Dwight Howard Teammate Rater

For the first entry in our "Dwight Howard Teammate Rater" we take a look at Howard's prototypical front-court teammate: Rashard Lewis. A statistical examination into whether it was a good idea for the Magic to sign Lewis in 2007, and how the other 2007 free agent forwards would have fit with Howard and the Magic.

Over at ESPN.com Professor John Hollinger has created a statistic designed to determine which NBA player's games are most complimentary on the court to Dwight Howard's. To determine the "Dwight Howard Teammate Rating" we take a look at a few skills that Professor Hollinger suggested a key complementary player to Howard will have: ball-handling and distribution skills; strong 3-point shooting; a low defensive rebound rate; and the ability to create shots. To create a numerical statistic that will reference all of these categories we will add a player's usage rate (USG%) to how many 3-point attempts they take per 100 shot attempts (3pt./100), then add ten times their pure point rating (PPR), subtract their defensive rebound rate (DRB%), and add three times the difference between their 3-point shooting percentage (3pt.%) and a league average 30% 3-point shooter. We will also at times consider other statistics that I believe to be extremely beneficial for any teammate of Howard to posses, namely steal rate (STL%), free throw percentage (FT%), and fourth quarter scoring (4Qr.Pts.)

To begin we'll look at some of the major acquisitions the Magic have made through-out Howard's career in Orlando and use the "Dwight Howard Teammate Rating" to determine where the Magic have been able to surround Dwight with talent that complements him or if other options were available that could have made the Magic a better team. Perhaps looking through this lens we can see if and when the Orlando Magic front office could have made better personnel decisions.

The Prototypical Howard Teammate: Rashard Lewis

In the summer of 2007 the Orlando Magic look to build upon an encouraging 40-42 season that saw them make the playoffs for the first time in the Dwight Howard era. The team's record had been held aloft on Howard's lofty shoulders as he anchored a top-ten defensive team for the first time, but head coach Brian Hill was fired amidst accusations that he hadn't done enough to help Howard and other players including JJ Redick, Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu develop into efficient offensive players. Along with the head coach, Grant Hill, the team's most polished offensive player, left the Magic organization as a free agent after several injury plagued years- but the Magic were determined to build around the young Dwight Howard, who they rewarded with a five year contract extension, by making a big splash in free agency. The team, desperately in need of scoring, looked to sign Rashard Lewis, a 6'10" All-Star SF free-agent with a sweet stroke who had just lit up the league while playing for Seattle to the tune of 22.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc.

Orlando eventually signed Lewis to a six-year, $118 million contract that is now widely considered one of the worst in the NBA but in 2007 was viewed as simply overpaying for a highly coveted free agent. But Rashard Lewis was a major component, and the second leading scorer, of the 2009 NBA Finals as well as the 2010 Conference Finals teams, and Coach Stan Van Gundy has gone on record as saying that Lewis was a key free agent pick-up and vital to the Magic's success. Was Rashard Lewis the best free-agent pick-up the Magic could have made in 2007? Was he the best fit to build around a young Dwight Howard or was he the first in a series of mistakes that clogged the Magic's salary cap with ill-fitting pieces? Let's take a look at how he stacks up on our "Dwight Howard Teammate Rater".

Rashard Lewis

USG%

3pt./100

PPR

DRB%

3pt.%

Dwight Howard Teammate Rating

2006-2007 Season

24.4

38.5

-0.95

15.7

0.390

83.7

Length of Contract

19.3

42.1

-1.04

12.8

0.364

49.1

In many ways Rashard Lewis embodies what most people have come to believe is the prototypical complementary player for Dwight Howard. Once he arrived in Orlando the new head coach, Stan Van Gundy, saw his potential as an effective front-court player whose three-point shooting could space the floor for Dwight Howard in a pick and roll heavy offense. Although Rashard Lewis had originally been signed as small forward to replace Grant Hill's production, Van Gundy believed that playing Lewis as a stretch-4 power forward beside Howard would be far more effective. Van Gundy wasn't the first to notice how having a power forward who was a legitimate three-point threat could open up the paint for Howard, who often struggled reading double teams, after all, Coach Brian Hill had used Trevor Ariza alongside Howard and Turkoglu in a small line-up against the Pistons in the playoffs to some success. But Van Gundy was the first to notice that playing in front of Dwight Howard, Lewis' deficiencies at rebounding and defending opposing power forwards nearly disappeared. The Lewis-Howard-Turkoglu front line immediately caused match-up nightmares for every other team in the league and the Magic marched to a 52-30 record and the second round of the playoffs in their first season together. The next year, the Magic made a surprising run to the NBA Finals, where Lewis memorably posted a 34 point, 11 rebound, 7 assist effort against Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Although Lewis was widely believed to have been outplayed by the Laker's physically dominating front court of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Magic's ascent to championship contenders cemented that the frequency and accuracy of his thee point shot and his low defensive rebound rate were ideal characteristics for Howard's teammates. It wasn't until the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, when Rashard Lewis was physically dominated by Kevin Garnett, that most people noticed that Lewis' inability to create his own shot was a dangerous liability for Howard's front court partner to display, and could leave the Magic's offense stagnant at the worst times.

Lewis' "Dwight Howard Teammate Rating" of 83.7 is remarkably high for a front-court player to pair with Howard, and suggests the Magic were onto to something when they wooed Rashard to Orlando to play alongside Howard. And although Lewis struggled to create shots for others, his highly efficient, high usage scoring from downtown made him a good pick-up for the Magic for the first few seasons of his contract. But following the 2010 playoffs Lewis' game cratered as his usage rate, pure point rating, and three-point percentage all plummeted to cut his average "Dwight Howard Teammate Rating" over the length of the six-year, $118 million contract to nearly half of what it had been when Orlando had signed him.

Other 2007 Free Agents The Magic Could Have Signed


It's unlikely that the Magic would have been able to find a remarkably better player and teammate for Howard on the free-agent market, but given Lewis' bloated salary it's possible there might have been a player who could have given the Magic similar results for far less money. Given that the Magic had recently extended Jameer Nelson and drafted JJ Redick and that Lewis primarily played power forward for the Magic, I looked at the other top free agent forwards the Magic could have considered instead of Lewis.

Gerald Wallace

USG%

3pt./100

PPR

DRB%

3pt.%

Dwight Howard Teammate Rating

2006-2007 Season

22.5

12.6

-1.43

17.4

0.325

10.9

Length of Contract

20.7

19.5

-1.23

19.5

0.321

15.7

At first glance it appears as though Gerald Wallace is a terrible fit alongside Howard because of how much of his value is derived from his defensive, rebounding, and ability to get to the rim but the Magic could have actually done much worse. Although Wallace is certainly not on Lewis' level as three-point shooter, he is still a threat from beyond the arc who shot 37.1% from three in 2009-2010. Even more importantly, while Wallace rarely creates for others he has the ability to create his own shot and often begins drives to the rim from the perimeter leaving Howard room to work on the block and Wallace's ability to gather rebounds isn't limited to the defensive end as he's posted elite offensive rebounding numbers before as well.

Although he certainly wouldn't have been as ideal a fit in the Orlando Magic offense as Rashard Lewis, for nearly half as much as Lewis' $118 million Gerald Wallace has also provided the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trailblazers with more points (16.7 to 14.9), assists (2.7 to 1.8), rebounds (7.7 to 4.1), and steals (1.7 to 1.1) per game over the length of the contract thus far. And while Lewis also rates out better as Howard's teammate when we take into consideration free throw shooting and fourth quarter scoring, Wallace has at least improved as a teammate for Howard over the length of the contract and possibly could have blossomed into a dynamic stretch-4 power forward in the Magic system.


Antonio McDyess

USG%

3pt./100

PPR

DRB%

3pt.%

Dwight Howard Teammate Rating

2006-2007 Season

18.6

0.0

-1.59

22.7

0.300

-20.0

Length of Contract

15.3

0.0

-0.77

23.9

0.300

-16.3

At least the Magic can hold their heads high that they didn't feel the need to attempt to overcome Detroit by focusing even more intently on defense and size and attempted to lure away the Pistons power forward. In Orlando, McDyess' limitations on the offensive end and need to fill the lane would leave Howard with little room to work in the post and lead to a bevy of easy double teams and messy offensive spacing. While McDyess likely would have made about $100 million less than Lewis over the course of the contract, is better at creating his own shot than Lewis, and would have provided the Magic with some muscle in the paint, McDyess' inability to shoot from the perimeter, low usage rate, and age (he was 32 in 2007 when Lewis signed with the Magic) would have made him a square peg in a round hole in the Magic's offense.

Matt Bonner

USG%

3pt./100

PPR

DRB%

3pt.%

Dwight Howard Teammate Rating

2006-2007 Season

20.2

40.1

-1.6

16.3

0.383

52.9

Length of Contract

15.7

56.7

0.1

16.3

0.413

91

On the opposite end of the spectrum the Magic could have attempted a low risk/high reward investment with the Spurs' Matt Bonner, a classic stretch-4 power forward who clearly would fit well beside Howard. Bonner's value as a teammate for Howard comes almost exclusively because of his ability to drill shots from behind the arc with stunning accuracy, but it's also worth mentioning that he's widely regarded as a plus-defender and has excelled in several of Spurs' coach Greg Popovich's defense-heavy championship teams. Bonner's high "Dwight Howard Teammate Rating" also comes from the high volume of his shot attempts that come from behind the arc and the consistency with which he manages to not turn the ball over, but the real value that Bonner could have provided Orlando comes from the fact that despite displaying a similar set of skills as those that made Rashard Lewis a key contributor to the Magic the Spurs paid him nearly $110 million less and signed him for three less years. Despite that disparity, by this point in the six-year contract the Magic signed Lewis to Bonner is not only a far better fit as a teammate for Howard on the court, but also simply a far better player than Lewis.

It's certainly worth pointing out that Bonner has never in his career come close to scoring as consistently as Lewis does but with the development of Ryan Anderson into an near All-Star level player, it's also worth considering that Bonner could have blossomed into a 15 points per game scorer beside Dwight Howard in Van Gundy's four-out, one-in offense. And while Bonner is noticeably worse than Lewis at creating his own shot, the millions the Magic could have saved by not signing Rashard could have put to use to sign a premier perimeter shot-creator.

Summary

All in all, Rashard Lewis was undoubtably one of the best teammates for Dwight Howard through the first several seasons of their careers together on the Orlando Magic. But it's possible that the Magic overpaid for Lewis' premium reputation as a shooter and crippled their financial future by offering Lewis such an exorbitant contract when other, cheaper options like Gerald Wallace and Matt Bonner may have been available as well. However, Lewis' three point shooting and low defensive rebound rate have become part of the prototypical qualities we expect to find in complementary players on a well-constructed team built around Howard's strengths.

In our next installment of the "Dwight Howard Teammate Rater" we'll look to see how Howard and his co-captain Jameer Nelson mesh on the court, and if there were any other guards in the 2004 draft chosen after Nelson who would've been a better fit for the Magic. Please send in your comments, questions, or witticisms to tmth.mccrmck@gmail.com to be part of a Magic Mailbag.

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