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Dwightlife: Dwight Howard’s Turnovers, Countermoves, and Philosophy

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 11th installment.

Dwight Howard has no shooting touch; this much we know. Howard is also being mentored on his post moves by Hakeem Olajuwon, whose pure midrange fadeaway figures prominently in some of the Dream’s greatest moments. When you look back at many of the highlights of Hakeem’s post play, it’s obvious that he used the respect opponents gave to his jumper as a weapon to get into the paint. Of course, fadeaways are not option number one. They are a concession to a good defense that won’t yield shots in the paint.

Dwight Howard, on the other hand, has no baseline fadeaway. He finishes exclusively at the rim. The result is a shot chart that is a sabermetrician’s dream.

HouShots (2) copy

Now you ask yourself, what would happen if Dwight Howard developed a jump shot? Would he become more efficient at the rim as well? The answer isn’t clear. For Exhibit A, let me present the shot chart of one of the best baseline fadeaway shooters in the league: LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge copy

As you can see, Aldridge finishes better than Howard almost everywhere except at the rim, despite a bevy of moves and a sweet jumper.  Even though Aldridge is one of the league’s most athletic bigs with a feathery soft touch. he just can’t compare with Howard at the rim. And here’s the kicker: Howard’s True Shooting percentage is way, way, way higher than Aldridge’s: 59.4 percent to 50.9 percent.

So it’s hard to imagine that even if Howard were to develop one of the smoothest midrange shots in the game, that still wouldn’t be as efficient as bulldozing his way to the rim, right? After all, shooting 50 percent from midrange is good, but since two point are two points, 60 percent at the rim is better, right? Hold on.

The dirty not-so-secret secret of Howard’s efficiency is turnovers. New ways of looking at turnovers (per touch opposed to as a percentage of usage) reveal both Howard and James Harden to be among the most turnover-prone players in the league.

By my quick calculations Aldridge averages 2.38 turnovers per 100 touches, while Howard is averaging 5.45 turnovers per touch. In other words, Superman coughs up the ball more twice as much as Aldridge.  As anyone who watches Howard can play will tell you, these turnovers are not the result of errant passes, but of Howard charging into defenders or getting stripped as he turns into a double team at the rim. By contrast, if Aldridge gets in trouble, he flips a jumper toward the basket that has about a coin-flip’s chance of going in, and has a chance of bouncing into the waiting hands of a teammate. Point, set, and match for LaMarcus.

In Howard’s dogged pursuit of efficient shots at the rim, he is forced into turnovers, which has been a characteristic of both his superstar teammate, James Harden, and of this Moreyball Rockets team in general. Recently, we’ve seen James Harden expand his game to the midrange because it was too easy for defenders to predict where he was going to shoot. Could we see Howard follow suit? Does the team’s philosophy dictate that he attack the rim each time at the risk of turnovers, or is he just avoiding taking what he knows is not his best shot? How good a midrange shooter would he have to be for his misses to be less damaging than his turnovers? It’s nice to think that Howard could easily turn half of his turnovers into midrange jumpers that would improve his efficiency, even if he shot a pretty low percentage. Of course it’s not that simple. Many of those turnovers are a fingernail or a referee’s blink away from being a dunk, an And-1, or the fifth foul on the other team’s star big man, so every fadeaway is an opportunity lost.  This one’s a riddle that Houston’s coaches and stat-heads will need to work together to solve.

Follow John Eby on Twitter.

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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