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The Intimidation Factor of Dwight Howard
October 27th, 2009 by Jon Nichols

The following is part of a weekly series I will be doing at the Orlando Magic blog, Third Quarter Collapse.

Dwight Howard is a defensive presence in the middle, that’s for sure.  His size and athleticism make him quite the deterrent for offensive players trying to take it to the rim.  But how big of an impact is he actually having?  Does he make opponents less efficient around the rim, or does he simply scare them from attempting close shots in the first place?

When I’m trying to answer questions such as these, the first thing I turn to is the play-by-play data (specifically, the play-by-play data available at Basketball Geek). I will use this data to determine three things:

  • How often opponents attack the basket relative to total shot attempts when Howard is on court and when he is off it
  • How efficient opponents are around the basket when Howard in on the court and when he is off it
  • How often opponents get to the free throw line relative to total shot attempts when Howard is on the court and when he is off it

With those three calculated differences, we can start to get an idea of how good Howard is at deterring shots around the basket.  The data is presented in the graph below:

dwighthowardimpactoncloseattempts

Here we see two negatives and one positive.  When Howard is in the game, opponents get to the free throw line more often and surprisingly convert more of their close attempts.  On the other hand, they tend to attempt less layups and dunks.  This is a good thing for the Magic because of how effective those shots are.

For the sake of comparison, here are two other great interior defenders:

timduncanimpactoncloseattempts

kevingarnettimpactoncloseattempts

Both players have results opposite of Howard’s.  Duncan and Garnett limit their opponents’ ability to get to the line and also make them less effective around the basket, but are challenged more often than Howard.

To be honest, I’m surprised that Howard looks as ordinary as he does according to the numbers.  I expected him to have a dramatic impact on all categories, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  One thing to keep in mind is that these statistics don’t take into account the level of teammates, so if Howard is often paired with a weaker interior defender such as Rashard Lewis he may be underrated.

We can do much more with these numbers, though, and next time I’ll do that.  Specifically, I’ll take a look at which players are affected the most by Howard’s presence.


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