The Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets divorce looks inevitable: Part 2

Please note this post was written on April 10, 2016.

I wrote back in July that the second biggest key to Houston’s season would be keeping Dwight Howard healthy and fresh through a maintenance plan.  At the time of writing, Howard has appeared in 68 of Houston’s 79 games, averaging 32.3 minutes per contest.  The team sits at 38-41.  It appears availability was not the determinative factor on Howard.

Houston went 29-12 with Howard in the lineup last season.  Without him, they were 27-14.  This year, with Howard, they’ve gone 31-37.  Without him, the team is 7-4.

Howard has averaged 13.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds per game, and 1.6 blocks per game in his 32.3 minutes, shooting 62% from the floor and an abysmal, almost prohibitive 48% from the free throw line.  Last year, in 29.8 minutes per game, Howard averaged 15.8 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, 1.3 blocks per game, on 59% shooting from the floor, and 53% accuracy at the line.  Much of the above holds little to no analytical value.

Of greater relevance, Howard’s offensive rebounding percentage has gone up from 10 to 11.6, his defensive rebounding percentage has gone up from 28.9 to 29.0, and his total rebound percentage has gone up from 19.5 to 20.2.  Howard’s turnover percentage has gone down from 17.5 to 17.2.  And, as has famously been reported, Howard’s usage has gone down from 23.3 last year to 18.5 percent this year.

At the time of writing, Houston has an offensive rating of 107.5 with Howard on the court, and an offensive rating of 108.1 with him off the court.  Opponents have an offensive rating of 108.4 with Howard on the court, and an offensive rating of 109.1 with him off.  Thus, the Rockets are slightly better offensively without Howard, and slightly worse on defense.  Last season, Houston had an offensive rating of 108.7 with Howard on the court, and a rating of 106.4 with him off.  Opponents had an offensive rating of 100.2 with Howard on the court, and a rating of 104.9 with Howard off the court, for a difference of 4.7.  That’s a significant net difference in overall defensive impact compared to last season.

Utilizing’s shot tracking system, we can look closely at Howard’s impact in certain defensive assignments: overall, the man he is defending has an overall field goal percentage of 47%.  Against Howard, that opponent’s percentage is 47.9%.  On 2 pointers, the usual percentage is 49.7% and against Howard it is 49.6%.  On shots less than 6 feet, the usual percent is 60.5%, but against Howard, it dips down to 58%.  Less than 10 feet, the usual percentage is 54.9%, and against Howard, it dips slightly down to 54.5%.

This year, Howard’s contested rebound percentage (the measure of contested rebounds out of total rebounds) is at 36.2%.  Last year, it was 42.6%.  Though of course, there is the theory that these rates are more indicative of opponent behavior than ability: i.e., in 2013-2014, when Omer Asik posted a much higher contested rate than Howard, in the early going, I posited that opponents may simply just not have been trying as hard to crash the glass with Howard around.  Back then, he was “Dwight Howard.”

Clint Capela, Howard’s likely successor, has a net rating of 2.2, compared to Howard’s net rating of -0.9. Capela has an offensive rebounding percentage of 14, compared to Howard’s 11.8, but his defensive rebounding percentage is 21.8, while Howard’s is 29.2.  Capela, however, turns the ball over much less, with a ratio of 9.9 compared to Howard’s 15.7.  (This figure is the number of turnovers per 100 of their own possessions).  Clint Capela is earning $1.189 million this season.

While revealing, these numbers are lacking without supplementary evidence from the eye test.  And the eye test shows a Dwight Howard who vastly struggles bending his knees on the perimeter in pick and roll situations and bogs the offense down at the other end with his inability to shoot, pass, or dribble the ball.

Taking the above numbers into consideration, one could posit strong arguments that Houston is better with Howard, better without Howard, or is likely to fare around the same in his absence.  And that’s really the crux of the matter.  Howard is still an impactful player, but if his overall impact is so difficult to distinguish, he’s just simply not worth his likely upcoming price tag.  While Howard is still a superior player to Capela, I think most reasonable observers would conclude that there is probably a smarter course for resource allocation.

A follower stated last night that all I do is criticize Howard.  That’s not true at all.  I defended Howard when the national media lazily leapt to cast blame for the McHale firing, and overall for Houston’s struggles.  Dwight Howard was not the problem for the Houston Rockets this season, and early on, his effort levels were one of the sole bright spots; there were times when it felt he was the only player on the court trying.

But one can recognize an overall decline and a need for divorce without slander and the appropriation of blame.  I appreciate everything Dwight Howard did for this franchise, but its simply time to move on.  For whatever reason, he and James Harden just didn’t click.  That doesn’t necessarily have to be anyone’s fault.  He chose this franchise and this city when so many players before him and after spurned it, in favor of other opportunities.  For that reason alone, I wish it could have worked out better for everyone, but right now, a divorce seems inevitable.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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