Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Dwight Howard is coming off the worst season of his career, without question. It wasn’t just about his play, though. It was about his whole fit in Houston life, the universe and everything.
With James Harden the unquestioned star of the team and the man who had the ball in his hands the most, Howard’s involvement in the game was pretty much up to the bearded one. As things turned out, that wasn’t very much. The following pie chart shows how the Rockets distributed the ball by minutes:
The only starter who touched the ball less than Howard was whoever was operating out of the 4 spot, which was a complete train wreck for the Rockets all season.
So when Howard had the chance to get out, he got out and went to his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Will he see a resurgence in his career there or will he continue his demise?
For comparison’s sake, the Hawks put the ball in Al Horford’s hands a total of 125 minutes, which would be an equivalent of a 25 percent increase should Howard occupy the same burden. Although, that doesn’t quite convey the same kind of team mentality. Jeff Teague held the ball 429 minutes, nearly 100 fewer than Harden did. Atlanta did far more to move the ball and keep it hopping than the Rockets did. Their system is more derived around the San Antonio style of keep the ball moving until you find the best shot.
Thus, Horford took 12.8 shots per game while Howard only attempted 8.5. Now, Horford has more range than Howard. It’s not like D12 is going to be out there popping threes, but he should be getting fed the ball more. There’s a good chance for him to work a nice inside-outside combination with Paul Milsap and get 10-11 shots per game. That would bolster his scoring back up to the 15 PPG range, and if the defense and rebounding are there, could vault him back into All-Star status.
Howard’s floor is going to be dictated by his effort, or lack thereof. Last season, it was pretty apparent that he stopped trying on both ends of the floor, in large part because of his frustration with Harden. And for now, it’s easy to just blame that on Harden, but remember, Howard wasn’t happy when he left the Los Angeles Lakers or Orlando Magic either. So he’s got a history of being a “grass is always greener” type guy. We could see him come out and be full of zeal and joy to start the season, but if things don’t go his way, sour as things progress.
Last season, he was 43rd in Win Shares, and he’d fall into that same neighborhood with the same lackluster effort.
There was a time when Howard was one of the elite pick-and-roll bigs in the league. And he’s still pretty decent on those plays, scoring 1.1 points per possession last year, according to Synergy stats at NBA.com, which placed him in the 71st percentile. This is significant because the Hawks went to the roll man 756 times last year, fourth-most in the NBA. Compare that with the Rockets, who did so just 443 times, the second-fewest occasions.
Howard is not a shooter, and some of that is technically “pick-and-pop” more than “pick-and-roll,” but it’s not hard to contrive a way to fit Howard in the offense. And a big part of his “demise” has been that he hasn’t played in an offense that really fits him.
No, he’s not a guy who is going to throw 118 post moves at you or dominate the game that way. But that’s the way the Rockets were trying to use him when they did use him. Post-ups accounted for 30.5 percent of his offensive looks, and he only scored .82 points per possession, which put him in just the 45.3 percentile. Atlanta ran just 503 post-ups last year, the fifth-fewest of any team.
Going to a team that allows Howard to do what Howard does well instead of forcing him to be someone he’s not should help him see a resurgence to his career.
Howard’s defense fell off last year. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus dipped to 1.62 from 2.08 the year before and 4.91 in 2013-14. How much of that trend is due to injuries, though, and how much has been to just not putting in the effort?
Not to make excuses for him, but when you’re not touching the ball and the guy not feeding you the ball isn’t giving effort when your team doesn’t have it, it kind of takes you mentally out of the game. OK, maybe I am making excuses for him, but they seem to be valid excuses.
The Hawks were the second-best defense in the league last year, and going back to a team that actually cares about it could bring Howard back to his Defensive Player of the Year glory days. Not that he’ll win the award, but a revival that would put him back on the All-Defensive team isn’t out of the question.