April 12, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) walks off the court at the end of the game against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. Lakers won 118-116. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Myths of Dwight Howard


Apr 10, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) dunks Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Lakers season ended, Dwight Howard has been the first name to come up regarding the Lakers offseason moves. The Lakers have a chance to sign the 27-year-old center to a 5-year $118 million dollar contract. They have the financial advantage in retaining Howard, but the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets (and some say the Golden State Warriors, but they would have to do a sign and trade with the Lakers, where the Lakers would have to take back a large, bad contract…in other words, it’s not happening) are certainly in play.

The topic of Dwight Howard is incredibly polarizing in Los Angeles. Many believe the Lakers would be better off letting Howard walk this offseason. Those people feel that his offense is rudimentary and ineffective, his defense is overrated, his best days are behind him, he can’t handle the media pressure in Los Angeles, and the Lakers would be better off without Howard. Let’s take a look at all those claims.

1. Dwight isn’t a good post player.

This is one of the most parroted statements regarding Dwight. Dwight Howard is a good post player and a very effective one. He doesn’t have the arsenal of post moves like Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum, or Pau Gasol, but his moves are incredibly efficient. Just take a look at his career FG% – 57.7%. If you remove his first two seasons with Orlando (remember he came straight out of high school), he has never shot less than 57.3% from the field.

In Dwight’s first season with the Lakers, he averaged only 10.7 field goal attempts per game, his fewest since the 2009-10 season (the Orlando Magic made the Eastern Conference finals this season, one year removed from their Finals appearance). Keep in mind Dwight was recovering from back surgery the majority of the season. Look at his splits pre-All Star Break vs Post All Star Break:

By Month

GP

MIN

FGM-FGA

FG%

FTM-FTA

REB

AST

BLK

STL

PF

PTS

Pre All-Star

48

34.9

5.9-10.2

.578

4.4-9.0

11.8

1.5

2.3

1.1

3.6

16.3

Post All-Star

28

37.4

6.6-11.5

.578

5.1-10.4

13.6

1.3

2.6

1.2

4.1

18.4

Clearly Dwight Howard was starting to feel better later in the season. His shot attempts increased, his rebounds increased, his points, and minutes per game all increased. Also, in the 15 back-to-back games the Lakers had (versus games with 1, 2, or 3+ days of rest), Dwight averaged his fewest shot attempts, fewest free throw attempts, his lowest FG%, his fewest points and fewest offensive rebounds. When someone is recovering from a serious injury, those back-to-back games are the most difficult part of the season.

Those expecting Dwight to put up 25+ points per game misunderstand Dwight as a player. He can certainly put up monster scoring nights, but he has never averaged more than 22.9 points per game in his career. His style of play is centered around his defensive effort first and foremost, hence being a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year, with offense being secondary. He will never be a volume scorer, it just isn’t his game.

Let’s compare Dwight’s shot chart from his best offensive season, 2010-11 versus this season with the Lakers.

With the Orlando Magic 2010-11:

With the Lakers 2012-13:

Dwight still took the majority of his shots in close proximity to the basket. The largest difference was taking fewer shots from outside of the paint as well as making them at a much lower rate. In Orlando, Dwight taking a jumper was part of his game to open up the paint. With the Lakers, this is not a shot the team wants him to take. In 2010-11, Dwight’s best shooting percentage outside of the paint was from the right baseline at 50%, while everything else was sub 40%. The Lakers would much rather have Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant or even Pau Gasol take a jumper or set shot rather than have Dwight take that shot. The shot chart shows in Los Angeles, Dwight was playing a similar, albeit less efficient, game and clearly was not at his peak level (duh).

2. Dwight Howard’s defense is overrated

Dwight Howard is a 3-time defensive player of the year. Had he not gotten injured in Orlando, he could have won the award for a 4th time. This season in Los Angeles, Dwight struggled defensively at the beginning of the season, as he wasn’t able to exert as much effort due to his recovering back. At the end of the season Dwight looked much closer to his former self, contesting shots much more frequently. Dwight also led the league in rebounds and was 5th in blocks.

Dwight Howard appeared in 9 of the Lakers’ 10-top 5-man rotations. Kobe was the only player on the Lakers to appear more, making it onto all top 10 rotations. The Lakers scored 2.4 points more than their opponents with Dwight on the floor and scored 1.6 points fewer than their opponents with Dwight on the bench. Imagine what this could look like with a healthy season for Dwight.

3. Dwight’s best days are behind him

Let’s take a look at the (approximate) prime seasons for some of the great centers in the NBA.

Shaq’s prime was from 1997-2003. That puts his age at 25-31 for his prime.

Hakeem Olajuwon’s prime was from 1989-1996. That puts his age at 26-33 for his prime.

David Robinson’s prime was from 1989-1995. That puts his age at 24-30 for his prime.

Moses Malone’s prime was from 1978-1985. That puts his age at 23-30 for his prime.

Wilt Chamberlain’s prime was from 1959-1966. That puts his age at 23-30 for his prime.

Kareem-Abdul Jabaar’s prime was from 1969-1977. That puts his age at 22-30 for his prime.

Bill Russell’s prime was from 1956-1966. That puts his age at 22-31.

Dwight Howard’s best stretch for his career was from 2007-2012. That puts his age at 22-26 for his best stretch.

Historically, for Dwight’s best days to be completely behind him would be unprecedented. No other big man ended his prime before the age of 30. I will concede that none of these other players had major back surgery during their prime. With modern medicine, I would be shocked if Dwight’s injury ended his run of being an elite player. Remember, Dwight still led the NBA in rebounds with the back injury. Rumors of Dwight’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

4. Dwight can’t handle the media pressure

This is an unquantifiable statement. Dwight Howard handled the Los Angeles media very well his first season in LA, not allowing his free agency to hang over the season. Given the choice, I’m sure Dwight would take last year’s media in Los Angeles over the media in Orlando for his final season there. Also keep in mind, most of the media circus around Dwight Howard has been contract related, not play related. When Dwight is healthy and has a contract, he has never been a media distraction.

5. The Lakers would be better off without Dwight Howard

After next season, Steve Nash will be the only person on the Lakers under contract. The Lakers will literally have to build a brand new team in the 2014-15 season. The Lakers can dream of LeBron James coming to Los Angeles and donning the purple and gold, but putting all your eggs in that basket will lead to disappointment. Realistically, the Lakers won’t be able to lure a better building block than Dwight Howard to Los Angeles before that offseason. Without Dwight Howard the Lakers are a favorable free agent destination, with Dwight Howard and enough cap space to sign a max free agent, Los Angeles becomes a dream destination. If Dwight Howard leaves, the Lakers will have to start scrambling with Plan B, hoping to find the next franchise player in 2014-15. In the NBA, you can’t risk losing a franchise player for the hope of landing a yet-to-be-determined franchise player at a later time. That will get you fired quickly if you’re an executive.

Excluding last season, since the 2007-08 NBA season, Dwight Howard has finished 7th or higher every year in MVP voting. Because Dwight Howard had a down year, by his standards, columnists are quick to dismiss Dwight’s future career (unless he’s going to Houston and then it suddenly brightens up…hmm). These are the same columnists who defend Derrick Rose for sitting out a season so he can make sure he is 100% before he comes back. Dwight was not awarded this same courtesy by the media. Dwight could have easily sat out a couple months of season to recover, but he sucked it up and played.

In short, if Dwight Howard resigns, the Lakers have a real direction. If Howard chooses to leave, the Lakers will have an uncertain future ahead of them. They won’t have a building block in place for the future. It is easy to dismiss this concern with the response, “But they’re the Lakers.” It is true, the Lakers have had unprecedented success and are almost always competitive. But nothing lasts forever. The Lakers are in a new era, lacking the steady hand of Jerry Buss to guide the way. Relying on the past to keep the Lakers relevant in the future is a dangerous proposition. With Howard, the Lakers know they will be a playoff team for years to come, almost regardless of whom else is on the roster. That is an opportunity you can’t pass up.

Tags: Dwight Howard Los Angeles Lakers NBA

  • Fern Rea

    I agree with most of your points.

    I think when people say he is not a “good” post player, they are referring to him being limited skill-wise from the post.
    At the end of the though, he produces at an efficient rate and consistently from the post, and that is really all that matters. Not aesthetics.

    Where I would disagree is that he doesn’t handle the media scrutiny well. Of course you cant quantify it, but you can identify it by his actions.
    I would say that walking around the locker room with a box score pointing out his shot attempts to reporters to show he didnt get the ball enough is not handling the media scrutiny well. If he leaves for a smaller market like Houston or Atlanta, the lax media attention will be a contributing factor in his decision, I believe.

  • Fern Rea

    I would also say that the Golden State scenario is very realistic, but difficult.

    1. You’d have to have team Howard agree to want to go there.

    2. Then, you’d have to agree to terms of a trade with GS.

    But after those 2 obstacles, its easy peezy.

    And a trade is doable because GS has numerous large expiring contracts in Biedrens, Bogut and Jefferson.

    • Caleb C

      I honestly don’t see a way Howard gets traded to Golden State.

      • Fern Rea

        Well, we never see trades coming until they actually happen.

        Nobody saw the Gasol trade. Nobody saw the 4 team trade of Howard, AI and Bynum.

        As far as the Warriors trade, with all of their young talent, and large expiring contracts it would be a very simple transaction. No 3rd team would need to be involved. All it takes is Howard wanting to go there, which was reported is a team he is interested in, and the Lakers and Warriors agreeing to terms.Very simple.

        • Caleb C

          It’s not that simple. The Lakers can’t even do a sign-and-trade right now because the team salary is too far over the apron. This means the Warriors would have to trade one or more large contracts to another team and not take back any money. This is going to be really hard because teams aren’t just going to take back a large contract without getting some other key piece(s).

          Essentially, the Warriors would have to give up some young players to take back Dwight, and then the Lakers would most likely ask for more than the Warriors want to give after their first trade.

          The Warriors don’t want to give up Barnes or Thompson because they are thinking about the future, as well as the present. It’s not very likely, at all.

          • Fern Rea

            The Lakers can do a sign and trade transaction.

            The new CBA does not allow a team over the apron, which is 4 million above the luxury tax threshold, to receive a player that has to be signed then traded. i.e. because the Lakers are well over that apron they couldnt get a Chris Paul or Josh Smith because they arent under contract and have to be signed and traded.

            The new CBA does allow a team that is over the apron to sign then trade their own free agents and can receive players in return, as long as those player that they get in return do not have to be signed then traded themselves.

            Therefore, the Lakers can receive players in a sign and trade for Dwight, as long as all of the players are currently under contract for at least next season.

            As to whether GS or the Lakers would want to make a trade with each other? Based on the possible circumstances, Absolutely.

          • Caleb C

            I never said they couldn’t do a sign and trade, I said it would be extremely difficult. Have you looked at the Warriors salary? They would have to send out a large salary, which the Lakers wouldn’t be able to take back because they are too far over. It doesn’t work unless the Warriors trade one or more of their big contracts away. There’s more to it than you are saying/think.

          • EmanMasterOfTheUniverse

            The second sentence of your second response: “The Lakers can’t even do a sign-and-trade right now because the team salary is too far over the apron.” You also said it would be difficult. Which I agree with.

          • Fern Rea

            Why do you have the idea that the Lakers cant take back salary? They would have to take back 75% of the salary going out in a Dwight trade but no more than 125%. Them being over the cap doesnt come into play in a trade.

            That being said, it would be very simple. The Warriors would just need to match Dwights new salary to be able to complete the trade.

            The Lakers team salary figure doesnt come into play here. Only that the get back salary within 75% to 125% of the salary that is being traded (Dwight).

            The only way this trade would become complicated and then as you say, unlikely, is if Jarret Jack was resigned and both Brandon Rush and Carl Landry pick up their players option. It is only at that point that GS’s surpasses the “apron” and then they are no longer to get a player that has to be sign and traded in return.

            From all reports, Landry will pass on his players option. I havent heard anything about Brandon Rush mindset on his option. If GS would pursue a sign and trade for Dwight, they obvously wouldnt try to resign Jack so they would still have Dwight as an option.

            All of these trades work for Dwight:

            1: Bogut, Barnes & Rush (if he picks up option)

            2. Bogut, Barnes & Ezeli

            3. Biedrens, Barnes & Jefferson

            4. Replace Thompson for Barnes above on all 3.

          • Caleb C

            Even if a sign-and-trade is possible, I don’t see the Warriors giving up Barnes or Thompson who are key pieces to what the Warriors are. I don’t know why the Lakers would want Bogut for a one season rental when they can have Dwight for five years. I just don’t see it happening.

          • Fern Rea

            The Lakers would much rather have Howard, but that isn’t up to them anymore. Its up to Dwight and him leaving for Houston or Atlanta with the Lakers getting nothing is a big possibility.

            If Dwight decides that he wants to go to GS, then the Lakers are much better accommodating his request to get something, then nothing at all.

            The Lakers don’t want Bogut, or Beidrens, or Jefferson, they are only to make the salaries match. They would be off the books next year.

            Of course GS wouldn’t WANT to trade Thompson or Barnes usually. They’re young, talented, ton of potential and their salaries are low for a few years. Except if it means giving one of them up for a player that would catapult them into immediate championship contention and for years to come (Dwight Howard). And they would trade Barnes or Thompson in a second if it meant getting Dwight Howard. They might even be willing to give up more IMO.

  • EmanMasterOfTheUniverse

    Post play and dunks and layups aren’t necessarily the same thing. The Magic were better before they started giving him the ball in the post. When he was just getting deep position and alley oops and putbacks. When he started expanding his game he took himself out of rebounding position with sweeping hook shots that left him far from the basket.

    I agree with the assertion that he isn’t that great a post player. Not sure I agree that it holds him back too much though, based on his getting more rebounds and shots in his high efficiency areas when he doesn’t just catch it on the block. But he is a horrible free throw shooter and a schmuck, both of which do hold him and his team back.

    • EmanMasterOfTheUniverse

      As far as signing him is concerned, I think you can build a very good defensive team without giving a huge chunk of money to a lockerroom destroying, turnover-prone schmuck who can’t hit free throws or stop himself from getting technical fouls.

      • Fern Rea

        Yea, He is turnover prone, not very bright and limited post skills. still, he’s the best center in basketball and they are better with him than without him.

        Can the Lakers rebuild without him? Sure, but it would be difficult and they’d be starting from scratch.

        • EmanMasterOfTheUniverse

          When you consider everything, including pay, I’m not sure I agree. Replacement costs as far as defensive-minded bigs aren’t nearly as high, and you might be able to get a guy the other team won’t just put on the line all game.

          I can honestly say I don’t know whether they’d be better with him or without. Long term anyway. Next year they’d be better with him for sure, because they can’t sign anyone else.

          • Fern Rea

            Lets just say that we all agree that Dwight Howard is what you say he is in terms of a player and impact on a game.

            You dont think that there are teams out there that wouldnt sign this guy tomorrow for the max if they could? Houston, Atlanta and Sacramento already got fined for not being able to contain themselves about wanting this gut on their team next year.

            Whether you like him or not, you have to agree he is an asset.If the Lakers can resign him for 5 years, they can then trade him in 1 year, or later, for talent.

            Losing Howard for nothing means they have to hope that a free agent signs with them and that isnt guaranteed.

            It just gives them more flexibility.

          • EmanMasterOfTheUniverse

            I do agree when trade potential is factored in. Long as he doesn’t further damage his reputation/back and therefore his trade value.