The Charlotte Hornets Won the Dwight Howard Trade More Than You Think They Did
Sources: Charlotte is sending Miles Plumlee, Marco Belenelli and 41st pick to Atlanta for Dwight Howard and 31st pick.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 21, 2017
At first glance, that doesn't seem like a lot for someone with Dwight's name recognition, but Howard's stock has clearly fallen off. Hard.
That's because Dwight Howard is -- without a doubt -- one of the most divisive players in the NBA.
On one hand, he's made eight All-Star, eight All-NBA, and five All-Defensive teams over his 13-year career, while also winning three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards from the 2008-09 season to 2010-11. He had a four-year run (from 2007-08 to 2010-11) where he finished in the top-five in MVP voting (including a second-place finish to Derrick Rose in 2010-11) and finished seventh as recently as five years ago in 2011-12.
He's got career averages of 17.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steal, and 2.0 blocks per game, and a career field goal percentage of 58.5%. According to Basketball-Reference.com, his probability of making the Hall of Fame is 99.1%, which ranks him eighth among active players.
On the other hand? His antics piss everyone off.
His "trade me, don't trade me" flip-flopping at the end of his tenure with the Orlando Magic was excruciating, his "superteam" team-up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash on the Los Angeles Lakers was a disaster, his buddy cop sequel to the LA superteam with James Harden on the Houston Rockets started fine but withered, and he managed to fall out of favor with his hometown Atlanta Hawks just one year into a three-year, $70.5 million deal.
Is Dwight Howard's day in the sun really over, or did the Hawks just get hosed?
Let's see what the numbers say.
Last Season by the Numbers
Last year was arguably Howard's best post-Orlando season from a statistical perspective.
He averaged 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds (fifth in the Association), 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, and 1.2 blocks in 29.7 minutes per game over 74 contests (his most since 2012-13 with LA), while shooting a whopping 63.3% from the field (fourth in the league and a career high).
His 20.8 player efficiency rating (PER) was the second best of his five-year stretch between LA, Houston, and Atlanta, while his .181 rate of win shares per 48 minutes was his highest mark since the .235 he put up in 2010-11 when he finished as the runner-up in MVP voting.
His nERD -- our proprietary metric that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on efficiency -- of 7.8 last year with Atlanta placed him 24th in the NBA, according to our Player Power Rankings, and seventh among centers. It was also his personal best since the 7.9 he put up in his last year in Orlando in 2011-12.
Meanwhile, Marco Belinelli (-0.8) amd Miles Plumlee (-1.1) both posted negative nERD marks, ranking 12th and 13th on their own team, respectively. Belinelli scored 10.5 points per game on 42.9% shooting from the field and 36.0% from deep, while Plumlee did essentially nothing of note in 10.8 minutes per game over 45 contests split between Charlotte and Milwaukee.
Dwight Howard collected 8.3 win shares last season (his second-most since 2010-11), while Marco (3.2) and Miles (0.5) combined for less than half of that (3.7).
NBA fans might be sick of Dwight Howard, but he's still producing better than the combination of Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee at this point in his career, any way you calculate it.
According to 82games.com, Charlotte's worst position last season was center by a mile. Their combination of men in the middle had an average PER of 16.7, but opposing centers averaged 20.8 against them, for a net mark of -4.1.
The Hornets gave a ton of empty minutes to guys like Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes, and Plumlee at the five last season. Remaining big men Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller are young and have shown flashes of being serviceable NBA players, but neither of them is dragging this Hornets team back into playoff contention.
Howard now steps in and gives them a defensive presence and the kind of rebounding that they need from the position.
In terms of rim protection, Zeller let opponents shoot 53.0% at the tin last season, while Kaminsky allowed an abysmal 58.2%. Howard, meanwhile, held opponents to a solid 48.7% shooting from within five feet of the rim for the Hawks.
In terms of rebounding, Howard's 23.5% total rebound percentage ranked fourth in the NBA, while the Hornets were paced by guys like Plumlee and Zeller posting 13.3% and 12.9%, respectively.
Considering the fact that Charlotte finished last season 14th in defensive rating (106.1) and 20th in total rebound percentage (49.5%), Howard is a perfect fit for some of their immediate needs.
Of course, it's not like Dwight Howard is not without his flaws at this point in his career.
He's still only a 53.3% free throw shooter and that makes him a huge liability in late-game situations. Look no further than Atlanta's first-round exit at the hands of the Washington Wizards this postseason, when Howard only played 17 of a possible 72 fourth-quarter minutes, missing two final frames entirely.
And he still -- for some infuriating reason -- insists on being a post-up big instead of getting with the times and embracing the pick-and-roll:
Howard only scores 0.84 points per possession (PPP) in post-ups, but has gone to that nearly three times more than being the roll man in a pick-and-roll, where he scores 1.18.
There are plenty of reasons to dislike Dwight Howard, but the truth of the matter is that he's a far more productive NBA player -- even at this stage of his career -- than the combination of Marco Belinelli and Miles Plumlee.
Howard experienced a renaissance (of sorts) in Atlanta last year and he fills some pressing needs for a Charlotte Hornets franchise that wants desperately to be in the playoff picture after appearing in the postseason just three times over the last 13 years and only once in the last three.
Simply put, the players that the Hornets sent out weren't needle-movers, but Dwight still can be. If you put any stock in the numbers, and can forget Howard's offcourt persona for a moment, then there's almost no way to see this deal as anything less than a win for Charlotte.