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The Rockets Daily – July 9, 2013

Number CrunchyThe Wages of Wins Journal lists out — to the man — the best and worst contract values in the NBA for the coming season based on reported free agent signings. The good news is, James Harden comes out as the no. 1 player in Wins v. Payed-For Wins. The bad news is, Dwight Howard comes out very mediocre in Wins v. Payed-For Wins. The ugly-if-you’re-not-a-Rockets-fan news is that Houston projects to win 63 games next year. As Arturo Galletti writes:

The Rockets are totally killing it, take a bow Mr. Morey.

Under PressureTruehoop’s Henry Abbott takes a hard look at the expectations and risks involved for the Rockets in the Howard era:

The good news is that Howard has not had a career like Yao, Greg Oden or other famously injury-prone players. He has been a durable performer over the past nine years, having missed just 25 games over the first nine years of his career. He was even, compared to most other NBA players, pretty good last season while playing injured. The Lakers were better with him on the floor, even if his PER was right there with Robin Lopez’s, and well behind, say, J.J. Hickson’s.

It’s no lock Howard will ever return to his wicked-high, contender-anchoring production of three years ago. Back then his seemingly invincible body was his greatest advantage. Now, like all aging players, he’s trying to learn how to help a team as much without deploying so much body-taxing explosiveness.

It’s worth noting amid the fear and uncertainty that Howard improved throughout last season after the back surgery, rather than continuing to break down. His pre-All-Star game stats were 16.3 points on shooting, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.33 blocks per game. Post-All-Star game he put up 18.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 2.64 blocks. Even if he’s not the old Dwight, he’s still the best center in the ball game.

Statistical Anomaly – Dwight’s shooting percentage was exactly the same before and after the All-Star break: 57.8%. I guess athleticism isn’t the only freaky thing about this guy.

Skin Deep – From the archives of the interwebs, Ethan Sherwood Strauss on Hoopspeak delved into why Dwight is perceived as a poor post player, despite getting good results. The answer is because his game is U-G-L-Y:

Dwight’s footwork is fine, he can often freeze a guy with a rocker step and jaunt towards the rim. Back to the basket, Dwight likes to shade one way, and fluidly spin in the other direction, leaving his defender to watch the whirl. If you’re looking at Dwight’s feet, you won’t find his Achilles’ heel.

Flaws can be found in his handle, his court vision, and yes, his (free throw and otherwise) shooting. Fortunately for him, these flaws round out the least essential elements for a prototypical big man.

I don’t think the aforementioned flaws contribute much to the negative perception of Howard’s offense, with the exception of his shooting. But his problem is broader than an errant shot–it’s how bad it looks when the ball goes in. Dwight’s form is highly constrained, as though he’s trying to avoid an invisible barrier. Howard does not feel comfortable fully unfurling his lengthy arms, so he always appears to be pulling back from the ball, even as he pushes it.

This description is also applicable to Dwight’s hook shot, which can have the vertical trajectory of a floater. For whatever reason, Howard prefers to loft the ball rather than swing his arm towards the basket a la Kareem. This can give the visual impression that his made buckets are almost accidental, especially since Dwight pulls back from the ball at the last instant, like a batter checking a swing. It is hard for an observer to have confidence in such a method, even if the method is sound.

If Houston fans could learn to love Kevin Martin’s shooting stroke, I’m sure they can learn to embrace Dwight’s hook shot.

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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.