Figuring out a post-Dwight Howard roster | Magic Basketball

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Jul 09

Figuring out a post-Dwight Howard roster

Marc Serota/Getty Images

Somewhere between the Van Gundy firing and the word “blackmail,” it became abundantly clear that Dwight Howard probably isn’t coming back to Orlando next season. This has gone on for too long, with too many superlatives thrown about in the process, and with Dwight’s loyal downright bizarre opt-in episode in March, the Magic have been afforded with a rare second opportunity to play the trade market instead of just watching their superstar leave in free agency.

The future of the rest of the roster, however, is very much in flux. Ryan Anderson has been signed-and-traded for Gustavo Ayon, J.J. Redick got his no-brainer of a guarantee for next season, and Jameer Nelson is fresh off a new, questionable 3 year deal, but their long-term prospects are still completely dependent on the new direction that will eventually be chosen by general manager Rob Hennigan. With Hennigan as much of an unknown as any other portion of the roster, any speculation –- even the kind that shrewdly points to Hennigan’s OKC background and the supposed Presti Teardown Blueprint -– is incredibly premature.

In the meantime, it will be Hennigan’s responsibility to devise a course of action, and subsequently put either an effective or an abjectly horrible team on the floor. And that sort of squad will consist of a completely different make-up than what Magic fans have gotten used to. Howard’s mere presence on the floor significantly alters the style of play of his teammates, and yet, Orlando’s entire roster is working with the market value of Dwight’s teammates. On a team looking at major changes, these disparities between Dwight-inflated value and Dwight-less production can be exploited to bump up from a 32-win team to a 39-win team –- or, conversely, to trade a secondary player for a better asset that will further help a rebuild.

Having said that, here is a look at Orlando’s seven rotation players from last season, and the way they played both with and without Dwight. I set the cut-off at 50 games played, thus conveniently absolving myself of the responsibility to acknowledge Quentin Richardson in now-former head coach Stan Van Gundy’s rotation. So without further ado.

Glen Davis

ORtg DRtg Net TRB% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 105.2 106.6 -1.5 15.1% 13.2% 50.4% 22.1%
Dwight On 95.7 97.2 -1.5 11.9% 12.6% 40.4% 16.9%

 

To the naked eye, Big Baby thrived as a starting center and an offensive focal point with Howard out of the picture, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds in the Indiana series. Indeed, the numbers show us a similar picture. Taking Howard out of the lineup coincided with a huge bump in Baby’s usage rate, True Shooting percentage, and rebound percentage, with the only negative coming with a slight bump in turnovers. As for team performance, the expected is once again the truth, as Orlando played much better offensively and much worse defensively with Davis alone instead of Davis and Howard together.

It’s not hard to understand why this is the case –- Davis seems to think he is a decent mid-range shooter, but he is horribly wrong in this regard. Pairing him with Dwight pushes him out of the paint, where his strong build helps him gain position and his surprisingly agile feet lead to a nice little array of moves. Indeed, we can see that Davis shot virtually the same number of mid-range shots with and without Howard, but his shots in the restricted area nearly tripled with him working as an offensive center, with his success rate on those shots going way up as well.
 

Dwight On Court Dwight Off Court
Shot Type – Detail FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Restricted Area 27 58 46.6% 89 147 60.5%
In The Paint (Non-RA) 12 29 41.4% 20 54 37.0%
Mid-Range 35 115 30.4% 40 117 34.2%

 

Davis’ value is much higher as an undersized center than as a roaming power forward; with Dwight on the team, he was more of the latter, which caused a major hit in his production. That Orlando traded for him because Dwight wanted to play with him shows us once again Dwight’s skill at putting together a roster, but he wasn’t wrong in the sense that Davis is a productive player. He could certainly be the sort of guy who can give the team a lot once Dwight leaves, although the new head coach, whoever he may be, will have to think of a way to compensate for his size defensively.

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Ryan Anderson

ORtg DRtg Net TRB% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 104.1 103.7 +0.4 14.3% 7.6% 57.6% 19.6%
Dwight On 109.5 100 +9.5 13.4% 9.2% 59.8% 17.5%

 

Ryan Anderson was the complete opposite of Big Baby on the Dwight spectrum, in what turned out to be his final season with the Magic. Again, the reason pretty much jumps off the page. Anderson’s immense value comes from using a low number of possessions to score a lot without turning the ball over, but he rarely creates those chances himself – among players who scored more than 15 points per game, only Antawn Jamison, Kevin Garnett, Marcin Gortat, and Arron Afflalo were assisted on a higher percentage of their baskets.

Taking Dwight off the court eliminated that initial post-up or pick-and-roll that scrambles a defense to the point where a semi-open Ryan Anderson appears. As such, we can see that Ryan took on more offensive responsibilities without Dwight, but it cost him in efficiency, with his percentages dropping everywhere but inside the paint. Though it should be noted that his turnovers dropped even further without Dwight, and he was still fairly efficient as a scorer overall, this is a concern. Meanwhile, it should probably go without saying that the Magic struggled defensively once Dwight wasn’t waiting behind Anderson to help with drives or just as a general deterrent.
 

Dwight On Court Dwight Off Court
Shot Type – Detail FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Restricted Area 72 135 53.3% 69 115 60.0%
In The Paint (Non-RA) 2 13 15.4% 3 9 33.3%
Mid-Range 8 28 28.6% 12 35 34.3%
Corner 3 35 76 46.1% 14 36 38.9%
Above the Break 3 76 191 39.8% 41 119 34.5%

 

And so, the Magic’s team fortunes dropped dramatically — lineups with Dwight and Anderson together were a dominant 9.5 points per 100 possessions better than their opposition, but lineups with Anderson alone were only 0.4 points per 100 possessions better. Anderson is still a very good player without Dwight, and will do great things in New Orleans. That said, it’s hard to fault the Magic for deciding they’d rather keep some semblance of flexibility while getting a cheap rotation player such as Gustavo Ayon, instead of overpaying a player who may suddenly be part of a system that isn’t suited to his talents.

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Jameer Nelson

ORtg DRtg Net AST% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 105.6 111.4 -5.8 41.6% 7.6% 57.6% 19.6%
Dwight On 108.3 101.1 +7.2 44.0% 9.2% 59.8% 17.5%

 

We have more of the same with Jameer Nelson. With Dwight off the court, Jameer took more shots, and converted less -– specifically, his three-point attempts jumped from 4.4 per 36 minutes to 6.5, with a corresponding drop from 40 percent to 32 percent. As with Anderson, his turnovers actually dropped with Dwight off the floor –- a drop which weary viewers will no doubt attribute to just how often he botches entry passes to the post. There isn’t much to say about Nelson that hasn’t been said at this point -– the difference between having Dwight and not having Dwight is pretty much the difference between a low-efficiency, ball-dominant undersized point guard and a very low-efficiency, very ball-dominant undersized point guard.

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J.J. Redick

ORtg DRtg Net AST% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 104.2 107.8 -3.6 28.0% 9.1% 55.6% 19.3%
Dwight On 102.9 99.3 +3.6 19.7% 10.1% 59.0% 16.4%

 

Redick is more of a mixed bag without Dwight. While one would instinctively attribute his True Shooting percentage drop to the same effect that plagued Ryan Anderson, Redick actually shot better from three-point range without Howard –- 43 percent to 41 percent. What changed without Dwight wasn’t so much Redick’s proficiency, but his shot locations.

With Dwight on the court, 11.4 percent of Redick’s shots were corner threes, and 38.5 percent were threes above the break –- solid numbers for a shooter who has no problem making threes from anywhere on the court. Without Dwight, though, those numbers dropped to 6.1 percent and 34.6 percent, with the corresponding uptick coming from mid-range. Though Redick is a decent mid-range shooter, his 40.6 percent from there is actually inferior to his long-range accumen.
 

Dwight On Court Dwight Off Court
Shot Type – Detail FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Restricted Area 26 48 54.2% 21 35 60.0%
In The Paint (Non-RA) 3 15 20.0% 8 26 30.8%
Mid-Range 45 99 45.5% 33 93 35.5%
Corner 3 18 37 48.6% 11 16 68.8%
Above the Break 3 49 125 39.2% 34 90 37.8%

 

Whether this is a Dwight effect is debatable -– one could make the case that without Dwight, teams are less hesitant to run out to the three-point line and close out on shooters, but this could just as easily be mere happenstance -– but it certainly hurts Redick’s efficiency. Which is a shame, because it seems that Redick has been very effective at taking higher offensive responsibilities elsewhere: his assist percentage dramatically increased without Dwight and his turnover percentage dropped slightly. In fact, Orlando’s offense was better with Redick on the court without Dwight; it’s the expected defensive drop-off in these situations that did the Magic in.

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Hedo Turkoglu

ORtg DRtg Net AST% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 101.1 115.5 -14.4 34.0% 19.6% 52.5% 17.1%
Dwight On 106.9 99.7 +7.2 35.3% 21.7% 52.8% 18.6%

 

It’s hard to say anything conclusive about Turkoglu, since he only played 261 of his 1653 minutes without Dwight. It sure seems like Van Gundy knew why he was doing this -– Turkoglu’s individual numbers don’t seem very different among the two splits, but the team’s performance swung wildly, from an elite +7.2 point differential with Dwight to a 115.5 Defensive Rating that’s historically bad. Indeed, this probably speaks more about Dwight’s value than Turk’s, though it hardly works to support the notion that Hedo is a Turkish Andre Iguodala. Also interesting to note is that Hedo was the rare player who actually used less possessions with Dwight out, presumably due to the lack of his ideal pick-and-roll partner.

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Jason Richardson

ORtg DRtg Net AST% TOV% TS% USG%
Dwight Off 107.5 109.6 -2.1 14.3% 5.4% 49.5% 19.2%
Dwight On 103 98.5 +4.5 17.4% 10.9% 50.5% 17.6%

 

Richardson also played a good chunk of his minutes with Dwight (1125 out of 1591 minutes), with the team struggling in cases without the big man. Again, this was to be expected, especially defensively. Richardson did turn the ball over dramatically more with Dwight, continuing a team-wide trend; he also assisted more.

As with Redick, Richardson settled for the mid-range jumper much more without Dwight, mostly at the expense of corner threes; while one could make the case that this was a warranted change, as his three-point percentage dropped without Dwight and his mid-range percentage ballooned, the sample size here tells us that this was nonetheless a bad compromise as far as Orlando’s offense is concerned.
 

Dwight On Court Dwight Off Court
Shot Type – Detail FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG%
Restricted Area 65 115 56.5% 28 49 57.1%
In The Paint (Non-RA) 12 27 44.4% 4 14 28.6%
Mid-Range 14 68 20.6% 18 46 39.1%
Corner 3 27 64 42.2% 10 25 40.0%
Above the Break 3 45 125 36.0% 20 63 31.7%

 

Chris Duhon

I’m not going to waste your time. Chris Duhon is awful.

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The Dwight question is going to continue to hang over the franchise’s head until he’s gone, and the rest of the roster is going to have to work around that fact. However, we can use these numbers to try and figure out who can be part of a Dwight-less future and who can’t. Glen Davis’ size probably prevents him from being a true starting center in this league, but he can certainly be effective on a post-Dwight roster. J.J. Redick has also shown he can be effective without Dwight as well. Jameer Nelson is more or less the same guy regardless. Turkoglu, Richardson, and Duhon just aren’t very good at this point in their careers.

The biggest question mark for the future was Ryan Anderson. He struggled mightily against Indiana, and while pinning this entirely on Dwight’s absence is unfair towards Ryan, it’s hard to deny that a team with a dominant big is the best way to fully utilize him. Playing next to Anthony Davis should definitely benefit him — while Davis is hardly Dwight at this point, he could ostensibly supply a fraction of the same offensive focus while similarly working as a defensive safety. It certainly seems as if Rob Hennigan’s first major move was both prudent for the Magic, and beneficial for the player.

Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.

2 comments
CarloSimone
CarloSimone

What a fantastic analysis.  I really don't have a lot of hope for much of our roster post-Dwight but I assumed that Baby and JJ would be ok.  I'm glad the numbers sort of hint at this.  The more interesting thing to me will be how our new players create a new system with a new coach.

 

And of course there's that little matter of who we'd be getting back in a Dwight trade.