With the first half of the NBA season in the books, evaluating Dwight Howard’s immediate impact can be done by comparing last year’s first half performance to this year’s. The 2012-2013 Houston Rockets were 21-21 through 42 games, the definition of mediocrity. This season the 2013-2014 Rockets have posted a very respectable 27-15 through 42, and currently sit a game and a half out of home-court advantage in the first round.
Elite big men are a rare commodity in the NBA. Dwight has established himself as a top offensive weapon, and is having a season to back it up. In his inaugural season with the Rockets, Howard is averaging more points per game (18.0), more rebounds per game (12.6), and more assists per game (1.8) than he did last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. He has increased his FT percentage to over 50% for the first time since his ’10-11 season in Orlando. What may come as a surprise is Houston’s decrease in offensive production, averaging 105.1 pts/g this season through 42 games, while they posted 106 pts/g on the season last year. With that being said, team chemistry is paramount, and one can expect this team to become more efficient in the second half of the season.
A big argument against bringing Dwight to Houston this past off season was the notion that Howard’s defense wouldn’t be a max-contract worthy upgrade over Omer Asik. Both are excellent lane defenders and protect the rim as well as anyone in the NBA. Last season Asik averaged 8.3 defensive rebounds per game, and accounted for 1.1 blocks per contest. Through D12’s first 42 games, he’s averaging 9.1 defensive boards per game, and stuffs 1.8 shots, an upgrade in both categories. Team wise, Houston was ranked 16th in defensive rating last year, compared to 14th this season, with an insignificant difference of 0.5 pts per 100 opponent possessions. Though Howard has posted slightly better numbers than Asik did last season, the team’s defensive impact is fairly negligible thus far.
Dwight Howard made it painstakingly obvious he was unhappy in L.A. Whether it was strife with diva Kobe, the big city lights of L.A., or the obnoxious, self-entitled fan base, Dwight was clearly unhappy. Fast forward half a season, and Howard’s attitude has done a 180, constantly pranking teammates or goofing off on camera. He’s brought a laid back atmosphere to the Rocket’s locker room, one which will surely benefit this young team down the stretch.
Though Dwight Howard’s team statistical impact has been minimal, his addition has significantly impacted the most important stat there is, wins and losses. He’s a substantial offensive upgrade over Asik, and protects the paint slightly better. Plus, when healthy, allows another above average center in Omer to come off the bench. It goes without saying that having Asik back up Dwight Howard packs a 1-2 punch unmatched anywhere in the NBA. In regards to ticket sales, the Rockets went from being ranked 21st in attendance last year, to 5th in the NBA this year. From what has been seen of Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets thus far, one has to think Les Alexander and Daryl Morey got this one right, and have put their team in a position to bring a title back to Clutch City.