Superman's Rise to New Heights | Magic Basketball



Nov 08

Superman’s Rise to New Heights

Photo by Fernando Medina

While Chris Paul is reminding everyone why he’s the best point guard in the NBA, there’s another player that’s doing similar conversion tactics.

His name is Dwight Howard.

Mind you, Howard doesn’t need to remind many people that he’s the best center in the league but for those that like to insert Yao Ming’s name in the discussion when he’s healthy or Pau Gasol if they want to bend the positional rules a little bit, the first five games of the regular season have provided a refresher course for them. Yes, small sample size needs to be accounted for but it’s not too early to say that Howard is playing the best basketball of his career right now. Howard has taken his game to another stratosphere and even though he hasn’t faced some of his toughest challenges yet, namely the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, he’s been a dominant force against nearly everything that he’s crossed paths with.

Howard has been so dominant, the unthinkable is now a complete thought — he could be emerging as the best player in the NBA according to one linear metric.

This is not to suggest that Howard has reached that threshold because it’s early in the year and things can change in a hurry. Plus, even though he’s seen a dip in his numbers with the Miami Heat, there’s plenty of empirical evidence from years past to assert that LeBron James remains the top dog. Yet if James was still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and still putting up the type of eye-popping statistics in which everyone has grown accustomed to, Howard is inching himself closer to rivaling that type of production. Again, it’s early but Howard is playing like a man possessed and it’s hard not to notice the change with eyes and numbers.

And all of these changes are coming on offense.

Never before has Howard been as involved offensively as he is now. So far in the season, Howard’s usage rate is 32.1 percent. To put that number in perspective, Howard’s usage rate in 2009 was 26.1 percent — the highest of his career. Howard is getting the basketball as much as the Kevin Durant’s of the world, and that’s something that’s never happened to him before.

2009-2010 regular season TS% eFG% USG% ORtg
Dwyane Wade .562 .500 34.9% 113
LeBron James .604 .545 33.5% 121
Carmelo Anthony .548 .478 33.4% 110
Kobe Bryant .545 .488 32.3% 109
Kevin Durant .607 .514 32.0% 118
Dwight Howard (2010-2011) .604 .600 32.1% 114

When a player sees a dramatic rise in the amount of possessions he uses, more often than not his efficiency takes a hit. That’s certainly been the case for Howard, as his True Shooting percentage has dipped. But it’s still above 60 percent, which is excellent and makes all sense in the world for the Orlando Magic to continue to feed the beast. Why not? It’s the most logical thing to do.

Thus, Howard’s usage rate should be that high. Will it be for the remainder of the year? Probably not, but it’s safe to say that Howard will use up more possessions this season than in any other season in his NBA tenure.

That’s a good thing.

By extension, despite seeing his usage rate increase, Howard has done a good job of cutting down on his turnovers. It’s too soon to make any proclamations but Howard’s turnover rate is the lowest of his career (13.1 percent), which bodes well for the Magic if they want to continue to give him the ball a lot more this year. One of the main reasons that Howard is not turning over the basketball as much as he used to in the past is more so because of his maturation offensively than anything else.

2008-2009 15.1% 26.1%
2009-2010 18.7% 23.9%
2010-2011 13.1% 32.1%

Also, that’s a reason why Howard’s efficiency remains great despite the uptick in usage.

When watching Howard play, if it looks and seems like he’s becoming more fluid on offense, it’s because he is. Very rarely will Howard be indecisive when it comes to executing moves and countermoves. More and more, Howard is executing offensively in a methodical manner and it’s something to behold.

Because Howard is getting his hands on the ball a lot more, it’ll be interesting to see if his turnover rate remains as low it is. It might not, but there’s 77 games left in the season to find out one way or the other.

By now, the story of Howard’s workout with Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason in Houston has become legend.

However, Howard attributes his newfound mid-range jumper to the hard work he put in during the summer. This isn’t to say that Howard doesn’t credit Olajuwon for helping him out when they worked out together. But Olajuwon’s guidance came more so from the mental approach. For so long, Howard was afraid to try different stuff in games but Olajuwon told him to let go of his concerns, and the results so far have been phenomenal.

Howard’s hesitation to shoot jumpshots? Gone.

10-15 Feet FGM-A FG%
2008-2009 0.2-0.6 28.0%
2009-2010 0.2-0.5 37.8%
2010-2011 1.0-2.0 50.0%

It’s doubtful that Howard can keep up this pace but if his percentage from 10-15 feet can mirror Tim Duncan’s or, at the very least, stay above the league-average of roughly 39 percent, that’s a win. Defenses will likely continue to dare Howard into shooting jumpers, so he has to make them consistently.

One way or the other, it’s been fascinating to see the type of player that Howard is becoming this year. For so long, Howard’s defense was always better than his offense. However, that gap is closing rapidly.

This may finally be the season that Howard becomes an elite two-way player.

There are those that might be surprised that this phenomenon is occurring, but they shouldn’t be. There were hints that this was going to happen during the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, when Howard took his game to another level offensively in Games 4 through 6 and began to make mince meat of Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, two defenders that have been able to shut him down many times in the past. Howard, more than anything else, began to understand that he needed to use his finesse, not strength, to score on Perkins and Wallace. It’s the realization that there are different ways to score based on the situation that has allowed Howard to use different aspects of his offensive repertoire when need be. Taking what the defense gives you.

Howard is doing a lot of taking lately.

Aaron H.
Aaron H.

Howard has always been better than they give him credit for. I partially feel it's because even when he does things that aren't dunks in the past, that is what ESPN chooses to show on the highlights. Even earlier this year I noticed it in the preseason and first games. That is starting to change a little, though.

What else is starting to change? Um, is that a Dream Shake I see?


Adding to the area of small samples ... Are you not concerned that Dwight seems to think that taking the jumper is an acceptable option now?
You will see his respectable conversion of jumpers at close range - at the expense of 1.5 attempts at the rim, where Dwight finishes at around 70%+ (now and for career).
One thing I don't quite understand is that if Dwight has a better shot why his FT% is worse ... given the increase in those as well ...


FGA-M stat looks backwards, should it be FGM-A instead. The math looks correct though.


D Howard and CP3 are leading the league in Advanced SPM so far this year. Both have been dominant at their positions.

I'll post the numbers pretty soon at APBR, along with projections for the rest of the year using Bayesian updating.

Aaron H.
Aaron H.

Too many jumpers could be a problem, but at this rate, he is fine taking them (though there was one taken late last night that was questionable timing).

In the preseason he was 75% (10/15) on the jumpers between 10-15 feet and is now 5/10 on the regular season. For comparison, Tim Duncan is only 3/10 at that range this year (42.2% & 45% last year 2 years). Also this year Kobe is 9/20 (45%), Kevin Durant 4/16 (25%), Wade 2/6 (33%).

Jump shots aren't ever as effective as shots at the rim, but Dwight is making those shots at a rate better than anyone at his position and even many of the great scorers in the league. Hopefully, if he can maintain that sort of production it will keep defenses enough off balance that it becomes easier to score on attempts closer to the basket and improve the team's overall efficiency.

There is some more statistical breaking down in an article of a similar vein at