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DwightLife: Which Dwight Howard do we have in Houston?

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 tenth installment.

This week was a classic Jekyll and Hyde performance from Dwight Howard. He unleashed a 29 point, 15 rebound game on Dallas, a 15 and 20 on San Antonio, a 24 and 18 on New Orleans…then he laid a 2 point 6 rebound egg against Memphis.

Weeks like these make you ask, which Dwight Howard did Houston get? Did we get the Monstar who ruled over Orlando, or did we get the old cripple who left Los Angeles?

With 32 games under his belt, we finally have a big enough sample size to know that the answer is neither. The Rockets signed a guy who isn’t quite like any iteration of Dwight Howard we’ve seen before.

In simple terms of Player Efficiency Rating, Houston Dwight is kicking L.A. Dwight with a PER of 22.64 compared to a 19.48. To put that in perspective, his current PER ranks him 12th in the league; L.A. Dwight would rank 37th. He’s still not back to the all-time high of 26.13 that Orlando Dwight posted in 2010-11, but he’s back among the league’s elite.

Part of that number is due to his rebound rate (the percentage of all available rebounds that he grabs while on the floor). Right now, Howard is grabbing 22.2 percent of all misses, which is his highest rate ever. According to the league’s video tracking data, he’s pulling down 70.4 percent of all rebounds that fall within 3.5 feet of him, which is an excellent rate (Kevin Love only pulls in 65.5 percent, by comparison).

Offensively, Howard’s True Shooting percentages, Usage Rate, and 40-minute point averages aren’t what they were  during his peak years, but they are on par with what he did in Orlando.

The question of Howard’s defense is a whole lot trickier. Let’s start with the most baffling numbers I’ve seen in a while: according to 82games.com, Houston’s defense is actually 3.4 points stingier per 100 possessions with Howard off the court. If Asik hadn’t been out much of this season with injury, I would find this much easier to believe. Anyone who watched the last several Rockets games knows that the team’s defense becomes a layup line once Dwight leaves the court. Another area concern is that his  “stocks,” or combined steals and blocks are down to 2.6 per game–the lowest they’ve been since his second season in the league. By comparison, he averaged 3.5 stocks in L.A., and 3.8 during his peak in Orlando.

The new player tracking data is a little kinder. Howard holds opponents to 46.8 percent shooting at the rim. That’s not Roy Hibbert good (41.2 percent), but it’s a respectable mark. Houston’s defense is still a top-10 outfit overall, so Howard’s defensive on/off court ratings will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Houston didn’t get Orlando Dwight or L.A. Dwight. They got a version that’s still just barely good enough to be the league’s best all-around big man.

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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