Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard is the type of player who could help change the course of a franchise and bring them to an elite level. That is exactly what the Rockets were hoping for when they signed the superstar in the offseason.
Houston already had another rising superstar in James Harden, an excellent coach in Kevin McHale and some terrific surrounding pieces with Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley.
Last season, the Rockets finished in eighth place in the Western Conference with a record of 45-37, but they were ousted in the first-round of the playoffs by Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Still, with Harden playing at an elite level and with a solid core of young players, Houston figured to be a team on the rise even if they stayed stagnant in the offseason.
The main goal for general manager Daryl Morey when he acquired Harden in the previous offseason was to eventually pair him with Howard to form a dynamite superstar tandem. Morey’s plan worked exactly as he had hoped as Howard spurned the Los Angeles Lakers after just one season to join the Rockets.
As the NBA season is nearing the All-Star break, the question is: How much better are the Rockets with Howard?
Statistically speaking as a team comparing this season to last season, the Rockets are really not much better. Houston is averaging 105.4 points per game compared to 106.0 last season. The Rockets’ field goal percentage is up this year to 47.3 percent, whereas last season they shot 46.1 percent. As with any team that Howard has been on, the Rockets free-throw percentage has plummeted from 75.4 percent to 68.9 percent this season.
An area that Howard will always help in is with rebounding. Houston averaged 43.4 rebounds per game in 2012-13 and this season they are averaging 44.9, an increase of 1.5 boards per contest.
Defensively, Howard has certainly made more of an impact that does not show up in a stat sheet. His presence alone near the basket forces opponents to alter their shots or they risk getting it blocked.
From a scoring standpoint, though, not much has changed that drastically. Opposing teams are scoring 101.6 points per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. In 2012-13, opposing teams averaged 102.5 points per game while connecting on 45.4 percent of their shot attempts.
While the team numbers may not be drastically different, Howard has still had a terrific individual season. He’s averaging 18.6 points per game, 12.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and making 57.9 percent of his 11.5 field goal attempts per game.
With all that being said, the best way to measure Howard’s importance to the Rockets is in the win-loss column. Through 50 games last season Houston was 27-23. This season Houston is 33-17.
An even better measuring stick will be the Rockets’ success in the playoffs.