Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

 

Prime Howard is clearly a thing of the past, lost to time and an ailing back. We won’t again see his skyscraping vertical as Howard finishes an impossible lob or erases the shot of some hopeless opponent. It was those qualities—along with Howard’s feel for coverage and ability to cover ground—that distinguished him as one of the very best players in the league. Now they exist in such muted variations that the Rockets let Howard walk in free agency without objection. Clearly he is no longer suited to play for just any team. The right one, however, can still make great use of Howard’s mobility, rim protection, and strengths as a finisher. To be in decline is not to be washed.

+ Very difficult to box out; strong enough to get the ball better than half the time (50.9%) when within 3.5 feet
+ A presence in the lane that reshapes where opponents get their shots
Free throw problems somehow got even worse (48.9%) last season
One of the most turnover-prone players in the NBA

Howard can still do a lot of good when he’s able to quiet his contrary instincts and work his way into the right positions. His own judgments are implicit in that, for better or worse. Too often Howard tries to orient his offense from the post when that element of his game has suffered the steepest decline. His team can live with that impulse if it can be reasonably controlled. Howard, like most players, invests more when he feels involved in play-to-play operations. A strict catch-and-finish role wouldn’t provide that and thus would undercut the defense and rebounding that make him this valuable in the first place. Indulging Howard thus becomes a crooked necessity—an acceptance of one of the weaker aspects of his offensive game for the sake of accessing a broader scope of skills. You don’t post Howard for efficient returns. You post him (in small doses!) because he’s an outstanding finisher whose low-block inefficiency comes out in the wash. You post him because he still, even in decline, is one of the most effective deterrents around the rim in the entire league. You post him for the screens, the rim runs, the rolls, and the thankless defensive possessions where he’s left to clean up the mess. There’s enough here to justify the investment, frustrating though it may be in concept.

 

Hassan Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside

 

 

Hassan Whiteside, still, makes no sense at all. In a way, his career mirrors a good murder mystery, where the plot only gets more confusing as the various clues accumulate. Go ahead, play Sherlock Holmes and considering the following: He ranked No. 7 in the NBA in Player Efficiency Ranking—and yet was moved to the bench for half of the season. These strange circumstances, apparent contradictions and downright weirdness raise many of the same questions that loomed over Whiteside (14.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.7 BPG) before last season. His numbers and advanced stats are enormous, but is he an irreplaceable piece on a winning organization? Is he capable of stepping into a leading role and a position of authority? Can you count on him, night in and night out, for 82 games, especially now that he’s not playing for a contract? And, perhaps most importantly, why are these questions still being asked of a 27-year-old? With the Heat needing to rely on him more heavily now than ever, perhaps this season will shed some clarifying light on Whiteside’s true value. Then again maybe not.  He posted the NBA’s best individual defensive rating—and yet Miami’s team defensive numbers barely budged when he was on the court. He graded out as a strong scoring option in virtually every Synergy category—and yet he only took nine shots a game for a team whose offense ranked outside the top 10. And his immaturity and selfishness were regular points of internal criticism that became public—and yet when push came to shove the team that knows him best wasted no time forking over a $98 million contract.

+ He led the NBA in blocks and defensive rating last season
+ Joined Marcus Camby as the only players in the last decade to average at least 11 RPG and 3 BPG
– The Heat will pay him $22.1 million in 2016-17, which amounts to 22.5 times more than his 2015-16 salary
– Averaged one assist per 93.8 minutes over his career, and never registered more than two in a game