Breaking Down a Difference Between Vintage Dwight Howard and the Current Version

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles during a timeout in the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on December 28, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 104-87.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Dwight is not right, that much is certain. He's also quite frank on not being 100 percent, too. Back when the Lakers played the Warriors, I joined the fray of those asking Dwight about his injury: 

"Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it doesn't feel good."

That's concise and matches up with observation. Sometimes, Dwight is Dwight. He's patrolling the paint, racing up and down the half court on high screens and snatching alley oops from just under the jumbotron. 

On those nights, the Lakers are awesome. They have some other problems to be sure, but a healthy Dwight Howard is one of the best players in basketball. And the Lakers, for all their issues, have some talent to flank him with. 

Those healthy Dwight nights are few and far between, though. Instead, we see a confusing Dwight Lite, a useful player whose production isn't quite at the superstar level we're used to. 

On offense, Dwight's numbers look good—compared to your average center. He's converting .563 from the field and claiming a 57.0 true shooting mark (TS). What's concerning, though, is that this efficiency is far from his old habits. In his near MVP campaign two seasons ago, Dwight had a .593 mark from the field and a 61.6 percent TS. The year before, he was at .612 from the field, with a 63 percent TS. 

It'd be one thing if Dwight's lower efficiency came with fewer shots at the rim, but the opposite is true. Howard seems only comfortable taking attempts at point-blank range. Here's his shot distribution chart on the season so far:

Over 90 percent of Howard's attempts are coming at rim this year. If you look at his shot-performance chart for the season, you can see why he rarely strays from the paint:

In attempts away from the at-rim zone, Dwight Howard has shot 29 percent so far this season. This won't be a shock to those who watched him. Here's a fairly typical attempt from this season that I put into slow motion. Note the balky, Frankenstein approach. I'm not saying that his back is to blame for this miss, but he is moving as though wearing an invisible back brace. 

Now, Dwight haters might say that this has always been true, that his jumper and post moves have always been off. I would disagree with that sentiment, though. First, let us look at his shot chart from 2010-2011, the last time Howard was fully healthy:

Notice that fewer of Howard's attempts came from near the rim area—though 82.5 percent is still a healthy amount. This is part of the Dwight paradox, right now. Players usually drift farther from the rim when their skills diminish. Howard is drifting towards the hoop because he might be losing his ability to do anything other than finish. Here's his performance chart from 2010-2011:

Note that Dwight was better near the hoop in 2010-2011, but also notice that he was a lot better at converting farther from the hoop as well. Dwight was 38.3 percent in zones away from the rim that season, and this includes his three goofball three-point misses. To the right of the hoop, he was downright impressive, posting better shooting numbers than most of the league. 

To that point, I took a video snapshot (non HD) of a fluid Howard step-back jumper from the right side. Obviously, no team wants him taking a lot of these—but the deftness he exhibits is likely indicative of a better physical condition:

Dwight Howard is not Dwight Howard right now. He's a caricature of the "no post moves, no shooting ability" guy his critics often lambasted. We usually lament a player's inability to get to the rim. In Howard's case, we lament his inability to be skillful away from it.