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The team that looks to be the favorite in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Houston Rockets, would actually benefit if he kept his talents in Venice Beach. Josh Smith as their big signing would improve them more as a team.
I know that sounds appalling and I’ll add that Smith is not a better player but here’s why. First, Howard is going to command a bigger contract, so part of the equation is not just whether he’s “better” but whether he’s “enough better,” if you’ll pardon my butchering of grammar.
Smith fills every hole that the Rockets have. His athleticism and ability to collect steals and blocks would make him an outstanding high-low defensive counterpart to Omer Asik. Last year the Rockets were awful defensively, giving up the third most points in the league. Even adjusted for pace, they were in the bottom half.
The Rockets got little scoring from their post tandem. HoopsStats tracks “In the Paint” a little differently than other advanced stats sites. There, it’s an indication of scoring by position (power forwards and centers), not shot selection. (This has been verified a few ways, not the least of which is verification from the author).
The Rockets were 20th in the league last year in points from their “in-the-paint” scorers. Smith could help tremendously there, but obviously, so could Howard, right?
Surprisingly though, Smith is more efficient down low. In fact, on field-goal percentage inside the restricted area, only Blake Griffin and LeBron James were better than Smith.
Finally, the Houston Rockets ran the pick-and-roll more than any team in the league last year. Smith is brilliant at setting screens.
Last summer, I was compiling some data on screens, and seeing which players' screens led to scoring more often. Josh Smith was the highest of any player I tracked.
His screens are rarely illegal and almost always effective, whether the ball-handler ended up scoring or not. They’re also, for lack of a better word, geometrically sound. He tends to set the pick in just the right angle to give the ball-handler the most freedom from his defender.
Smith would shore up the Rockets' weaknesses and improve their strengths even more. And the best part is that with James Harden and Chandler Parsons there, he’d be bottled up with his insane predilection to proving he can shoot. They have enough shooting already.
Clearly Howard could help the Rockets, but not as much as Smith and for the money. I realize I’m on an island here, but if you’re a Houston fan and you end up with your second choice, this might make you feel better.