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Dwight Howard + Houston Rockets = Elite Defense?

Last week I addressed the benefits that Dwight Howard would bring on offense; this week’s column looks at how Dwight will help on the other end of the floor. The Rockets were a middle of the road defensive team last season. With the addition of a (hopefully healthy) Howard, there is every reason to believe that the Rockets can fashion a top-10 defense and become legitimate championship contenders next season.

Last season’s Houston Rockets gave up 103.5 points per 100 possessions,  a defensive rating that was tied with the Knicks for 16th in the NBA. A number of issues stand out when scrutinizing specific defensive data: despite having a quality rim-protector in Omer Asik, the Rockets gave up a 63% FG% in the restricted area, the 6th highest in the league. Houston also gave up the 2nd highest percentage on corner three’s (43.4%) and the 9th highest percentage on all three-point shots (37%) while allowing opponents to take the 4th highest number of three’s per game (22.4). In short, Houston, a team that values taking efficient shots on offense, did not do a particularly good job of taking away such shots on defense.

Omer Asik was undoubtedly the defensive anchor of last year’s Rockets team. Houston was 5.5 points per 100 possessions better with Asik on the floor than off. In other words, in the 18 minutes per game in which Asik didn’t play, Houston’s defense transformed from the equivalent of the Bulls’ 5th rated defense to that of the Piston’s bottom-10 unit. With Asik on the court, Houston’s opponents took more mid-range shots and fewer three-pointers. Of the four most oft-used Rockets line-ups (all of which featured Asik), three rated better than league-average defensively. All four line-ups had four players in common: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, and Asik; the fifth player varied among Patrick Patterson (the worst line-up defensively, allowing 106.0 points per 100 possessions), Marcus Morris (the best line-up defensively, allowing 95.8 points per 100 possessions), Donatas Montiejunas, and Carlos Delfino. While three of these line-ups include players who are no-longer with the Rockets, the take-away is clear: with Asik in the game, the Rockets were an above-average defensive team.

Dwight Howard has had a similarly pronounced defensive impact on his former teams. The Lakers, ranked just behind the Rockets in defense last season, were a top-3 defense with Howard on the court and a bottom-10 unit with Howard on the bench. In Orlando, the Magic were also significantly better on defense with Howard on the court. In particular, Howard’s Magic teams excelled at defending the restricted area and the three-point line, two areas in which the Rockets’ defense struggled last season. In the ’08-’09 season, Orlando allowed the 3rd fewest corner three attempts; in ’09-’10 the Magic allowed the 5th fewest such attempts. In ’08-’09, Orlando was the 2nd stingiest team in the restricted area (allowing a 56% FG%) and in ’09-’10 they were again the 2nd stingiest team at 57%.

Despite often playing with so-so defensive teammates, Howard’s Orlando teams consistently ranked among the best in the league. Indeed, the Magic ranked in the top 3 in defense for three consecutive years from 2008 until 2011. The most oft-used line-ups on these teams were not exactly teeming with defensive aces outside of Dwight. In the ’08-’09 season, line-ups featuring Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and one of Keith Bogans/Courtney Lee/Mikael Pietrus defended at an elite level. In ’09-’10, the Howard-Matt Barnes-Vince Carter-Rashard Lewis-Jameer Nelson line-up logged a whopping 772 minutes and held opposing teams to a paltry 95 points per 100 possessions. In ’10-’11, the Howard-Brandon Bass-Jameer Nelson-Jason Richardson-Hedo Turkoglu line-up logged 630 minutes and only gave up 94.4 points per 100 possessions.

The upshot is that a healthy Dwight near his defensive peak can almost single-handedly ensure a top-10 defense. Outside of Asik, the Rockets’ starters from last season are not markedly better or worse defensively than the players that Dwight played with on Orlando. Next season, the Rockets will have the opportunity to have a top 6 or 7 defensive center on the court on all times. That fact alone should improve the Rockets defensively and propel Houston to within spitting distance of the elite-tier of NBA defenses.

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Total comments: 28
  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I agree that timing is important. I like how in Orlando SVG would use the PnR to post-up Dwight sometimes, because Dwight usually got deeper position that way. And sometimes in transition too, Dwight would sprint down the floor and quickly seal off his man right under the basket. So simply put, posting up at the right times = higher post-up efficiency.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    I get that all of this is situational--so what kind of "lead" are we talking about? If it's 8+ points and under 2 minutes then I am fine with going all in on defense....if it's less or there is more time then I am inclined to agree with stick with what is working.

    Also, if Dwight is on the floor, late in the game wouldn't posting up through him be a solid move? 2016 can provide the percentages and relativity to 3 pt%, but what I think is important is the timing of this play. The post defender is going to be tired and probably working with 4-5 fouls. This leads me to believe that in this particular instance the fg% is going to be much higher, plus we can still pass out to an open three if they double team him.

    Also, no one seems to like or remember my mid-range-fake-out-alley-oop-play. The one where Harden/Lin drives just far enough to attract the rotation defender away from Dwight and then pulls up for what looks like a jumper causing the defender to instinctively go for the block only to have Harden flick a pass to Dwight at the rim for a catch and finish--Hooray! Mark the tape--that's going on Sportscenter... ;)

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    I think also the final point on having this as a close out lineup is this....

    If your holding a lead with 2 mins left. chances are, the other team will be hacking at Dwight anyway, which completely neglects the spacing question since you know... all your offense play is Dwight shooting FT.

    So in such situations, what those other plays can or can't do on offense is basically pointless, the whole point is can they defend? you want the best defensive lineup out there (or you pull Dwight, which you obviously won't do.)

    Then give the ball to Harden because one thing the beard can do is score.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I can see how sacrificing offense for defense makes sense if there's only one possession left and all we need is one stop and a rebound for the win, however, when multiple possessions are involved it makes more sense to stick with whatever has been working. That's just my opinion.

  • RollingWave says 1 YEAR ago

    I think also the final point on having this as a close out lineup is this....

    If your holding a lead with 2 mins left. chances are, the other team will be hacking at Dwight anyway, which completely neglects the spacing question since you know... all your offense play is Dwight shooting FT.

    So in such situations, what those other plays can or can't do on offense is basically pointless, the whole point is can they defend? you want the best defensive lineup out there (or you pull Dwight, which you obviously won't do.)

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    Here's the argument, first we need to note that the Rockets were probably one of the worst team in terms of holding close leads late in the game (relative to their overall game anyway.) last year.

    The reason is that we can't really get stops. and one of the bigger problem is that we had no one at PF who wasn't some sort of defensive liability. obviously if you have Delfino out there your already giving up the stops part and just hoping to out score them, Greg Smith was the closest thing to a competent defensive PF , and he is... but he's a huge liability in terms of fouling, which kind of defeats the point.

    The entire point of Asik + Howard is that, they'll almost certainly get stops, the question is if they can score on the other end, I'm saying that if your only running 3-4 plays towards the end of the game, half of them may be drawn out before hand, it doesn't really matter, at the very worst you end up taking some more mid range jump shots due to lack of spacing, BUT the trick here is that that sort of play, combine with the fact that your much more likely to contest for offensive rebounds, tend to drive the pace down, which is a huge plus when your trying to HOLD A LEAD, the point your not seeing is that, if you run a play and gets a offensive rebound, and even if you still end up not scoring, you just ran the clock out.

    The counter problem of course, is the potential for hack a X strategy. but , having 1 or 2 guys that can't hit FT doesn't really make a difference in this situation anyway. and the thing with hack a X strategy is that after FTs you almost never get fast breaks, so your still in slowed down half court anyway. where the twin tower's advantage could be huge as long as they're not playing a wing at the 4. (and if they are, said wing can't stop Asik or Dwight in the post anyway, regardless of spacing or their not so great post games.)

    Not to mention, if you really need a basket instead, you could just timeout and swap players again.

    The key here is matchup potential, as I try to ram home repeatedly, almost any sort of lineups can work in the NBA... IF we're talking about 5 minutes and not 48 x 82.

    Well said and asik has proven he can make clutch free throws before and I think he can diffidently improve his percentage while Dwight will be Dwight.

  • RollingWave says 1 YEAR ago

    Here's the argument, first we need to note that the Rockets were probably one of the worst team in terms of holding close leads late in the game (relative to their overall game anyway.) last year.

    The reason is that we can't really get stops. and one of the bigger problem is that we had no one at PF who wasn't some sort of defensive liability. obviously if you have Delfino out there your already giving up the stops part and just hoping to out score them, Greg Smith was the closest thing to a competent defensive PF , and he is... but he's a huge liability in terms of fouling, which kind of defeats the point.

    The entire point of Asik + Howard is that, they'll almost certainly get stops, the question is if they can score on the other end, I'm saying that if your only running 3-4 plays towards the end of the game, half of them may be drawn out before hand, it doesn't really matter, at the very worst you end up taking some more mid range jump shots due to lack of spacing, BUT the trick here is that that sort of play, combine with the fact that your much more likely to contest for offensive rebounds, tend to drive the pace down, which is a huge plus when your trying to HOLD A LEAD, the point your not seeing is that, if you run a play and gets a offensive rebound, and even if you still end up not scoring, you just ran the clock out.

    The counter problem of course, is the potential for hack a X strategy. but , having 1 or 2 guys that can't hit FT doesn't really make a difference in this situation anyway. and the thing with hack a X strategy is that after FTs you almost never get fast breaks, so your still in slowed down half court anyway. where the twin tower's advantage could be huge as long as they're not playing a wing at the 4. (and if they are, said wing can't stop Asik or Dwight in the post anyway, regardless of spacing or their not so great post games.)

    Not to mention, if you really need a basket instead, you could just timeout and swap players again.

    The key here is matchup potential, as I try to ram home repeatedly, almost any sort of lineups can work in the NBA... IF we're talking about 5 minutes and not 48 x 82.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Your not getting that what this translate to in terms of chances for 3 or 4 particular play is not nearly as significant as you'd assume , especially not if your also having a greater shot at the offensive board.

    I like numbers as much as anyone or more, but you'd have to remember that mid range being inferior as a play overall does not mean you should never take any, just like if a pitcher gets highest swing rate from his curve doesn't mean he should throw his curve 100% and shelve all his other pitches, which is essentially what your saying.

    Never said we shouldn't take any, we averaged 20.9 shots from 3-23 feet per game and I'm perfectly fine with that amount. In contrast, the 76ers averaged 40.3 mid-range shots.

  • RollingWave says 1 YEAR ago

    The league average on shots 16-23 feet is 38.3%, that's equivalent to 25% from 3.

    10-15ft is 41.7%, that's equivalent to 27.8% from 3.

    3-9ft is 39.8% which is even worse

    You say "at worst" like taking more inefficient shots isn't that bad, but it is.

    Your not getting that what this translate to in terms of chances for 3 or 4 particular play is not nearly as significant as you'd assume , especially not if your also having a greater shot at the offensive board.

    I like numbers as much as anyone or more, but you'd have to remember that mid range being inferior as a play overall does not mean you should never take any, just like if a pitcher gets highest swing rate from his curve doesn't mean he should throw his curve 100% and shelve all his other pitches, which is essentially what your saying.

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    the defender would be in the mid range if Howard was he'd just ignore Howard and go to challenge the shot if the hypothetical offense player did manage to get past his guy and raise up from 10-12ft. It'd be like what you see teams do against the clips if BG or Jordan are anywhere out of the paint just ignore them and dare em to take a shot if they get the ball.

    True, but Jorden and blake are not even close to asik and howard. They can't take all the bad, contested midrangers they want, but you would never be able to get even close to the paint with those monsters on the floor.

  • Cooper says 1 YEAR ago

    I'll say that the spacing thing, especially in a shorter time frame, is completely overblown. At worst, your taking more mid range jumpers. which would obviously be available if their big decide to just never leave the paint. (and if they do chase out to you, would it matter if Howard's 10 feet out ? he can you know.. also drive to the basket.) meanwhile, your also gaining a considerable advantage in offensive rebound.

    I can totally see it as a lineup we use to close out games where we're trying to hold leads.

    the defender would be in the mid range if Howard was he'd just ignore Howard and go to challenge the shot if the hypothetical offense player did manage to get past his guy and raise up from 10-12ft. It'd be like what you see teams do against the clips if BG or Jordan are anywhere out of the paint just ignore them and dare em to take a shot if they get the ball.
  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    At worst, your taking more mid range jumpers

    The league average on shots 16-23 feet is 38.3%, that's equivalent to 25% from 3.

    10-15ft is 41.7%, that's equivalent to 27.8% from 3.

    3-9ft is 39.8% which is even worse

    You say "at worst" like taking more inefficient shots isn't that bad, but it is.

  • RollingWave says 1 YEAR ago

    I'll say that the spacing thing, especially in a shorter time frame, is completely overblown. At worst, your taking more mid range jumpers. which would obviously be available if their big decide to just never leave the paint. (and if they do chase out to you, would it matter if Howard's 10 feet out ? he can you know.. also drive to the basket.) meanwhile, your also gaining a considerable advantage in offensive rebound.

    I can totally see it as a lineup we use to close out games where we're trying to hold leads.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    Yeaaaah just because we could throw that lineup out their doesn't mean we should. Spacing would be pretty terrible, so whatever cancelling we did of the Grizzlies offense, we would essential cancel that out with our own inability to score. Harden and Parsons would be hard-pressed to get open shots or driving lanes because the Grizzlies bigs would not be at all afraid of Asik or Howard outside of 8 feet and their already sound perimeter defenders would be even more free to crowd Harden or Parsons. I understand why you guys think it sounds really cool or dominant on defense and all that, but it's just not practical at all.

    This.

  • PurpleHayes says 1 YEAR ago

    Yeaaaah just because we could throw that lineup out their doesn't mean we should. Spacing would be pretty terrible, so whatever cancelling we did of the Grizzlies offense, we would essential cancel that out with our own inability to score. Harden and Parsons would be hard-pressed to get open shots or driving lanes because the Grizzlies bigs would not be at all afraid of Asik or Howard outside of 8 feet and their already sound perimeter defenders would be even more free to crowd Harden or Parsons. I understand why you guys think it sounds really cool or dominant on defense and all that, but it's just not practical at all.

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    Memphis would score more points then the Rockets with that lineup, because the Rockets couldn't score with Asik and Howard on the court together. It would be a 6-4 quarter with zero eyeballs watching the boring basketball.

    That frontcourt would be meant for a defensive minded matchup, to get all the rebounds, and cancel out the Grizzlies ability to score in the paint and then you know harden and Parsons would still be jacking up 3s and slashing to the basket. Just saying that is one of many, many lineups we can do with such a versatile team as ours.

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago


    We would overwhelm Z-Bo and Marc by starting a frontcourt of Jones-SF D12-PF and Asik-C. Then we would just rotate them in with demo and Greg. That would take away Memphis's only offensive game in the paint and they wouldn't be able to out muscle us like they do to other small ball teams.


    Memphis would score more points then the Rockets with that lineup, because the Rockets couldn't score with Asik and Howard on the court together. It would be a 6-4 quarter with zero eyeballs watching the boring basketball.
  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    The Grizzlies front court can do alot of damage against small front-courts, but Terrence Jones (252 lbs) is no Delfino. Their suffocating defense (ranked 2nd) was the main reason they were so good last year, not their limited offense (ranked 17th).

    We would overwhelm Z-Bo and Marc by starting a frontcourt of Jones-SF D12-PF and Asik-C. Then we would just rotate them in with demo and Greg. That would take away Memphis's only offensive game in the paint and they wouldn't be able to out muscle us like they do to other small ball teams.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    We were talking about one specialized lineup of going huge and defensive minded. The lineup we were talking about wouldn't start but could be played against teams like the grizzlies, to control the boards, pack the paint, and swat any ball in range.

    The Grizzlies front court can do alot of damage against small front-courts, but Terrence Jones (252 lbs) is no Delfino. Their suffocating defense (ranked 2nd) was the main reason they were so good last year, not their limited offense (ranked 17th).

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    Or you can leave Asik on the bench so that the offense isn't clogged. D'Mo would be a better fit if you are pushing Jones to the 3. Still gives the floor spacing required to actually run an offense.

    We were talking about one specialized lineup of going huge and defensive minded. The lineup we were talking about wouldn't start but could be played against teams like the grizzlies, to control the boards, pack the paint, and swat any ball in range.

  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago

    If you did that, than you would have asik at the center and D12 at the PF because howard is more athletic, has played PF before, and can hit a 6-10ft jumper. Then jones would chill at SF and you might bump parsons to SG.


    Or you can leave Asik on the bench so that the offense isn't clogged. D'Mo would be a better fit if you are pushing Jones to the 3. Still gives the floor spacing required to actually run an offense.
  • CC. says 1 YEAR ago

    If you did that, than you would have asik at the center and D12 at the PF because howard is more athletic, has played PF before, and can hit a 6-10ft jumper. Then jones would chill at SF and you might bump parsons to SG.

    Oh alright I get you, yeah that scheme fits and sounds right.

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    Ahh glad to know I'm not the only one who sees this, agree with you on the defensive part. Unstoppable in the paint, uhmm maybe. Dwight will be great with or without Asik there, Asik on the other hand might not be accustomed to being away from the middle of the lane; the PF position isn't natural to him. And Jones needs to develop a bit more imo to be that offensive threat to be unstoppable. But if he improves and Asik can coexist with Howard, I'll agree 100% with you on them being unstoppable and being that new SWAT team.

    If you did that, than you would have asik at the center and D12 at the PF because howard is more athletic, has played PF before, and can hit a 6-10ft jumper. Then jones would chill at SF and you might bump parsons to SG.

  • CC. says 1 YEAR ago

    Ya, I would talk about that with my Dad if we decided to go defensively huge, we would be unstoppable in the paint and you would have a new SWAT team in Houston.

    Ahh glad to know I'm not the only one who sees this, agree with you on the defensive part. Unstoppable in the paint, uhmm maybe. Dwight will be great with or without Asik there, Asik on the other hand might not be accustomed to being away from the middle of the lane; the PF position isn't natural to him. And Jones needs to develop a bit more imo to be that offensive threat to be unstoppable. But if he improves and Asik can coexist with Howard, I'll agree 100% with you on them being unstoppable and being that new SWAT team.

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    Okay so earlier while waiting in a lobby I started to draw out schemes and line-ups for the Rocket's latest roster and... Woah can anybody else picture Terrence Jones, Asik, and Howard on the floor at the same time? Jones playing the 3 spot? We'd get EVERY rebound! And yeah the defense would be golden too. Except well Jones playing small forward is ehh, and with those three guys the offense would be reeeeally limited...but it just sounds so good.

    Ya, I would talk about that with my Dad if we decided to go defensively huge, we would be unstoppable in the paint and you would have a new SWAT team in Houston.

    That's whats so great about this team is our versatility, we can go huge, small, offensive, defensive, pack the paint, slash the basket, pound the 3pt line, and grab every board possible. We can create a lineup for every team and we would be very hard to match up against.

  • CC. says 1 YEAR ago

    Okay so earlier while waiting in a lobby I started to draw out schemes and line-ups for the Rocket's latest roster and... Woah can anybody else picture Terrence Jones, Asik, and Howard on the floor at the same time? Jones playing the 3 spot? We'd get EVERY rebound! And yeah the defense would be golden too. Except well Jones playing small forward is ehh, and with those three guys the offense would be reeeeally limited...but it just sounds so good.

  • Buckko says 1 YEAR ago

    We also have to keep Asik.

  • Dmes says 1 YEAR ago

    No slacking on defense for James Harden.

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