DwightLife – Chapter 4: What Do You Want From Me?

Dwight Howard’s arrival in Houston signals the arrival of one of the most dominant players in basketball, along with one of the most polarizing personalities in sports. Here at Red94, we are embracing the drama of Superman’s first season as a Rocket with a weekly column: “DwightLife.” This is the fourth installment.

The criticism of Dwight Howard’s free throw shooting–like watching the act itself–has become a bit tiresome. But this week, a broader critique of his offensive game came from TNT’s resident pair of low-post legends: Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley.

Shaq’s eagerness to criticize Dwight Howard is nothing new, and the same holds true for Barkley. The pair of post-play legends took a couple minutes breaking down Howard’s flaws on the block, and most of their criticism was on point. But then comes the graphic. The handy infographic that shows that in games in which they played 30 minutes or more, Shaq took less than five field goal attempts just once, Barkely just four times and Dwight Howard…30 times.

So the topic of this week’s discussion is, what do we expect from Dwight Howard?

Shaq and Barkley’s criticism of Howard’s offense immediately evokes the biblical phrase, “First take the log out of your own eye.” Both players were clearly superior to Dwight Howard on offense. But offense is only half the game. Despite being the most physically dominant player ever, Shaq never led the league in rebounding, never led the league in blocks, and never won Defensive Player of the Year. Howard has achieved those goals 5 times, 2 times and 3 times, respectively. Barkley might prefer that we don’t talk about defense at all.

Surely neither of them want to talk about how the rule change about illegal defense had a massive impact on post play, or about how they both experienced their greatest offensive success before these rules (which have been in effect for the entirety of Howard’s career) were changed.

The conundrum of how to evaluate Howard becomes even more interesting this year when comparing the man to his peers.

Roy Hibbert is quickly becoming the en vogue player for hoopheads to value over Dwight Howard. The primary reason is that he has proven himself superior at Howard’s greatest skill, rim protection, as evidenced by NBA.com’s new player tracking data. Combine those number’s with Hibbert’s more aesthetically pleasing hook shot and his team’s success, and Hibbert looks like the center of the future, right? Of course! Just ignore the fact that Howard is a far superior rebounder.

(Let’s pause here and talk about these new rebounding numbers for a minute.  Much has been made of valuing the Contested Rebound stat. It is a good indicator of which guys have the size and strength to pull down boards in a crowd. However, don’t let that stat overshadow the fact that rebounding chances per game are created by sound positioning, anticipation and good-old-fashioned hustle. The fight for those “contested” rebounds may be preempted when the other team knows they have already lost good rebounding position).

Giving Roy Hibbert the nod also requires ignoring offense. Howard currently edges Hibbert in True Shooting percentage (55.3 to 54.8), Assist percentage (7.7 to 7.1), and Turnover percentage (15.9 to 17.6), all while carrying a heavier offensive load (usage rate of 21.7 to 18.8) with the handicap of adjusting to a new offense and new teammates.

The one huge edge for Hibbert is his (probably unsustainable) 4.6 blocks per game. What all of these numbers lay bare is that despite all of Howard’s ballyhooed floundering in the post and at the line, he’s still the most complete center in the game.

As great an individual triumph as was Howard’s defeat of the Hack-A-Dwight against Denver this week (shooting 17-24 from the line), I’ll leave you with another box score line that best captures Dwight Howard’s contributions. After the New York game, the sporting world guffawed as Superman was held to just 5 points and forced into 5 turnovers by Andrea Bargnani. But look down the box score and there they are: 15 rebounds, four blocks, the win.

We’ve come to expect Howard to do everything, every night. We want him to be Bill Russell and Shaquille O’Neal every time the lights come on because, once in a while, he is. But most nights he’s just some combination of Dennis Rodman, Dikembe Mutombo and Patrick Ewing.  Most night’s he’s not the greatest center of all time, just one of the greatest. Maybe we can learn to live with that.

 Follow John Eby on Twitter.

View this discussion from the forum.

About the author: John Eby got on the Rockets bandwagon in 1994 and never got off. He is a public relations guy and recovering TV journalist living in South Carolina.

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Total comments: 18
  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago 4.49bpg one year. Dude was legit, but had some bad games against Hakeem.
  • Drew in Abilene says 3 YEARs ago

    I thought about weighing in on the Dwight vs. Robinson for defense debate, but I couldn't contribute objectively, due to rewatching this clip of the Dream eviscerating the Admiral. I have no other memories of David playing for the Spurs, other than the look on his face as Hakeem drops shot after shot into the bucket. It's probably my favorite basketball video of all time.

  • Mason Khamvilay says 3 YEARs ago

    Better defensive player?


    Wallace, Dwight, Dikembe

  • thejohnnygold says 3 YEARs ago

    Are we talking at their peak or over the entirety of their career? This makes a difference to me...

    Mutombo was a game changer for a very long time--winning followed him everywhere he went...the Nuggets, the Hawks, the Sixers, etc. He could man the paint by himself and that is a rare thing. Mutombo also played the majority of his career without a high-caliber PF alongside him (Ratliff/Geiger? Abdur-Rahim?) He played from 1991-2009. He was effective defensively that entire time.

    Wallace's window was smaller and really was only relevant for 7 years or so. Now, during that time he had 2-3 years of game-changing, championship-caliber defense that helped alter the landscape of how GM's viewed the center position (enter Joey Dorsey). It also helped that Wallace had excellent front court pairings in Rasheed Wallace, Mehmet Okur, Antonio McDyess, and even Cliff Robinson. All of these players were above average offensively and helped balance out his deficiencies.

    I agree that Dwight's story is unfinished....as of now, his career (defensively) is looking similar to Wallace's (although offensively he has eclipsed him). Player's who rely on elite athleticism come crashing back to Earth once that gift is taken away...this season will probably tell us which side of the proverbial hill Dwight is on.

    I realize I haven't proclaimed a victor here. If longevity is the key factor then it's Mutombo....Championship caliber defense over a short period? Wallace. Flat out domination over the course of a single season? Dwight probably garners this one, but it's really close.

    One key stat I always look at when grading a player's defense is # of fouls per game. (I know that this can mean they were just getting out of the way, but I think we can all agree that is not the case here.) Dikembe and Ben (especially Ben!) were very good at this with low foul/game #'s. Dwight, on the other hand has been considerably higher. Also, so far this season he is at 4.1 fouls/game (I know that rule changes can affect this and most certainly have) which is a mark that neither Wallace or Mutombo ever exceeded. Wallace's highest was 2.5 and Mutombo's started off rough with a 3.8 his first season and 3.5 3 out of the next 4...after that it was 3.1 or less...usually less.

    I can say this--all things held equal--if I could pick one to be the backbone of my team I'd pick Mutombo.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago Better defensive player?

  • rockets best fan says 3 YEARs ago

    Dwight's story isn't written yet so it's kind of hard to make an honest comparison to The Admiral.

    good point

  • Mario Peña says 3 YEARs ago

    Dwight's story isn't written yet so it's kind of hard to make an honest comparison to The Admiral.

  • Mason Khamvilay says 3 YEARs ago

    Random wisdom: Who was the better defender between Dwight and David Robinson?

    Oops I meant to say random question. Anyway I would say it's Dwight. It's not just the defense but the rebounds too. Dwight is a more suitable center to pay small ball with, and that's a very nice luxury especially in today's game. Obviously Robinson was the better overall center for his time though.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago I think Dwight is the better defender though
  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago Robinson was the better overall player.
  • Mason Khamvilay says 3 YEARs ago

    Random wisdom: Who was the better defender between Dwight and David Robinson?

  • rockets best fan says 3 YEARs ago

    Asik is better than chandler IMO, that's why I consider him a top 5 center.

    I agree. that's why I don't understand those who try to discount Asik. we are basically trying to trade Chandler on a better contract

  • myjohnlai says 3 YEARs ago

    Whether Dwight can fit into this team is still questionable? Harden is not making much progress this season. Who would feed Dwight the ball at the clutch? Are you sure the whole team is supportive to him as much as he was in Orlando.

    Dwight is sensitive, a very sensitive player. He is not stupid. If the Rockets don't have the chemistry of a championship team, he would exercise his option to leave early. Yes, he has the talent. All he needs, he thinks, is a good team.

  • Alituro says 3 YEARs ago

    I think if you were to break down the top centers of all time by era you can put Dwight in the top 10 of all time seeing that he has been the most dominant center for nearly the past decade. With Shaq before him, Hakeem, Alcindor, Wilt, and on down through the eras. Granted that other GOAT center candidates played in those eras as well, I'm just saying that if you rate them by dominance at their position of their respective eras then you have to put Dwight in the top 10.

  • Buckko says 3 YEARs ago Asik is better than chandler IMO, that's why I consider him a top 5 center.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago

    The way defense quickly gets under appreciated in offensively flawed centers is astonishing, even with Asik hardly anyone would consider him a top 10 center.

    I agree. Asik is definitely top 10. I think he's 6th after Howard/Gasol/Hibbert/Noah/Chandler/Lopez. Back when Ben Wallace played he was constantly underrated as well.

    Unless you were saying that in response to my saying that Dwight is not in that top class of all time greats.

  • Mason Khamvilay says 3 YEARs ago

    The way defense quickly gets under appreciated in offensively flawed centers is astonishing, even with Asik hardly anyone would consider him a top 10 center.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 3 YEARs ago

    Dwight Howard is simply not a great offensive player, only good. We overlook that as our previous center is Asik(arguably the worst offensive center in the league, if not ever). But his defense and court awareness make up for that. He is the best center in the game nowadays. There's no disputing that unless you're Skip.

    But I think it is completely fair for all time greats to point out that Dwight is simply not at their level offensively.

    I also don't think he's one of the greatest centers of all time. It depends on where you draw the line. Is he top 3? NO, Is he top 5? NO, Is he top 10? Maybe, Is he top 20? Yes. Dwight gets a lot of hype and people automatically want to put him in as in the class of Hakeem/Kareem/Shaq/Admiral/etc.... and he obviously isn't yet.

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