Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dwight Howard: Defensive Mastermind

We’re all fairly familiar with newest Laker Dwight Howard’s story. Drafted 1st overall in 2004 out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (HS), he has lived up to the expectations that come with being a 1st overall pick; He’s a 6 time All-Star, 6 time All-NBA team selection, 5 time All-Defensive team member and 3 time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award. We’re also fairly familiar with what he can bring to the table for any team (Defensive presence, consistent offense, tenacious rebounding), however, since he is now a Laker, I think a scouting report is in order to learn more about the Lakers’ newest dominant center.

A terrifying (in a good way) athlete, he possesses the agility of a quick small forward within a 6’11’’, extremely muscular 285 pound frame. Howard is easily the most physically dominant post-presence in today’s NBA, as well as one of the most athletic big men the game has ever seen. NBA star Kevin Garnett said it best: "Howard is a freak of nature, man... I was nowhere near that physically talented. I wasn't that gifted, as far as body and physical presence."

Dwight Howard may be the most important player to his team on both ends of the floor. Stronger than any other center, yet much quicker as well, he is not, however, the tallest center in the league; former Laker Andrew Bynum is inches taller than Howard at 7’0’’ barefoot, while Howard is slightly over 6’11’’ with shoes on. He has developed his offensive post-game from good, to very good. Howard has a very developed running right handed hook shot. He can back any center into the low post and bank righty and lefty hook shots all game (although he struggles much more with the left hand than with the right hand). He shot 49.0% from the field on Hook Shots alone.

Similar to Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, his superb athleticism alone can dominate games, however for Howard; this is even more pronounced, as he is the NBA’s best defensive player and usually leads the League in rebounds and blocked shots.

He is way too strong for single-coverage by all but perhaps two centers (Western Conference Rival Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins and Philadelphia 76er Bynum); but his speed and quickness in small spaces give him the upper hand against these taller, just as strong centers. When going to the rim, he is virtually unstoppable, and can out-jump or outmuscle anyone.

Excellent basketball instincts defensively, he knows where he must be to provide help defense, but still give a shade of doubt to the ball handler in passing to his man covered assignment. He has mastered the art of timing, which makes blocking shots second nature for him. For all of his defensive accolades, he has a fairly average offensive basketball I.Q. He’s a very poor free-throw shooter, thus becoming the subject to the Hack-a-Shaq tactic used on former Laker Shaquille O’Neal. He’s a very emotional player in a positive and negative way; he knows how to get his teammates emotionally involved in the game, but he’s also prone to receiving technical fouls and letting certain players get into his head.

For opposing teams, Double-teams are usually a must since very few centers can handle his sheer strength and quickness in the post.  He’s the definition of a franchise player who opens up the game for his teammates and knows how to handle the double-team (something Bynum did not do well in his final season with Los Angeles). He cannot be kept off the block as his sheer size and strength allow him to get excellent position under the bucket for easy defensive rebounds and put back dunks. Much like Superman 1.0, he suffers many fouls that go uncalled, since he regularly finishes with contact.

By far the top defensive player in the world, he can change the dynamic of any game with his tenacious rebounding, man-to-man post-defense and monstrous weak-side help. I estimate that he manages to change at least three times more shots than he blocks, simply with being on the court. He gets into the mind of opposing players who are driving into the lane, and alters shooting motions in the shooter’s attempt to make his release quicker or arch his shot higher to avoid a potential Howard swat. Howard’s jumping ability is something the NBA has never seen from a center. His vertical leap comes in at an amazing 39.5 inches, and he holds the record for the highest leaping reach in NBA history at a whopping 12 feet, 6 inches, one inch higher than the former Man of Steel’s now broken record. The amazing thing about the physical beast that is Dwight Howard is that he’s hardly lost any quickness or speed as he’s gained size and muscle.

The scary thing about Dwight is he’s still developing his offensive game. He added the lefty hook shot to his repertoire around the 2010 season, and that’s normal for a center; however he also added a decent enough jump shot from 15 feet and in. In the past 3 seasons, Howard has made 58/148 for a percentage of 39.1% on jump shots. For a center who’s supposed to be one dimensional, that’s pretty good. Two seasons, Howard shot 10/18 from 16 feet to the 3 point line. The percentage is impressive for any player, but for Howard, it is an unprecedented 55.6%. Brutally efficient from the floor, Howard’s PER last season was a very high 24.2. His hook shot was made a good 49.0% clip. Combine that with the sheer amount of dunks and layups that he makes, which is a combined 265/347 for an excellent 76.3% and you see why he shoots nearly 60% every single season. As expected with any center, his percentage takes a severe drop past a certain distance; in Howard’s case, this is from 12 feet and out roughly. His percentage at the rim is amazingly high as he made 274 out of 375 shots taken for an efficient percentage of 73.1%. Everything from there takes a severe decline from that, as his percentage from 3-9 feet out is an average 41.7% and represents his second highest percentage from any distance last season.

He’s one of the only star players who’s Defensive Win Shares is ranked higher than his Offensive Win Shares; just last season, his DWS was one full point higher (4.4) than his OWS (3.4). His Win Share per 48 minutes was a very high .179. For Howard to truly make the Lakers better, he must play the pick and roll efficiently with Steve Nash, while maintaining defensive dominance and keeping the glass clean. Howard must also handle double-teams as well as he did in Orlando, finding the open man and passing quickly out of it; something Bynum had a lot of trouble with as he would continually hold on too long to the ball. He must also improve his free throw percentage, because unless your name is Shaq, 49.1% from the charity stripe won’t cut it in the City of Angels.

Howard is a premier All-Star for the foreseeable future, as well as the best defensive player in the League. As his offense continues to develop, he may begin to be mentioned in the elite crop of players like LeBron James, teammate Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant, although he will never score as dynamically as these players. As he is now, Howard is the best of the 2nd tier super star players. Nonetheless, Howard is capable of taking any team to the top.