Dwight Howard did not have the best week of his career. Howard has been well known for dominating the first rounds of the Playoffs. He nearly averaged a 20/20 against the Raptors two years ago and did more than dominate the 76ers (despite missing the clinching Game Six) last year.
So with Charlotte not having a dominant big man, it seemed Howard would be on his way to another dominating early round series. Nope, not this time.
The Bobcats did a good job swarming him, grabbing him, pushing him and frustrating him. Their never stop attacking style challenged Howard’s ability to defend the rim. Where they really got him was in frustrating him into silly fouls. Many of Howard’s fouls were completely preventable in this series and were not the result of him challenging an attack at the rim.
But fouls aside, how good was Dwight Howard in the first round series?
His raw numbers indicate he was a non entity on offense with 9.8 points per game. But his raw numbers also show what a factor he was on defense, grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game and blocking 5.0 shots per game. This was all in a paltry (for him) 26.5 minutes per game. Howard failed to play 30 minutes in any of the four games of this series.
But Charlotte hardly took him out of the game. He had his imprints over every game.
Whether it was the nine blocks he had in Game One, the eight-point stretch at the beginning of the second half in Game Two that gave Orlando control, the series-high 13 points he scored in Game Three that went with his five blocks in the fourth quarter and seven blocks in the game or grabbing 13 rebounds in 23 minutes in Game Four, Howard put up some relatively gaudy numbers in the time he was in the game.
In Monday’s game alone, Howard had a rebounding rate of 36.7, including a defensive rebounding rate of 65.9 according to Hoop Data. Theoretically that means Howard was grabbing one in every three rebounds while he was on the floor and nearly two of every three defensive rebounds. During the season he had a defensive rebound rating of 31.3 and a total rebounding rate of 22.0 (according to Basketball Reference).
Now Howard did not put up gaudy rebounding numbers like that in every game. In Game Three he had a 34.0 defensive rebounding rate and a 19.4 total rebounding rate. Game Two the split was 9.2/20.7 and Game One he grabbed 14.3 percent of defensive rebounds and 16.0 percent total rebounding rate.
Game Four was the aberration in that group. His rebounding numbers in the rest of the season were below his regular season numbers. But the clinching game showed Howard did take some of the lessons of the first three games to heart and made the adjustment to have an impact on the game. For the first time all series, it did seem like he was making a concerted effort to grab every rebound.
So where does Howard go from here. He was clearly taken out of his rhythm offensively and going over those numbers seems almost pointless. They will not be anywhere near as good as they would have been in the regular season — even on a per 36 minute basis (he scored 13.2 points and grabbed 12.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in the Charlotte series; he scored 19.0 points and grabbed 13.7 rebounds per 36 minutes in the regular season).
Here comes the kicker from this series. Dwight Howard had a defensive rating of 95 this season. In the Charlotte series his defensive rating was 86, according to Basketball Reference. When Howard was on the floor Charlotte was really struggling to score and these numbers suggest Howard had something to do with that.
Just think about that number. The Bobcats were scoring 86 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor. These games were being played at a pace somewhere in the high 80s or early 90s. That really means Charlotte was lucky Howard was fouling or the team may not have broken 80 points. Quite astounding defense.
Obviously other factors go into this too — it is not just Howard’s defensive effort producing this number. Charlotte is not the best offensive team. There is a small sample size in that this is only four games of statistics and Howard was on the floor for a relatively short time. And Orlando is a really good defensive team itself and works very well together.
Howard’s offensive struggles seemed to negate any effect he had on defense in his win shares (only 0.2 rating compared to his 13.2 during the regular season according to Basketball Reference). But consider Jameer Nelson and Matt Barnes had the second best defensive rating in the series at 99 points per 100 possession.
Again, we all knew defense would the theme of this series.
The lesson from all of this? Dwight Howard still dominated the series even though he could not stay on the court. In the Charlotte series, Orlando should have learned what a defensive beast Dwight Howard is. If the Bobcats were a better team at scoring, this would have been a much different series. The Magic gave the Bobcats every opportunity to even the series and give them a real scare.
Orlando swept Charlotte in spite of Howard’s struggles. But Howard still flexed his defensive muscles. Expect him to keep doing so for the rest of the postseason.