What's Wrong With Dwight Howard?

by Omar Shaik 26. December 2012 19:42

As the Lakers struggled through the early part of this season, much of the blame has been cast on Pau Gasol's passivity or Steve Nash's absence. The Los Angeles Lakers are at .500 even though Kobe Bryant is in the midst of one of the best 28-game shooting stretches of his career, despite being forced to undertake greater ball-handling responsibilities. How good has Kobe been so far? The last time his PER (Player Efficiency Rating) approached 25, it was 2007; he's never managed .222 WS/48 (Win Shares per 48 min) until this season. In spite of Kobe, the ageless wonder, the Lakers are tied for ninth in the Western Conference and have significantly underachieved through the first 28 games of the season.

Although Dwight Howard has flashed signs of occasional brilliance, he is playing below the All-NBA level expected of him. While Nash was out due to injury, the Lakers needed Dwight to play well to make up for the lost offense. Instead, Howard has completely disappeared on offense. His USG% (percent of offensive possessions he uses during his time on the court) is the lowest it has been in eight years. His rebounding has been way down as well. His DRB% (defensive rebound percent) is 24% this year, after it was 33% last year. Similarly, his TRB% (total rebound percent) is 18.1% so far, after five straight years of 21.7% or better.

According to many all-encompassing metrics, Howard is playing worse than he has in years, at least so far. His PER (20.5) and WS/48 (.148) are his lowest since '05-'06, and his WP/48 (Wins Produced per 48 min = .172) is the lowest it's ever been.

There are a couple ways to rationalize Howard's decreased production. The most obvious theory is that he still isn't fully healthy. There are trends in the data to support this hypothesis, such as the career-low rebounding numbers and the career-high %Blkd (% of Howard's shots that are blocked). 8.9% of Howard's shots have been blocked, which is the 4th highest rate in the NBA among Centers and Power Forwards who play 30 minutes per game. Howard, a former Slam Dunk champion, does not fit the profile of players who typically lead the NBA in Blkd%. Omer Asik and DeMarcus Cousins usually have high %Blkd because they don't have the combination of elite athleticism and low-post skill that Howard does. There are not many players in the NBA who can block a healthy Howard or take rebounds away from him, so the numbers suggest that he isn't completely himself yet. Indeed, Howard blames his health for his shockingly low production.

There is also the possibility that Howard has not learned how to fit in with the Lakers or with Bryant yet. This theory is also supported by the data (and Andrew Bynum), as the Lakers are much better when Bryant plays without Howard (+16.2 per 36 min) than when they play together (+2.3 per 36 min). When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, his numbers after the first month were similarly well below his norms. His PER was only 24 after that first month, but he managed to regress to his career averages the next 5 months. A similar regression could be in store for Howard, and the Lakers might need every bit of it.

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Greg Monroe's Emergence as a Passer

by Blake Murphy 20. December 2012 22:15

When it comes to passing big men, it’s usually the Gasol brothers who get most of the love. After all, they rank second and third among players classified as forward, center, or forward/center by Basketball Reference in assists per game this year. They both also have a strong track record and reputation for being adept as passing, especially from the elbow for high-low feeds.

Joakim Noah is in first with 4.5 per game, the first time he’s eclipsed the rough “three per game is a good passing big man” plateau. Noah has been getting love all season for his phenomenal play, so I won’t expand except to say that, yes, he’s really improved and is a treat to watch and own in fantasy.

It’s the fourth name on the list that I want to talk about, because I think Greg Monroe may be the league’s best passer out of the low post. His 3.4 assists per game are solid and, without digging deeper, show a passing skill most big men don’t have. However, unlike the other names around him on the leader board, Monroe isn’t really an inside-outside big man in terms of the shots he takes.

To wit, look at his Hoopdata page. He actually leads the entire league in field goal attempts per game at the rim with 7.1 and also takes another 2.6 from three- to nine-feet out. In total, he takes more shots inside of 10 feet than any other player in the NBA except for Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez and Nikola Pekovic, and they’re all razor-close.

Monroe proceeds to take just 2.5 shots per game outside of 10 feet, meaning that roughly three quarters of his touches come from in the paint or short out on the baseline. So he’s spending a good amount of time down there.

Of his 3.4 assists, 1.9 of them lead to baskets at the rim. These could be high-low feeds, quick dishes under the basket or passes to back-door cutters when he is facing up. Nearly one per game lead to threes, as well, which are likely passes out of the post and/or passes out of double teams.

It’s difficult, given the current statistics available, to tell where assists come from and which type lead to shots from where. It’s possible that Monroe simply gets a lot of assists when he’s outside the paint and then takes his shots inside, but that doesn’t seem to fly with conventional wisdom and what comparable players do.

For example, Noah’s 4.3 assists are spread more normally across the floor in percentage terms than are Monroe’s, which are almost exclusively at the rim or threes, the best “type” of shots a player can get for their teammates.

One final note is that, as a team, the Pistons shoot the sixth worst percentage in the league on shots at the rim (although that is including Monroe, who is a well below-average finisher himself). They are also roughly a league-average team at hitting threes. So it seems it’s possible Monroe is missing out on assists at the rim that an average team may hit, though it’s difficult to tell exactly.

However, just for confirmation that what I’ve witnessed in a handful of games and see in the stats is backed up by a “Pistons regular,” I asked Dan Feldman of Piston Powered to provide his thoughts, which ran counter to my thinking:

“Monroe works from the high post more than his shot selection would indicate. He's been a hesitant mid-range shooter lately, which has frustrated many fans, so most of his scoring comes in the low post. But most of his assists have come from the high post, from where he hits cutting teammates. I suspect his passing is similar to Noah's and Marc Gasol's.

Has Monroe evolved as a low-post passer? Yes. But was a very good passer at Georgetown, too. As a rookie, the Pistons didn't ask him to do it all. Last year, they did a little. This year, more than he's improved, I just think they're finally letting him loose.”

As Monroe continues to work to refine his game in his third season, some may look at the drop in PER and the slight dip in rebounding and suggest he’s faltered or stagnated. But in at least this one area, Monroe has continued to show growth, or at least unleash a skill that already existed below the surface.

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