Rapid Reaction: Howard to the Rockets: What Happens Now?
The speculation was just about endless, and now it appears to be reaching a conclusion. Dwight Howard is likely headed to Houston and into the ever-welcoming arms of Slim Thug, Daryl Morey, and Kevin McHale.
Lots of people will be editorially weighing in with what the move means over the next few days, but since our bread and butter is math and nothing but, we'd thought we'd throw our hat in the ring with some cold numbers on a hot July day. Let's get to it, shall we?
Dwight, In Numbers
It doesn't take a basketball genius to have seen that Dwight wasn't at his best in Los Angeles. Whether it was chafing under the D'Antoni system or some rather childish personnel issues with Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, Dwight put up his worst efficiency metrics since 2007 last year, putting up a score of just 3.9, placing #23 amongst centers only. Yikes.
To further the point, here's a random sampling of some other centers over the 2012-2013 season:
Of course, this isn't to say that Howard isn't a better player than Tiago Splitter; rather it says that while Dwight is obviously very talented, perhaps he doesn't use that talent to the betterment of his team in the same way that other, less notable players (such as Splitter, per se) do for their teams. nERD is a calculation of efficiency and player contribution to victories, not talent.
In the years prior, Dwight put up nERD scores consistent in the top-five of his position in the league, so you'd be rather sensible in calling last year an aberration. But will he return to his Orlando form? Or will his personality yet again get in the way of what should be a basketball match made in heaven? Let's look at what the Rockets might look like with him.
The New Look Rockets
With Dwight in tow, Omer Asik is almost surely gone. Jeremy Lin should be gone, but that remains to be seen. Also hanging in the balance is the continued reports of the Rockets chasing after Josh Smith. Let's break these down, one by one.
As Alex Hampl wrote before, just Dwight alone would give the Rockets a boost:
"If Howard signs with the Rockets, we project them for a 47-35 record, although that does not take into account the rest of free agency, where Houston could be active, especially if they sign Jeremy Lin or Omer Asik back to L.A. in a sign-and-trade."
Both Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik were right around replacement level for their positions, so in terms of adding or subtracting wins to the Houston total, they have little to no effect.
Interestingly, Josh Smith played so inefficiently in Atlanta - he had a nERD of -3.5, ranking him #109th in league - that he might actually be a net negative to Houston if he signs there. However, with his game and the space that James Harden and Howard will open up for him, he has a great chance to improve on that total.
What It Means For The Lakers
Well, aside from the obvious problems they have in the front office with Jim Buss running the show... and the obvious problem they have with Mike D'Antoni as the coach... and the obvious problem of Steve Nash being 156 years old...
Where do you start, really? With Dwight gone and Kobe Bryant gone for a half year at the very least, we're projecting the Lakers to have a record of 40-42, with factoring in any sign-and-trade/replacement possibilities.