 last year. Enough said. NEXT!
Dwight Howard is a guy who does things exceptionally well and other things exceptionally bad. Moving forward with the Rockets, he should adjust to being more of a pick and roll oriented player rather than a post player as well as focusing on taking shots within the restricted area instead of outside of it. His ability to suck in the defense and will help open up the Rockets offense, but his turnovers could prove to be issues going into the future. Overall, Dwight needs to cut down on his turnovers and adjust his game to focusing on where he is at an elite level, not focusing on where he's average or worse.
A Quick Thank You:
Since this is my first post after joining The Dream Shake writing team, I would like to thank 3 certain people who helped me get here. Thank you to Brandon for letting me bounce ideas off you for the past however months, for always being there whenever I want to talk about my writing, and for giving me great feedback on all my posts whether they're good or not. Thank you to Armin for reading my posts and publishing them on the front page, although it may not seem like much it let me know that what I was writing was quality work, so thank you for that. Finally, thank you for Patrick for the feedback you have given me on previous posts and thank you for this opportunity with The Dream Shake. It means a lot.