Mar 5, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) during the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard: Chasing The Dream

It’s been a long time since the Orlando Magic took on Dwight Howard as the team’s first round and first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Coming into the league as a high-school kid, Dwight Howard sure had a lot of expectations to live up to.

During his first season as a pro, in a Magic team that featured 32-year-old Grant Hill as their best player even after he missed the entire 2003-04 season due to injury, Howard became the team’s undoubted leader and, hopeful, answer for the team’s future.

He didn’t disappoint.

Here’s a look at Dwight’s rookie season in Orlando compared versus 2004-05 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace:

Rk Player Age GS MP FG% 3P% 2P% FT% ORB DRB TRB BLK TOV PTS
1 Dwight Howard 19 82 32.6 .520 .000 .521 .671 3.5 6.5 10.0 1.7 2.0 12.0
2 Ben Wallace 30 74 36.1 .453 .111 .458 .428 3.9 8.2 12.2 2.4 1.1 9.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/1/2014.

Howard came in eighth in rebounds per game and somehow came in 22nd in 2004-05 Defensive Player of the Year voting.

After an eight-year career with the Orlando Magic, and a one-year stint with the Los Angeles Lakers, Dwight Howard joined James Harden in the center-friendly Houston Rockets.

It’s impossible to talk about NBA all-time greatest players without talking about Hakeem Olajuwon, it is equally impossible to talk about the Houston Rockets’ glory years without talking about him either.

Naturally, by joining the Rockets as one of the league’s top centers, Dwight Howard was bound to live under The Dream’s shadow. No easy feat at all.

A look at how he matches up against one of the greatest players in NBA history and, arguably, the greatest Houston Rocket ever:

(Note: we’re not trying to compare career accomplishments straight up since that would be stupid: (1) back-to-back titles > no titles at all; and, (2) Hakeem is arguably one of the top-10 players of all time. Howard is far from it.)

Basic Stats:

Rk Player G GS MP FG% 3P% 2P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB BLK TOV PTS
1 Dwight Howard 768 767 35.9 .579 .087 .581 5.3 9.2 .574 3.6 9.3 12.9 2.2 3.1 18.3
2 Hakeem Olajuwon* 1238 1186 35.7 .512 .202 .514 4.4 6.2 .712 3.3 7.8 11.1 3.1 3.0 21.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/1/2014.

In his “young” (compared to Olajuwon’s) NBA career, Dwight is already looking like a better shooter and rebounder than Hakeem. But is he?

To try and prove him better, or even worthy of being uttered in the same sentence as The Dream, we will have to dig deeper into both players’ stats:

Points Per Game:

Hakeem does average a full 3.5 points per game (21.8) more than Howard (18.3).

Howard 0 : Hakeem 1

Free Throw Attempts:

Good centers draw a lot of fouls:

  • Centers play the post.
  • If/When a center is surrounded by shooters, the defense spreads.
  • Once the defense is spread, the ball is given to the center.
  • Once the center has the ball, the defense closes out on him.
  • It is not uncommon for a spread defense to close out late on the center.
  • Closing out late usually ends up in a shooting foul.

Dwight is a career 9.2 free-throw attempts per game, Olajuwon is a 6.2. However, Dwight is a 57 percent shooter from the line against Hakeem’s 71 percent. At this rate Dwight makes +/- 5.2 points per game from the line, Hakeem makes +/- 4.4.

Howard 1 : Hakeem 1

Free Throw Rate:

If we were to get a little deeper with the free throw stat we could look at Free Throw Rate (FTr). Free Throw Rate is the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt. (I.e. If a player has a 1.000 FTr this means that he shoots one free throw for every field goal. Impossible feat IMHO.)

Rk Player G PER FTr
1 Dwight Howard 768 22.1 .824
2 Hakeem Olajuwon* 1238 23.6 .363
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/1/2014.

Evidently, Howard has Hakeem beat on this too. Howard shoots an out of this world average of eight free throws per 10 field goal attempts while Hakeem shot only three per 10 field goals.

A lot of those free throws come directly out of the team’s defenses “hack-a-Shaq”-ing Howard because of his lack of free throw shooting skills.

Howard 2 : Hakeem 1

Rebounding:

As the league tends to favour small-ball over traditional pieces because of speed and excitement, true centers in the league such as Howard, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, and Pau Gasol, are lacking. As a result, those few centers out ther have been able to amass an incredible amount of rebounds game after game.

Being this the main quality a center should have, it’s only natural that we look at how Howard and Hakeem match up:

Rk Player G MP ORB DRB TRB
1 Dwight Howard 768 35.9 3.6 9.3 12.9
2 Hakeem Olajuwon* 1238 35.7 3.3 7.8 11.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/1/2014.

Hakeem and Howard are closer than they appear, even though Howard has Hakeem beat by almost two total rebounds per game (whether they’re offensive or defensive) they’re actually a lot closer than they seem:

Rk Player G ORB% DRB% TRB%
1 Dwight Howard 768 11.8 29.1 20.7
2 Hakeem Olajuwon* 1238 10.3 23.8 17.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/1/2014.
  • Dwight grabs 11.8 percent of his team’s available offensive rebounds while he’s on the floor. Hakeem grabs 10.3 percent of them.
  • Dwight grabs 29.1 percent of his team’s available defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor. Hakeem grabs 23.8 percent of them.

Still, as close as they might be, Howard has Hakeem beat … again.

Howard 3 : Hakeem 1

Win Shares:

Last but not least we’re looking at both centers’ Win Shares. Win Shares are the number of wins provided by a player for his team.

In this case, it would be careless and misleading to try and talk about total career win shares since Hakeem’s career has been way longer than Howard’s. Instead we’re looking a each players’ average Win Shares per season.

  • Dwight Howard: 10.32 Win Shares per season.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon: 9.0 Win Shares per season.

As you can see here, win shares are far from an exact science. The team’s depth tends to have a huge influence on a player’s win shares per season.

The deeper the team the less Win Shares you need from a specific player because every player on the roster is chipping in.

However, we’re able to put Win Shares into perspective by looking at Hakeem’s career best roster vs. Howard’s career best roster:

(Note: Best roster defined by winningest season of their careers; 1993-94 Houston Rockets 58-24 vs. 2008-09 Orlando Magic 59-23.)

1993-94 Houston Rockets: 58-24

Rk Player WS ▾
1 Hakeem Olajuwon 14.3
2 Otis Thorpe 9.8
3 Kenny Smith 6.1
4 Robert Horry 5.9
5 Mario Elie 4.2
6 Vernon Maxwell 3.5
7 Scott Brooks 3.3
8 Sam Cassell 2.2
9 Carl Herrera 2.0
10 Matt Bullard 1.0
11 Eric Riley 0.4
12 Chris Jent 0.2
13 Richard Petruska 0.0
14 Larry Robinson 0.0
15 Earl Cureton 0.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2014.
  • Total Win Shares with Hakeem Olajuwon: 52.9
  • Total Win Shares w/o Hakeem Olajuwon: 38.6
  • Win Shares Above Replacement: 14.3 (Hakeem Olajuwon 14.3 – Earl Cureton 0.0)
  • Hakeem made up for 27 percent of the Rockets’ Win Shares.

2008-09 Orlando Magic: 59-23

Rk Player WS ▾
1 Dwight Howard 13.8
2 Rashard Lewis 9.5
3 Hedo Turkoglu 7.3
4 Jameer Nelson 6.0
5 Courtney Lee 4.4
6 Marcin Gortat 3.3
7 Mickael Pietrus 3.0
8 Anthony Johnson 2.8
9 Tony Battie 2.8
10 Rafer Alston 2.4
11 J.J. Redick 2.3
12 Keith Bogans 1.5
13 Tyronn Lue 0.3
14 Adonal Foyle 0.3
15 Brian Cook 0.1
16 Jeremy Richardson -0.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/2/2014.
  • Total Win Shares with Dwight Howard: 59.6
  • Total Win Shares w/o Dwight Howard: 45.8
  • Win Shares Above Replacement:  10.5 (Dwight Howard 13.8 – Marcin Gortat 3.3)
  • Howard made up for 23 percent of the Magic’s win shares.

Howard 3 : Hakeem 2

As eerie as the similarities between them might be, Hakeem had has arguably the second-greatest low-post game the league has ever seen and back-to-back NBA championships to show for it. Dwight doesn’t.

Nevertheless, even if catching him is impossible, Howard does a great Hakeem.

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Tags: Dwight Howard Hakeem Olajuwon Houston Rockets

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