By: John Eby
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.”
Amid all of the trade rumors about Omer Asik, it's clear that a lot is at stake for the Houston Rockets. The same is true for Dwight Howard. The player the Rockets trade for could have a significant and immediate impact on Howard's production, longevity, and legacy.
With that in mind, let's take a look at several rumored trade targets as they relate to Howard's game: Thaddeus Young, Paul Millsap and Anderson Varejao. I'll be grading by position, outside shooting, usage rate, defensive impact, and future potential. Since Young and Millsap would presumably be brought on to replace Terrence Jones, let's start by judging Jones by the same metrics.
Position: Power Forward
Shooting: As of Sunday afternoon, Jones is hitting 36.1 percent of his tries from behind the arc, which is right around league average. That's just enough to keep defenses honest when Howard is trying to work in the post. However, I would argue that the impact of his shooting is even less than his percentage would suggest. He only shoots when wide open, and he has such a slow release that defenders can sag off of him quite a bit and still recover if Howard kicks it out. He mitigates this problem with excellent ballhandling skills that allow him to punish defenders as they close out.
Usage Rate: Jones uses up just 16.6 percent of possessions while he's on the court. For this exercise, a low usage rate is a good thing. There are only so many touches to go around with Harden, Howard, Parsons and Lin on the floor. Howard needs a running mate who can be effective in limited touches. Jones fits that bill.
Defense: Jones' true defensive impact is still a little hard to judge. By traditional stats, he's a monster, averaging 1.5 blocks in just 24 minutes per game. But the team gives up 7.9 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (he still has a positive plus-minus because of his offensive punch). Jones suffers a bit from JaVale syndrome--sacrificing good rebounding position to go for a block, and allowing second-chance points as a result. I'm still skeptical of what the numbers say about Jones' defense. The idea that he's a liability while Omri Casspi is a brick wall smells like sample-size fishiness. Giving Howard a front-court partner who can cover a lot of ground while Superman guards the rim is an important way to maintain the All-Star's impact for years to come.
Future Potential: This is Jones' greatest asset. He's just 21 years old. Right now he's disrupting opposing offenses with his rangy athleticism, and energizing Houston's offense with a unique combination of perimeter skill and interior hustle. Give him a season to learn opposing offenses so he can start anticipating rotations, and he and Howard could be the most imposing defensive frontcourt outside of Indiana.
DwightFit Grade: B+
Position: Power Forward
Shooting: Young has shot 33.5 percent on threes for his career. In 76 games last year, he shot just 12.5 percent (yikes!), although he has bounced back this year to around league-average. That may be because the scouting report probably says, "Let him shoot!"
Usage Rate: He's putting up a career-high usage rate of 20 percent on Philadelphia's crap roster this year, but he has still used around 19 percent for his career. That's not too bad, but it's more than he's going to get as the fourth option in Houston, and Young has never had to defer to the kind of talent he would be playing with on the Rockets.
Defense: Young had the best on/off court differential of any Sixer last year (despite his awful three-point shooting), and he had a respectable defensive impact, with the team giving up 3.5 points per 100 possessions less when he was on the floor. He's not keeping anyone awake at night with his shot-blocking, but at least he knows where to be on the court.
Future Potential: Young is a deceptively old 25. He's been in the league for seven years, and he's been a slightly-above-average tweener power forward just about every year. What you see is what you get: a solid veteran who's not going to give you much more than what is already on Houston's roster. Final note: Young has a player option in his contract for 2015-2016, which could throw a monkey wrench in Houston's plans to re-sign Dwight's good buddy, Chandler Parsons.
DwightFit Grade: D-
Position: Power Forward
Shooting: Paul Millsap won the Most Improved Player Award once. Hold that thought. When he entered the league in 2006, he didn't shoot threes. Last year, he shot just 0.5 threes per game and only made 33.3 percent. This year he's shooting 2 per game and hitting them at a 40 percent clip. Did I mention that Paul Millsap won the Most Improved Player award once?
Usage Rate: Millsap uses 21.8 percent of Atlanta's possessions. That's not bad considering he's the second best player on the team. Millsap also has a reputation for being one of the best garbage men in the league, able to score whether a play is called for him or not.
Defense: Millsap is an interesting case on the defensive end of the floor. As a 6'8" widebody, he's not a shot-swatting force, but he still manages to average a block per game. Even more impressive are his steals; he averages 1.6 pilfers per game. Last year in Utah, the team was about 2.6 points worse on defense with him on the floor. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he was backed up by Derrick Favors, who's a defensive force. The year before, the Jazz were 3.1 points better on D with Millsap. This year in Atlanta, the team is 1.3 points worse with Millsap on the floor. Again, he's backed up by a defensive specialist: Elton Brand. Millsap isn't a world-changing defender, but he knows how to guard his man and disrupt the opposing offense.
Future Potential: On the one hand, Millsap has proven throughout his career that he will do what it takes to add to his game and remain effective. On the other hand, he is a 28-year-old undersized power forward who relies on quickness and hustle to be effective. If you're looking for someone to pick up the slack once Howard starts to decline, he's not your guy.
DwightFit Grade: A- (If Howard wants to win a championship in his prime, then he wants Millsap on his team)
Position: Backup Center. This is really the only category that matters when it comes to Varejao. He's not going to play next to Dwight. He's going to back him up so the big fella doesn't have to pay 40 minutes a night and retire in three years. That's the key advantage that none of the other trade candidates bring to the table. The chemistry with Jones could continue to develop. The Rockets wouldn't have to sacrifice games and playoff spots while trying to retool the starting lineup for the second time this season. Dwight wouldn't have to make a single adjustment to his game. Raggedy Andy is 31 years old, has playoff experience and is used to being a role player. Tape a couple of draft picks to his back and send him to Houston.
DwightFit Grade: A