2010-2011 Player Evaluation: Dwight Howard | Magic Basketball

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Jul 06

2010-2011 Player Evaluation: Dwight Howard

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

2010-2011 regular season Dwight Howard
Games Played 78
Minutes Played 37.6
adj. +/- +14.09
net +/- +9.8
statistical +/- +7.24
PER 26.0
WARP 20.5
Win Shares/48 .236

And so here we are.

Dwight Howard‘s evaluation.

Will he stay or go?

This time last year, fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers had to endure the agonizing process of sitting around, waiting, wondering if LeBron James would stay with the team or go elsewhere. A week after free agency began, James made “The Decision” on July 8, 2010 and chose to sign with the Miami Heat, teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the process while leaving the Cavaliers to pick up the pieces. Only now, after finishing with the second-worst regular season record in the league and thus earning two of the top four picks in the 2011 NBA Draft, is Cleveland in a position to move forward and rebuild.

Soon it will be Howard’s turn to make a decision.

Don’t expect a public relations disaster from Howard any time soon when he eventually announces his intentions to the public concerning his future with the Orlando Magic. Up to this point, Howard has said all the right things when asked if he’ll remain a member of the Magic beyond 2012. Howard loves the city of Orlando but he wants to win, and ultimately he desires to align with a team that gives him the best chance at winning. Needless to say, general manager Otis Smith hopes that he is able to put the right pieces around Howard before it’s too late, so that the big fella wins with the Magic and stays. The Cavaliers tried to appease James at every turn and failed, witnessing him leave in the process.

Will Howard do the same thing to Orlando?

No one knows.

How did we get to this position in the first place? There’s an answer to that.

Let’s flashback to the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics. Heading into the series, the Magic had home-court advantage and were favored to beat the Celtics and advance to the Finals for a second consecutive year. Questions about whether or not Smith made a mistake by making several personnel changes to the roster that made it to the 2009 NBA Finals were erased for the time being, as Orlando steamrolled through the second half of the regular season with a record of 33-8 and swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the playoffs. It was generally understood that the Celtics would offer stiff resistance to the Magic. Boston had Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace to throw at Howard, which allowed them to stay at home on Orlando’s shooters. Nevertheless, many believed that the Magic would persevere. That didn’t happen.

What did happen was a series loss that not only changed the direction of a franchise, but also the direction of a player.

A franchise changed
The direction of Orlando as a franchise didn’t change right away. However, losing to the Celtics laid the groundwork for an inexorable transformation.

Vince Carter, after a valiant effort in Game 1 in which he scored 23 points and kept the Magic afloat for most of the game before a fourth quarter comeback by the team fell short, choked in Game 2. There’s no other way to put it. Orlando had a chance to cut Boston’s lead to one point with 31.9 seconds left. All Carter had to do was make two free-throws but he missed both of them and the Celtics were able to escape with a victory, winning the first two games on the road and creating a mountain that was too tall to climb for the Magic in the series. Carter wasn’t the same after that, making a minimal impact for Orlando during the remainder of the Conference Finals.

Carter’s failure was the beginning of the end for him as a relevant player and for the Magic as a championship contender and an elite team. Carter would bounce back this season and post nearly identical numbers from his first year with Orlando but when push came to shove and the team needed to rely on him to give them a bucket in crunch-time situations, he couldn’t do it. Not for a lack of trying, mind you, but because Carter wasn’t the same guy he was with the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets. As such, Carter’s fall with the Magic was complete when Smith made the decision to undo the experiment, trading him to the Phoenix Suns in a seven-player deal, and bringing Hedo Turkoglu back.

As for Rashard Lewis, the Boston series did him in too. After torching the Bobcats and Hawks offensively, Lewis could do next to nothing against the Celtics thanks in large part to Kevin Garnett’s defensive efforts. Lewis did his fair share on defense and slowed down Garnett, which goes overlooked when looking back at that fateful series. But Orlando needed Lewis to bring it on offense and he didn’t. It was going to take a team effort to beat Boston in seven games. Unfortunately for the Magic, Lewis was unable to do his part.

Exacerbating the issue for Orlando was that Lewis carried over his offensive struggles into a new year, while also regressing on defense as well. Lewis contended that a lack of shots was the issue and while he had a valid point, given that his usage rate during the 2010-2011 season with the Magic was the lowest it’s been since his second year in the NBA, it’s a make or miss league and he was missing a lot. As such, Lewis’ regression as a player forced Smith to gamble and traded him to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas.

With Carter, Lewis, and other players like Matt Barnes gone, it’s easy to point to the Celtics series as the beginning of the end.

A player changed
The direction of Howard as a player didn’t change right away either.

Prior to this year, the most common criticism of Howard was that he didn’t have a post game. Howard’s performance against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals cemented that idea on a national scale, after getting criticized off the court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for having a predictable repertoire offensively while at the same time struggling on the court to score against the frontline of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Howard began to shed that label during the 2009-2010 season, relying more on his ability to score with his back to the basket than ever before. There were many games where it was clear that Howard was turning a corner on offense. But critics were skeptical and Howard didn’t do himself any favors when he struggled offensively against the Bobcats in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, in large part because he was in foul trouble for a majority of the time during the series. Howard acquitted himself nicely against the Hawks, making mince meat of Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia.

Then it was time for Boston.

At that point, Perkins was wildly seen as a Howard stopper because he had the requisite lower-body strength to push him away from his comfort zones in the paint. Howard didn’t do himself any favors by trying to score against Perkins with his strength rather than his athleticism. To aid Perkins in his efforts defensively was Wallace, another proven Howard repellant dating back to his days with the Detroit Pistons. Wallace was more crafty and used veteran savvy to quell Howard’s efforts. It’s no surprise then that, because of Perkins and Wallace, Howard struggled mightily in two of the first three games in the series against the Celtics. The critics were not surprised. As a result, the Magic were down 3-0 and staring at a sweep.

However, before Game 4, Hakeem Olajuwon offered words of wisdom to Howard during a phone conversation and from that point on, everything changed. The years of waiting for Howard to tap into his seemingly limitless potential as a player were over and Boston got a first-hand look.

It was too little, too late for Orlando in the series but not before Howard went down swinging. In Games 4-6, Howard finally began to figure things out on offense and there wasn’t much Perkins and Wallace could do to stop him. Howard’s mental block was gone and he played free and easy from that point forward.

Howard used his athleticism on Perkins, his strength on Wallace, and they were helpless to offer any resistance. The Magic eventually lost to the Celtics in six games but that series changed Howard forever, and he would further make use of Olajuwon’s assistance during the offseason.

Fast forward to now
There’s not much else to say that hasn’t already been said.

Howard improved leaps and bounds offensively, providing elite offense to go with his already-elite defense. Howard won his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award, a feat never before accomplished by an NBA player, and a strong case can be made that he deserved to win MVP over Derrick Rose as well.

Howard had a season for the ages and it’s a shame that it was undermined by the inferiority of his teammates.

Magic fans — enjoy Howard while he’s still around.

Grade: A+

18 comments
BacktotheBasketball
BacktotheBasketball

^what he said. Note that Bynum is the next-best center in the league. It sounds like you have him confused with Greg Oden. He is pretty much the surefire starter for the Western Conference All-Star team with Yao retired. Bynum can pound scoring stats a little better without Kobe dropping 25 a game. You probably won't get to shed both Hedo and Gilbert in this trade. LA will think the front-court they surrendered is enough payment. 

I think you are underestimating those three players. For the stat-watchers, Odom, Bynum, and Gasol have a PER of 19.5, 21.1, and 23.3 respectively. Dwight has a PER of 26.6, Hedo (13.5) and Gilbert (10.8) are sub-league average. Not that those numbers mean everything, but you're getting 3 very good players for one great player. Can't do too much better than that.

Better comparison maybe: The Memphis Grizzlies of the East. Except better. Odom over Battier, Gasol over Z-Bo, and Bynum over Marc. 

Jrod
Jrod

Well you know what they say about opinions.

Chasebridg
Chasebridg

What attractive assets do the Lakers have?

Bynum is pretty good when healthy, which is part of the problem: he's never healthy. If we were to get Bynum, I would probably trade him for expiring contracts and picks.

As for Odom, he's decent. He won't be motivated if he leaves LA, though.

And Pau Gasol is not someone I want. He may be a very good player, but his contract is still pretty bad.

So let's say we trade Dwight, Hedo, and Arenas for Bynum, Gasol, and Odom. Where does hat get us? We might win around 49-53 games while getting knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs every year. We'd be the East version of the Nuggets. I'd rather just let Dwight walk and start rebuilding.

/rant

Chasebridg
Chasebridg

No.

Dwight can't force his way to the Lakers. They have no cap space whatsoever.

Besides, I would MUCH rather let him walk than hand another championship team to the Lakers.

Now, if he says 'Send me to the Clippers or the Thunder', then I would be more interested in trading him. Those two teams have much more attractive assets than the Lakers do.

Jrod
Jrod

This is also silly.  There may not be cause to begrudge Dwight should he leave, depending on how he handles it.  But how in the world can you be fine with it.  It would be devastating to the franchise.  Whether he goes to the Lakers is pretty insignificant in comparison to the crushing loss him simply leaving would be.     

Jrod
Jrod

It's silly to make any proclamations about who has leverage when you know very little what the specifics of the new CBA will be. 

Michaelcourt
Michaelcourt

Howard will be a goner unless the new CBA really punishes him for it.  Writing is on the wall and the roster is just a mess now.

Jeremy
Jeremy

FYI- Celevlands #1 pick was acquired in the baron davis trade with the Clippers, not the #4 pick...

Zach
Zach

If New Jersey would give that much to potentially get Deron Williams I'd be willing to bet many teams would give a better deal than what the Lakers can offer for a chance to resign Dwight.

Carlo Simone
Carlo Simone

Which is the way it should be.  Dwight should have the power to do what he wants.  Hopefully that includes staying in Orlando because we love to watch him play and he's easy to root for.  He was just a monster this season and it was heartbreaking to watch him destroy the Atlanta Hawks and get nothing in return from his teammates except for one game in the postseason.

It was an MVP season for Dwight and there's no reason to expect less next year.

TheHeroofOsaka
TheHeroofOsaka

A couple of thoughts.

If the new CBA does include that revered amnesty clause, who do you see Orlando cutting between Turk and Arenas? Just after losing to the Hawks, I would've guessed Arenas would've been out the door, but Howard's taken an unusual shine to him of late, and Turk is notoriously lazy and disinterested which is not high on Howard's list of things he likes in teammates.

More on Arenas, the guy actually kind of came alive in the playoffs. You could tell he was definitely limited as to what he could do, but most of it seemed more due to his knee than a lack of effort. Given the summer and possibly more time with the lockout do you think he could heal up and, possibly given a starting position he do desperately wants, do you think he becomes a solid piece?

If the CBA goes through with the amnesty clause, the Magic would suddenly have a good amount of salary to work with in finding a solid free agent. Who would you have them try to pick up?

Zach
Zach

The only cards Dwight holds are the ones that allow him to become a free agent. He can leave in the off-season but Orlando doesn't have to trade him to a team he requests if it's not in their best interest. Dwight can say hey send me to LA. Orlando doesn't have to do that. If they say no the Lakers can't go ahead and sign him in the off-season. All he can do is choose Orlando and a few other teams like the Nets or maybe the Celtics/Mavericks. If Orlando trades Dwight away they're in rebuilding mode. If Dwight leaves in free agency they're in rebuilding mode. Orlando just has to hope he wants to stay.

Dorfdrummer
Dorfdrummer

Thanks for all the write-ups Eddy. Well written and a good reflection of the past season.

Dannyiglesias
Dannyiglesias

Everybody is assuming he is leaving, but remember the Magic hold the cards.  Of the teams that can afford Howard, there has been no interest in playing for them.  As for trades, the magic would have to approve any trade and they will not get equal value back.  Anybody who thinks Bynum and Gasol or Bynum and Odom (or all 3 for that matter) is a fair trade, is absolutely crazy.  If I was in the drivers seat for the Magic, I try my best to make some moves and get some good guys to surround him and I take the change that he stays. 

Besides this new CBA may workin our favor, who knows. 

BacktotheBasketball
BacktotheBasketball

No, sorry. Dwight has leverage. New CBA won't restrict players from leaving their teams. NBPA would never agree to that. It might offer incentives for players to stay with their teams, but ultimately it is Dwight's decision. If he blatantly says he wants to win, only teams in winning situations will get serious looks. Orlando can't convince Milwaukee to trade Jennings, Bogut, and picks for a player that will not sign an extension there. New Jersey deal for D-Will was different because he said he is interested in being the face of a dynamic new franchise like that. Howard will not go to anything but a tier-one team if he leaves Orlando. He can force the Magic management's hand.

Eden
Eden

I agree man. It is quite disconcerting seeing so many Magic fans being 'ok' with Dwight leaving as long as we get something in return. Putting aside the fact that he is the best Center the league has seen for quite a while and the best defensive player in our lifetime, the guy plays hard and busts his guts for the Orlando franchise. Instead of being so nonchalant about him leaving why can't the fans stand behind him and WISH he would stay. If he leaves so be it no hard feelings. But why not back Dwight staying and really wanting him to stay.

Sure Cleveland and Toronto fans were burned but they did the right things. They did not view their franchise player as an asset that can be used (there is plenty of time for that when he actually says he wants to leave, in the meantime back the big man). I mean Dwight did say how it pissed him off that the Orlando media were 'pushing' him out of Orlando like they did Shaq with all these stupid hypotheticals. Such as saying 'what can we get back for Dwight' or 'it is ok if he leaves as long as we get something in return' prematurely.

Of course bloggers and media people can write about those things. That is fine. That is their job and it does make interesting reading. It is the fans that shouldn't be saying those things so freely.

BacktotheBasketball
BacktotheBasketball

There aren't very many other teams who can offer Dwight and Orlando the same package. If Dwight leaves, it will be because he wants to win. Why not go to one of the winningest teams in the NBA alongside NBA legend Kobe Bryant? Orlando wants to keep Dwight, of course, but if they can't assemble the right group of teammates to convince him it makes more sense to trade him for the best offer. Lakers offer an All-Star, last year's 6th Man of the Year and one of the most versatile PFs in the league, and a future All-Star for Dwight and a bad contract. Orlando loses Howard but sheds a crippling contract and picks up the second-best center in the NBA (when healthy, of course) and 2 quality players. Orlando can instantly run a front-court of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom and own the most powerful front-court in the league. There is no better offer than this if Howard makes it clear that he is leaving.