Howard An Upgrade For Houston, But Role Players Still Critical

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Say what you want about the way Dwight Howard has carried himself away from the basketball court over the last couple of years, the way he has held the basketball world hostage on multiple occasions, and the way he walked away from the Lakers less than a year after requesting a trade out of Orlando. Feel free to question his character or his ability to be a leader.

The bottom line is that he’s an impact player on both ends of the floor and the Houston Rockets are happy to have him (assuming he doesn’t change his mind in the next five days). Over the last five seasons, Howard’s teams have outscored their opponents by 1,989 points with him on the floor and have been outscored by 231 points with him on the bench.

Highest raw +/-, last five seasons
Player +/-
LeBron James +3,330
Dwyane Wade +2,055
Dwight Howard +1,989
Tim Duncan +1,872
Kobe Bryant +1,822

Plus-minus always needs context, but a five-year sample speaks of both talent (on both offense and defense) and durability. And over the last five years, only two players have had a higher plus-minus than Howard (see table to the right), who didn’t have much of a supporting cast until he went to L.A.

Last season, though his mobility was limited as he recovered from back surgery, Howard still made an impact defensively. The Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions – which would rank 10th in the league – with him on the floor, but 107.8 – which would rank 28th – with him on the bench. Their weak-side defense was consistently atrocious, but he held them together with his paint protection.

(In 586 minutes with Howard on the floor and Kobe Bryant on the bench, L.A. allowed just 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a mark which would rank third, behind only Indiana and Memphis.)

When Howard was on the floor, only 31.7 percent of opponent shots came from the restricted area. When he was on the bench, that number was 37.3 percent. Not only did he keep opponents away from the basket, but the Lakers also fouled less and rebounded better when he was on the floor. Those numbers are a reflection on the guys replacing him as much as they are on Howard, as well as an indication that the Lakers’ defense will be awful next season.

Omer Asik is a very good defensive center himself. In fact, Rockets opponents only attempted 30.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area with Asik on the floor last season. And his on-off-court DefRtg differential (5.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) was almost the same as Howard’s (6.0).

Asik isn’t the shot-blocker that Howard is, but he doesn’t foul quite as much and was a better defensive rebounder than Howard last season. Asik grabbed 30.3 percent of available defensive boards when he was on the floor, while Howard grabbed 27.5 percent.

We can expect Howard to be more mobile and, therefore, more of a defensive force next season. And he’ll play more than the 30.0 minutes per game that Asik logged for Houston last year. An additional six minutes of great defense every night is worth about three spots in the defensive rankings and two more wins in the standings.

But if the Rockets are to improve from 17th in defensive efficiency to the top 10 (where a team needs to be in order to truly contend for a title), they’ll need better D on the perimeter in addition to the upgrade from Asik to Howard. (It’s assumed here that they trade Asik before the season. If they have both centers, then they have 48 minutes of rim protection, a top 10 defense, and less depth on the perimeter.)

Offense is where Howard is a bigger upgrade over Asik. In his three-year career, Asik has shot 56 percent – worse than the league average – in the restricted area. In the same three seasons, Howard has shot 68 percent in the restricted area. A bigger target with better hands, he also gets more shots there.

The Rockets ranked sixth offensively last season, scoring 106.7 points per 100 possessions. Only two teams – Denver and Detroit – took a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area, only one – New York – took a greater percentage of its shots from 3-point range, and only three – the Lakers, Thunder and Nuggets – attempted more free throws.

Turnovers were an problem. The Rockets committed 16.6 of them – most in the league – per 100 possessions. Asik was responsible for a lot of them, but Howard’s turnover rate was almost as bad in L.A. And Houston will make up for the miscues by taking the right shots and getting to the line.

The shooting numbers from the field should be even more extreme next season, because Howard isn’t going to be shooting many pick-and-pop, mid-range jumpers. And, of course, about a third of L.A.’s free throws are moving to Houston. James Harden and Howard ranked first and third, respectively, in free throw attempts last season. Now, they’re both on the same team and foul trouble for Houston opponents promises to be a regular occurrence.

For the Rockets to reach optimum efficiency, Howard needs to shoot better from the line. Over his last two seasons, he has shot just 49 percent on free throws, making each trip worth only 0.98 points. Over his first seven seasons, each trip was worth 1.20 points, more than a shot from the field (1.15 points).

Either way, the Harden/Howard pick and roll promises to be deadly, especially if the Rockets surround the pair with 3-point shooting. Chandler Parsons (38 percent from beyond the arc last season) is a good start, but more shooters are needed and Carlos Delfino (38 percent) will be missed. Bringing back Francisco Garcia (37 percent) on a minimum contract (a deal reported Saturday afternoon) is a good move. But if Houston can’t pry Ryan Anderson from the Pelicans, the development of Donatas Motiejunas as a stretch four will be critical.

So Rockets general manager Daryl Morey still has some work to do. He’s acquired two stars in the last 10 months, but needs to build the right supporting cast around them. And it’s all about perimeter defense and perimeter shooting.

27 Comments

  1. chitown says:

    Having Omer Asik and Howard on the same team obviously does not help Asik. However there are no trades out there that can be made. Asik has a big contract too. Many teams would not want him. So the solution to that would be to keep Asik and maybe wait to the trade deadline to see if there are any suitors. As for the PF position, they would have to look toward the free agent pool to fill the void. Kenyon Martin is still out there, but I’m sure he wouldn’t want to sign with Houston. But he would be a great fit. Lamar Odom is out there but who knows what he wants to do. Last time he was on a team in Texas, he did terrible. Brandon Wright is unrestricted and he could fit in nicely. But other than that there are no options available at PF.

  2. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    LAKER O WILL SUFFER WITHOUT HOWARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. BH says:

    Good article. I don’t see Asik staying, both of them are just too similar. He played really solid last year and I understand that he doesn’t want to be the backup center once again in his career. Ryan Anderson is not coming (Pelicans not interested) which is bad. If we stay put the PF position will be the biggest x factor, once again. And also, keeping a unhappy Asik doesn’t seem to be a godd ideia, despite his work ethic and team mentality

  4. JEREMYLINN says:

    trade asik for maybe a couple of second round and third round draft picks to free cap space,(im sure many teams will be happy to do so as solid big men like asik are luxuries in this league) then try to sign monta ellis, that way they will have another player, besides harden, who can create his own shot, and with parsons improving, he could possible runs for 6th man next year, then the rockets will truly be a championship contending team. Plus ellis’s speed and offense will fit perfectly into the young rockets.

  5. (((houston rockets)))fan says:

    With D12 in the mix the rockets can get to the conf. Finals this year! If the rox do decide to part ways with lin and asik, i sure hope that move will turn them into a contender and eventually an nba champ. I honestly see howard staying in htown helping the franchise win title after title. Sure theres alot of talk about other teams in the west being contenders now. But i believe that another championship banner will be hoisted up into the rafters at toyota center sooner that what many think. Yo d12 let the haters talk it just a telling sign of envy and that they are afraid of you. Im sure if u could go bk in time and vs shaq when he was at his best youd still dominate.

    • Heat Fan says:

      Whoah! Hold you horses there rockets fan. Shaq would swallow DH whole spit him out and rinse him and them swallow him whole again if they were matched up at their prime. Shaq would even run the point in that play if he has to just to show DH up. You are talking West Finals already, I’d say a first round exit is realistic for your rockets. OKC, San Antonio, Memphis and LAC are at the top right now, don’t even see the rockets beating any of those teams. All teams gotta do are stick with James Harden and make DH shoot free throws. Just sayin..

    • Nore says:

      The Big question is … Who would you trade for? I honestly thought that the sign and trade deal between Houston and Atlanta would have happened, and that Atlanta would have got Asik + 1 (maybe Lin) and Houston would have got J Smooth. But now he signed with Detroit – which i think was not the smartest move … Okay money wise it was a smart move but even if (Detroit) thes have a pretty descent frontcourt now, while i have to add that Drummond and Monroe are both Centers to my mind, do they think they could handly Miami, indiana or Brooklyn in the East? I don’t think so … So back to the question who Houston should trade for, because Ryan Anderson is NOT the guy who can get a team over the Hump and make them a instatn contender. Don’t get me wrong hes not bad but with Harden, Howard and Parsons already on the Roster who would not agree that a J Smooth would have been more of helping addition to become a real contender for a championship? So the need here is definately Power Forward. Who else is there? Amare? Forget it – i am a Knicks Fan, but even if the Knicks would have been interested in Asik, who would want that Injurie Phrone Amare? (And that comes from a Amare Fan). Bargnani? (A Knick now …). Milsapp – has become a Hawk after J Smooth went to D Town. Zach Randolph? No chance at getting him – Memphis needs him more than a Asik comin of the bench. Griffin? You cant be serious. Gasol? i dont think the Lakers would give him up for Asik and definately not after already lossing Howard to houston. Faried? Nuggets future and they wont trade him – especially not for Asik – the have enough bigs. Lamarcus Aldridge? Not a good fit in Houston i think and it would be questionable if Portland would be interested in Asik. Boozer? Okay, maybe the Bulls want to get rid of his big contract, but not to acquire Asik back. Asik for Jeff Green would be nice, but i honestly dont think that that would happen either because Boston wants to rebuiled araound him and Rondo – Also Boston acquired many Big Prospects from Last years Draft and this years draft. To be honest maybe Ryan Anderson is already their best choice but that wont be enough i guess …

  6. davesmall1 says:

    The Lakers now, more than ever, are in a battle to the death vs. Father Time. Who do you think is going to win that one?

    The Lakers are the new Bobcats. They have an aging nucleus, no depth, no cap room, and no draft choices. I give them three to five years minimum to work their way out of the lottery and back into playoff contention.

    Steve Nash is done. Kobe is unlikely to ever be the same. Pau’s skills are diminishing. Ron Artest is Ron Artest. That’s it. That’s all they’ve got.

  7. JimmyJazz says:

    Asik for Ryan Anderson makes sense for both teams.

  8. dethous says:

    Wouldn’t mind picking up jimmer for some outside shooting

  9. W/E says:

    Rockets should keep Asik and use him as substitue as well as together on the floor with D12. These guys are the best defensive centers in NBA right now, ROckets are so lucky to have em Mchale should make a good plan and use them properly, if Lin and Harden limit their stupid turnovers and get better decision making, the ROckets are gunna be top 4 in western conference

  10. Pops says:

    Nice statistics in this article mr. Schumann. Hopefully Howard can get his FT % up to 65 or 70, and up his post game a bit. With another piece and some role players the Rockets can make some noise this year.

  11. L.chil says:

    Good move Houston ,now the Lakers won’t knock you into 8 place 2014.

  12. Me says:

    You mean how will he destroy a good team?

  13. kreeshawn says:

    this is the best thing that could have happen to the lakers. next season with dwight would have been a diasater .not to mention that they would not have won a championship. they need to look long term to where they have cap room to aquire big stars (next summer) and really be in the conversation of a playoff caliber team

  14. Infamousbola says:

    Lakers talk with D12 should of been this tell us now take the 5 years or we make a trade deal with the clips. Lakers get Griffin, Deandre, and Jamal or Bledsoe. Now Lakers get nothing. Could of been Nash to Amare(Griffin) again but now you have Kobe n Gasol. To the Bulls where were they? Doin nothing for Rose return, Bulls should of chase Howard, Rose is enough to pull Howard in as a Bull not only that they miss on Tyreke. Possible lineup Rose,?,Deng,Noah(he can play here),Howard

    • David says:

      You are out of your mind. You think the clippers would do that deal? You’re living in la la land. Bulls can’t take on Howard as they have no cap space and since they are a luxury tax team they can’t do a sign and trade. All of these fantasy trades only work in video games

  15. Lakers says:

    wait a minute….

    • Rockets says:

      Dwight, please do not bring any drama to the Rockets. We don’t need any of your baby whine. Just do your part and stay out of James Harden way. He is far more skillful and should be the main focal, not you!

  16. Ultimate Warrior says:

    Simply put, this is SLAMMA JAMMA II. It’s dejavu all over again.

  17. Ultimate Warrior says:

    Who’s with me that the first game of the season should be – LAKERS vs ROCKETS. Just sign the petition below:

    ATTN to NBA POWERS: We the NBA fans, hereby petition that the opening game for the 2014 season will be Lakers vs. Rockets. Why? Because we want Kobe to stuff it in Dwight’s face. And we want Dwight to do it to Kobe likewise.
    It will be the drama for the ages. We want to be ENTERTAINED!

    Signed,

    • David says:

      Dear NBA fan, Kobe will likely not play the first game of the season as Achilles tendon rupture surgery rehab generally takes about 6 months

    • Pops says:

      This will likely be the first game the powers that be love drama like this, and we love it too