By John Hollinger
Dwight Howard can't seem to make up his mind, so we're here to do some of the nitty-gritty work for him. Orlando's big man can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after the season, and several teams will have enough cap space to bid for his services. Additionally, he can try to force a trade before then to a team that's over the cap.
As a result, several teams -- and potential teammates -- are possible landing spots for Howard in the coming months. And so, we thought, wouldn't it be great if he could empirically determine the best fit for him?
Obviously, we don't have a crystal ball, and several factors will be paramount in his decision -- lifestyle, market size, weather, etc. But in terms of basketball, one of the most important decisions facing Howard is choosing teammates who complement his style of play. Only then can he get the most out of his considerable talents and maximize his potential for winning, too.
Howard's skills and characteristics imply what will be needed from his future teammates. To wit:
• Good ballhandling: Dwight does a lot of things well, but distributing the rock ain't one of them. He had the second-worst pure point rating in the NBA last season and is seventh-worst so far this year, so clearly it's incumbent on others to set up teammates. A good complementary player for Dwight will have a strong pure point rating that will offset Dwight's shortcomings here.
• A good 3-point shooter: Dwight creates a lot of trouble in the paint, forcing extra defenders to commit to the middle and leaving catch-and-shoot opportunities for everybody else. That's a big reason Orlando can play its drive-kick-space game so effectively on the outside even with largely mediocre players doing it. They start by running a pick-and-roll with Dwight, and when a weakside defender inevitably has to "jam" Dwight's roll to the basket to prevent a dunk, it leaves a wide-open shooter on that side of the court.
Dwight Howard has the area of rebounding covered.
• A low defensive rebound rate: This is a bit counterintuitive, but a great defensive rebounder is basically wasted playing next to Dwight Howard, because Dwight already gets every single missed shot by the opponent. This is only a mild exaggeration. His rebound rate this year is a new high at 22.6, and his rate at the defensive end is a ridiculous 35.0, which leads the league by a wide margin -- Portland's Marcus Camby is the league's only other player over 30.
While studies show offensive rebounding tends to be additive -- in other words, a great offensive rebounder steals relatively few from his teammates and, thus, when paired with another tends not to rob from his new teammate's plate -- that's not the case for defensive boards. Given a finite number of missed shots, it's virtually impossible for a duo who plays together (not just on the same team, but in the same lineup) to each post huge defensive rebound rates. As a result, it wouldn't be an optimal use of either player's skills to pair Howard with another strong defensive rebounder.
• A good shot creator: Dwight's biggest offensive shortcoming is his inability to create a high volume of shots, at least relative to other superstars. This season, for instance, he's only third among centers in usage rate and is barely holding off Tim Duncan for fourth, even though Howard is clearly the most dominant player at his position.
This is because he has to create nearly all his offense right at the rim and struggles when he has to do something away from it. It stands out in particular when he plays against big, tough centers who he can't overwhelm physically; in a related story, the four centers who have knocked him out of the playoffs are Ben Wallace, Andrew Bynum, Kendrick Perkins and Jason Collins.
That problem has been magnified in Orlando by playing with teammates who struggle to create shots on their own -- they rely on all the attention Dwight gets to create openings for themselves. Whomever Dwight teams up with needs to be able to create quality shots on his own and not just count on Dwight to do it.
Based on those four factors, I performed an exercise similar to what I did with LeBron James two years ago -- rating the potential of his future teammates in terms of the ability to maximize each other's skills.
In each case, I'm looking only at potential second or third options -- there are no comparisons of Brian Scalabrine and Rasual Butler in here. And I looked only at the seven teams that are even quasi-realistic landing points -- his current Orlando squad, plus Chicago, New Jersey, Dallas, the Lakers, the Clippers and Boston.
I created a "Dwight rating" by looking at five categories: usage rate, defensive rebound rate, pure point rating, 3-point attempts per 100 field goal attempts, and 3-point percentage. Where a player didn't have a 3-point percentage or had one less than 20 percent, I used 20 percent as a floor. Conversely, when a player had a percentage in the stratosphere based on five or fewer attempts, I lowered it to 30 percent.
I weighted each category roughly equally by starting with usage rate and adding 3-point attempts per 100 field goal attempts. I then added 10 times the pure point rating, and subtracted the defensive rebound rate. Finally, I added three times the difference between the player's 3-point percentage and 30 percent.
What we're left with weights each of the four categories above fairly equally. Keep in mind that this rating isn't saying which duos would be best as much as which would be most complementary; what we're looking for here is the two-man pairing that most enhances the skills of each. It goes without saying, for instance, that a Howard-DeAndre Jordan frontcourt would be physically imposing, but they'd also get in each other's way, which would diminish the production of each.
With that in mind, let's look at how everybody panned out:
Andrew Bynum, Dwight Rating minus-82.2: Yes, that's a minus. Several players were overwhelmingly negative, but none moreso than Bynum. Only three other players in the league with at least 500 minutes played had a worse Dwight Rating, and none plays for teams on Howard's wish list. (For posterity, the worst score was DeMarcus Cousins at minus-102.6, followed by Derrick Favors, Kendrick Perkins, JaVale McGee and Bynum). The one thing the numbers don't see that makes this even worse is that both players prefer to set up on the left block, and neither is comfortable playing from the high post.
Glen Davis, minus-69.8: Great work, Otis.
DeAndre Jordan, minus-68.9: As I said above, this one isn't a great fit. It goes without saying that any scenario that saw Dwight join the Clippers would almost certainly see DeAndre leave.
Kris Humphries, -67.9: The problem with Humphries' rating here is that he's something of a one-man roadblock to a Howard trade to New Jersey. The deal is made much more easily if Humphries goes as part of a package to Orlando, but after signing a one-year Bird Rights deal, Humphries has the ability to refuse a trade. Making matters worse is that Humphries and Dwight would be an odd pairing; while Hump can work the weakside offensive boards on Howard's post-ups, they'll steal defensive caroms from one another and won't space the floor or create shots for one another.
Carlos Boozer, minus-49.5; Joakim Noah minus-45.8: Any mix-and-match of players to team up with Chicago's frontcourt would be less than ideal for Howard, as he'd be fighting a couple of great rebounders for rebounds and would struggle to divvy up the court with them offensively. On the other hand, this mark isn't terrible for frontcourt players, as you can see by some of the others.
Not great, but ...
Pau Gasol, minus-22.1: The nice thing for Gasol is that playing with Howard wouldn't be much different for him than paying with Bynum. The bad thing, of course, is that Gasol is sacrificing a ton of low-post touches in order to make the pairing with Bynum work and would have to do the same thing if paired with Howard.
While Gasol is skilled enough to make the tandem work, I'd argue that such a setup still gives his skills on the block short shrift.
Blake Griffin, minus-15.7: At first glance, a Griffin-Howard combo might have too much overlap offensively. Upon further reflection, however, they may complement each other better than you think.
Griffin is actually a good passer and ball handler for his size and could find easy buckets for Howard when Griffin is doubled on the block. Plus, Griffin prefers the right block, so Howard would have his preferred spot on the left. (Incidentally, I capped Griffin's 3-point percentage at 30 percent in this projection since his 50 percent mark was based on two attempts).
Dirk Nowitzki, 1.0: Subjectively, I suspect this would work better than this rating, but I can see why it's this low. Dirk doesn't create a ton of shots, and neither does Dwight, which puts a whole lot of pressure on somebody else to be creating them. Nowitzki also is neither a frequent nor particularly accurate 3-point shooter, at least of late, so while he'll provide floor spacing with the threat of his deadly midrange game, it's not quite as threatening as the long-range bombing.
Just for kicks I re-entered Nowitzki as a 38 percent 3-point shooter rather than his 21 percent of his season; that raised his rating to 43.4. That's more like it. While it can't touch the ratings of the guards on this list, it's the best one for any big man on Dwight's target teams. (Note that I didn't include any other Mavericks, because Dallas' road map to getting Dwight basically involves getting rid of all of them. But Shawn Marion's 35.6 was also intriguing).
Kobe Bryant, 34.1: Kobe and Dwight aren't necessarily ideal because Kobe isn't a particularly adept long-range shooter and is not exactly earning a rep as the Human Assist this season. Nonetheless, the one thing Kobe does extremely well is create shots on the perimeter, and that would help take the heat off Howard when he can't create those looks on his own.
Luol Deng, 46.3: Deng isn't a big creator, but he'll hit corner 3s and doesn't turn it over. As a third (or fourth) wheel, he'd be a decent complement to a Rose-Howard vortex in Chicago.
Now it's getting interesting
Rajon Rondo, 61.5; Paul Pierce, 86.4; Ray Allen, 109.1; Kevin Garnett, minus-34.9: You'll notice that Boston's three perimeter players all rate very highly for playing with Dwight, and that even Garnett's mark is pretty solid compared to the other frontcourt players on this list. You have to think this might pique Howard's interest ever so slightly -- he has a great distributor to get him the ball, two deadly 3-point shooters on either wing, and carte blanche to get every defensive rebound. (Incidentally, Garnett, like Griffin, had his 3-point percentage ratcheted down to a more a believable 30 percent from his current 75 percent on four attempts).
Of course, this is only one axis of Dwight's decision; age is another, so while Howard may be a nice fit with these four at the present, it's hard to imagine the three elder Celtics lasting very far into a Dwight Howard tenure in Beantown.
Deron Williams, 103.4: Even while having an off year in Jersey, Williams rates as a pretty fair complement to Howard because of his ability to create shots in general and shots for teammates in particular.
Williams isn't a great long-range shooter, however, and his instincts are perhaps a bit more geared toward scoring than passing than you'd prefer for this spot. Minor quibbles, yes -- a Dwight-Deron combo would be devastating -- but a couple of players fit a bit better.
J.J. Redick, 112.7; Hedo Turkoglu, 94.0: Why do you care about these numbers? Because any Howard trade will likely have a couple of contracts thrown in as well, and these are the two that make the most sense for the receiving team.
Both Redick and Turkoglu are paid beyond this season and could be converted by the Magic into an expiring contract, accelerating their post-Howard rebuilding process. The acquiring team would get a secondary player whose game already fits Howard's like a glove.
Derrick Rose, 113.8: Yep, Rose and Howard together would be pretty sweet, even if Rose's game is geared more toward scoring than setting up the big man. The key here is that Rose, like Kobe, creates such a high volume of shots that it really takes the heat off Howard to produce one-on-one in the post.
While Rose isn't a pure long-range shooter, this exercise rates him as a slightly better complement to Howard than Williams -- interesting food for thought, given the teams on Howard's wish list and the apparent exclusion of Chicago from it (at least for the moment).
Chris Paul, 187.1: I've long felt that a Chris Paul-Dwight Howard combo would be the league's most unstoppable pick-and-roll tandem, and now I have some backing for my theory. Howard wouldn't need to create offense on post isos with a point guard maestro like Paul running things, while Paul's ability to create shots and avoid turnovers would dramatically offset Howard's propensity for miscues.
Throw in the obvious synergy of Paul's ability to throw alley-oops and Howard's talent to convert them, and putting these two together with the Clips would arguably provide an even more spectacular version of the current Lob City spectacle.