Few players in the league are talented enough to leave a team, then change the fundamental offensive philosophy of the new team they're joining. Dwight Howard is one of those players, and his impact on the Houston Rockets next season should prove it.
Whenever Houston had the ball last season, it depended on effective high screens and side pick-and-rolls that subsequently initiated isolation opportunities for wing scorers like James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Carlos Delfino and Jeremy Lin. These typically resulted in open three-pointers or drives to the basket.
Post touches were nonexistent, with Omer Asik and Greg Smith existing as the two main options, neither possessing any dominant abilities in the pivot. According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets ranked as the 26th-most efficient team in the league on post-up finishes, utilizing them just 4.2 percent of the time.
While tons and tons of screens were set to free Houston’s attack from the wing, possessions rarely resulted in the roll man finishing. It happened just 5.4 percent of the time but remained an efficient option, averaging 1.03 points per possession.
That will all change now that the Rockets have the best center in basketball.
Howard is best-known for being the most dominant defensive player/force of his generation. But unlike most modern-day centers who earn all their money guarding the rim and grabbing rebounds, he's also extremely effective on the other end; the immediate attention he commands simply standing still on the court helps everyone out.
And when he moves, normally smart defenses tend to panic.
In the two clips below, we see Howard setting a high screen then rolling into the paint and sucking the defense in like a whirlpool. The play isn't complicated but leads to a wide-open three-point attempt by Rashard Lewis. It happens early in the shot clock, which is when smart teams look to attack the defense; sequences mirroring this one should happen repeatedly next season.
In the other clip, attacking from the post, Howard makes a move toward the rim and is swarmed by three defenders. He easily finds a wide-open Jason Williams as the shot clock winds down, and Orlando adds three points to its score.
Few teams are able to guard him in the post with single coverage without doubling, and all that does is open things up for shooters on the outside.
For all his post game lacks in aesthetic beauty, it makes up for in overall production. He sets fantastic screens, is a hurricane rolling to the basket on pick-and-rolls and draws a ton of fouls (his 7.9 personal fouls drawn per game last season led the league by over 1.1 per game).
The ball won't go in Howard’s hands on every single possession, and Harden will still be Houston's best offensive player, but the presence of Howard allows more half-court action and less of an up-and-down game, which is a good thing, since postseason success is predicated on slower tempo.
Here's another example of how Howard can make a defense suffer by simply rolling to the basket. Here he slips the screen, rushes into the paint while shooters spread the floor and finishes with a beautifully thrown lob at the rim.
Expect the Rockets to play like a more well-rounded team next season, with a substantial increase in their usage of post-ups to create offense both for Howard and elsewhere. Those touches will come early in the possession, though, allowing secondary options to unfold should Howard run into trouble while making his move.
According to Synergy Sports, a little less than half (45.2 percent) of Howard’s offensive production last season was from the post, where he scored 41 percent of the time. That isn't bad at all considering his high volume.
Houston was one of the most efficient offenses in basketball last season, but with the addition of Howard, expect it to get even better.
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